Student Engagement & Development Officer – Rebecca Dempsey
In the months leading up to the Leaving Cert, students turn to past students for advice. The CAO has been a topic of conversation within the ISSU office as a few officers have recently sat their exams. It’s a strange thing to look back on, as 6 years later I now have a better understanding of the system. It wasn’t until 6th year that it really hit me that I would have to make decisions for my future. College was the next step in life and I knew that that’s what I wanted but choosing a course, “the course”, was extremely difficult.
Looking back, I honestly had no idea what I wanted to study. I had researched and shadowed a few people in their workplaces to gain some ideas but I really didn’t know. I enjoyed Physics and Geography in school but I really liked Maths, English and Business Studies. I found Irish and French difficult, but I knew that if I ever wanted to study Primary School Teaching I would need to do well in Irish. I made the decision to drop to Ordinary Level Maths and to keep Honour Level Irish. I couldn’t handle both at Honours Level and it was a good decision for me but if I could go back, I wouldn’t have made the same decision. I know now that I would have enjoyed learning Irish if I had reduced the stress that I had created around it. In hindsight I should have gone with my gut, instead of trying to keep up with my friends or to please others.
I switched between so many courses, that in the end my CAO Application was a cocktail of different courses. It illustrated my interests, or what I thought my interests were and I pretended to be happy with that. I mentally compared my options to my friends when I should have taken the time to consider a course that I would actually enjoy. So after the change of mind period my CAO looked like this;
On the first round of offers in August, I was offered Science in DCU and Pharmacy Technician in AIT. I accepted DCU and that was where I was going. There was a big problem with this decision though and that was that I had no interest in studying science. I had it on my CAO because it was all I had a read about in the months leading up to the Leaving Cert. Science was spoke about as the best area to work in and that is where the jobs would be, or so people were saying at that time.
I was unhappy with my decision but I thought that I didn’t have any other options. That was until my Mum sat me down and told me to read a column in The Irish Times which was written about CAO Vacant Places. I can remember her clearly saying, “Read this, and then read it again”. I had never heard of Vacant Places or how it worked and I was happily surprised to read about course vacancies and see that new courses were available. I spotted Mathematical Sciences in Dublin Institute of Technology and I knew that that was what I wanted to study. I always enjoyed maths and I was interested and keen to learn maths in a different environment. I decided on that course, updated my online CAO application and a week later I was offered a place. I now have a Bachelor of Science Honours in Mathematical Sciences and I know from my college experience that I want to teach second-level students in the future.
My experience in college was extremely tough and at times I felt that my course was too difficult but I never gave up. I was lucky to have the option of undertaking work placement during my degree and I was fortunate to find my place and interest in student politics also. I’ve taken a lot more than just my degree out of DIT. A degree may be a piece of paper but it is an invaluable piece of paper that no one can change or take away from you. It is a fantastic feeling to graduate and to feel proud of your own achievements. I think everyone deserves the right to feel that way and there is an abundance of help available in college also, all you have to do is ask for it.
If I could give my 17 year old self some advice, I would say to read as much information as possible when it comes to the CAO and to consider the Vacant Places option. Taking a year to work or repeating the leaving cert is an option too. I would tell myself to go with my gut instincts and believe in myself more. I didn’t know what I wanted to do at that age and I’m happy that I didn’t. I had to take a chance and I’m glad that I did. The CAO offers may seem daunting but there are routes and different options available. It can work out; take it from someone who has been through the process. The very best of luck to you all!
Please note: Blog posts reflect the opinion of the author and not necessarily the opinion of the Irish Second-Level Students’ Union.
More information can be seen on the CAO website https://www.cao.ie/
The ISSU advises students and parents to use the National Parents’ Council post-primary (NPCpp) free phone exam helpline (1800 265 165) to seek independent advice from qualified guidance counsellors. This will be available from 10 am 12th of August, more details will be shared next week.