- 31 Jan 19
It's that time of year again. The days are shorter, the trees are barer and the CAO deadline is looming. But fear not! Here's your Hot Press guide to deciding the right course for you.
Whether you're one of the thousands of CAO applicants this year, or plan to take on another form of study, now is the time to seriously consider your options. There are many different roads to explore and you doubtless have a million ideas being thrown at you, from guidance counsellors, social media, parents and even friends. Hey, confusing as it may be, you are not alone in this! There are thousands of people across Ireland in exactly the same boat. We've been running a series of articles by students who've been through the CAO process relatively recently, and there are certain themes that recurred again and again. The aim here is to distill these - and to add a few words of wisdom of our own. So whether you're fine-tuning your list, having a sudden change of heart, or you've only just begun to consider all of your options, here's our tips on the best way to approach the rather pernickety process of choosing what course is for you.
Focus On Your Interests
College is a time to learn, grow and explore. While it's important to broaden your horizons, it's also a good idea to make choices based on things you actually enjoy. You're much more likely to work hard and succeed at something you have a passion for.
Most university-level courses will involve a three or four-year commitment, while PLC courses range from one to two years. If you're not passionate about what you're studying, these years will go by slowly and painfully. You're also far less likely to drop out if you're invested beyond simply getting a degree. There's a certain false prestige attached to higher points courses, but don't fall into the trap of being seduced by points value. Points can, and frequently do, change. There's also very little chance of excelling at something you have no interest in. A good place to start is assessing what subjects you enjoy at school. Do you come alive at Maths, but do your best to avoid eye contact during English class? Focusing on hobbies or extra-curricular activities can be a great idea too. These days almost any hobby can be turned into a career and there are courses covering a wide range of fields, so you're bound to find something suited to your passions
Put The Time Into Research
If you're a Leaving Cert student, free time is at anall-timee premium. Between school, study, extra-curricular stuff and - for some - part-time jobs, it's difficult to find the time for family and friends, let alone anything else. The same goes for all of the mature students out there who may be working, or have other responsibilities on their plate. But taking the time to research courses, along with the content of each course, is essential if you're considering further education for the 2019/2020 academic year.
Luckily, most colleges have websites that you can browse on-the-go. But don't stop there: try to reach out to someone you may know who's done the course, and find out what it's like, day to day. Be sure not to miss the Open Days either, as these are great opportunities to get a flavour not only of courses, but also of campus life. Talk to a graduate or a lecturer, if you can get hold of one. It's also important to gather a list of upcoming deadlines relevant to you, particularly if there's an additional requirement for one of your chosen courses, be it a HPAT test, portfolio or interview. Ultimately, the more research you do, the more informed the choices you will make.
Think About The Long-Run
There is a lot more flexibility expected in work now than ever before. As a result, career routes may not be as stable or as predictable as they were a few years ago, but it's still important to have some idea of what kind of job will be open to you after you finish your course. Talk to people in the field you'd like to get into, and find out what course they did. If you don't know what career you want, Arts degrees are a good option, because they incorporate a wide range of skills that are desirable to employers.
Many internships and jobs these days accept applications from any discipline, so long as you meet other requirements. It's also important to think logistically, and factor in practical things like accommodation, distance and cost. That said, if there's a course you really want to do, but financial issues are the only thing standing in your way, there are a number of scholarships and grants that may be available to you. Again, research is the key. Also, be sure to visit SUSI's website, if you think you might be below the threshold for a government grant. There's an online eligibility reckoner there that you can run a test through.
Don't Be Overly-influenced
Every year, students put down courses because their friends are doing them or their mother told them to. Or they list only one college because they know a number of people who already go there. Though it's tempting to want to start college with a network of people you already know close by, it's a bad idea to base your choices purely off of such a limited pool. Apart from anything else, college is a chance to get outside your comfort zone, to explore your own interests, to make new acquaintances and to push yourself beyond your current limits. Friends will come and go. Besides, what happens if your friend doesn't get in but you do? It's also important not to let external pressure from parents make your choices for you. Though they will likely have your best interests at heart, ultimately this is your decision and you don't have to go into law just because all of your family did before you. Remember what Einstein said about a fish and judging it on its ability to climb a tree? Only you know what's going to be right for you.
Don't Limit Yourself Unnecessarily!
There's a tendency for first-time school leavers to focus only on universities, but it's important to remember that there's a whole world of other courses out there, from PLCs to Colleges of Further Education and apprenticeship schemes, where you can earn as you learn. These offer a far better route for a lot of people, especially if someone is not very academically motivated. So remember to look beyond the obvious. If you're obsessed with food and are good in the kitchen, why not develop that talent: Irish restaurants are always on the look-out for really good young chefs coming through. And that's just one example. If you're musical and play an instrument, there are both degree courses and PLC diplomas that offer different routes into the business.
You may not want to limit yourself to Ireland either. If you're in a position to travel while you study, there are excellent options available in other countries. Though Brexit means that the UK might be a riskier choice than of yore, European universities are becoming increasingly popular among Irish students. Many of them are listed in the top 100 worldwide international ranking, fees are usually lower, and there aren't the same points requirements as there are in Ireland.