Deputy President – Joanna Siewierska

My CAO* experience began way back somewhere in Transition Year guidance class when our counsellor, Ms Fagan, opened up and and asked us what would we like to do in college. We all smiled and thought, what is she on about; sure we have two more years to go…

Fast forward to September of last year, and as we prepared to go to the Higher Options event, the nerves began to kick in. I came back with a nice stack of prospectuses and different coloured pens and total confusion. There was so much to choose from. I also attended the international colleges fair in UCD* with some friends, which I enjoyed a lot but it made the choice of possible colleges and courses seem endless.

For some time, medicine in Italy seemed like the perfect undergraduate experience however I changed my mind about that pretty quickly. Later, a scholarship in UCC* attracted my attention, but in the end I decided to take advantage of the fact that I live in Dublin and have easy access to a broad choice of excellent colleges and universities. Still, the choice of courses was massive!

From Science to Drama, English to Computer Science, I was hovering over every course that had anything to do with any of my interests. It was tough. The one thing that I knew was that 6th year was draining me and the only way I could manage it was by staying involved and active outside of school in the hope to distract myself from the inevitable exams.

Staying involved was one of the best decisions I made in 6th year, despite many people warning me against it. I got the fantastic opportunity to spend a weekend in Brussels with some friends from Youth Work Ireland in October and in November ISSU sent me and a friend to Bratislava for three days. I loved those experiences because not only did I get to escape and experience new cities, I also got to learn more about European politics and in particular about the Student Union movement around Europe. They were great opportunities to see life beyond exams and school and I found them very motivating to study and to aim high.

During 6th year I was also involved in some work with the Junior Minister for Equality. As time went on I realised that social issues, equal rights and working together to make the world a better and fairer place for all was something that I was really passionate about. I suppose, to some extent, I was already slowly working towards those goals on a small scale, and I really wanted to continue doing so. I began thinking that in order to make a real difference in the world you need to be a decision maker, someone who is involved with governments and people who run countries and decide on what is fair and what isn’t. In that way, you can become a part of making changes in laws and policies which, once implemented correctly, can have a direct effect on the lives of many people. Obviously, this is a really simplified image, but basically, it was my belief that to achieve equality and social justice in the world you need a solid knowledge of law and then apply it. So, when I saw the course titled ‘Law with Social Justice’ in UCD, I fell in love!

It wasn’t easy choosing UCD. As a younger sister of a devoted TCD* student, UCD was the enemy. But, having visited the Law open day in Trinity, I knew that it wasn’t the right place for me. It just didn’t feel right and the social justice modules really appealed to me. For a while I considered other options, I had been to Maynooth University before and I was a regular at different events and conferences in DCU*, but I felt I could achieve higher points than those required for many of their courses. In the end, I decided to be ambitious and brave and put down UCD’s Law at the top of my CAO. Later on, actually on the day of the CAO deadline, I went on a proper tour of the UCD campus and I was even happier with my choice.

After the exams I was exhausted and didn’t really care about anything other than getting back to normal. In the time coming up to the exams, and during them, I was certainly not my usual self. I was agitated, moody and tired. Soon after my last exam, I managed to get a part time job and I settled into a routine which helped balance the mood swings and relax the nerves. Now, as the results are getting closer, I do feel some nerves creeping back but nowhere near as much as I did during the exam season. I’m a bit of a workaholic, so between my job, ISSU work and other engagements, there’s not much time left in my day to worry, only a few hours to sleep. I’m doing pretty well and feeling good.

For now, I have requested time off work on results day and the day after. Regardless of what news I’ll find in that envelope, I plan on celebrating surviving the Leaving Cert with friends. I will worry about where I’ll be going in September later. I know that the CAO offer is a big deal, but it’s not the end of the world. Second round offers, checking papers and getting new grades, vacant places in courses; there are plenty of ways to sneak into that dream course. And if not, then who knows, maybe my second choice (or whatever else comes) will be better!

I feel like even though university or college is important now, the education that we get, regardless of where we get it and in what field, will only take us as far as we work for it . No fancy reputation or shining facilities will mean anything if you don’t put in the work, and equally if you get into a course in a smaller institution or get an apprenticeship, if you work hard, you can achieve great things.

So my advice to all of you waiting for results with me is this, don’t worry too much about what you’ll be doing next year, worry about how hard you will work to make the best of it! 🙂

Please note: Blog posts reflect the opinion of the author and not necessarily the opinion of the Irish Second-Level Students’ Union.

CAO* – Central Applications Office
UCD* – University College Dublin
UCC* – University College Cork
TCD* – Trinity College Dublin
DCU* – Dublin City University

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.