Go find a CAO course that sparks your passion


Like with any big decision, we can often be self-limiting when exploring career options. Common mistakes can include flicking through a college prospectus ruling out large numbers of courses because we see key words we presume are not us; looking only at courses which, last year, had cut off points we think we can achieve; and reading course descriptions with an eye out for all the things we will not enjoy.

Now is the time in the life of a young person where all opportunities are possible, but lack of confidence in our ability, and the sense that the challenge ahead is so overwhelming, can prevent us from truly exploring our interest and dreams.

Now is not the time to limit ourselves, now is the time to work hard and consider which courses students would find engaging, which would spark their passion and which could, perhaps, be the first step on a path in life that is full of possibilities.

Now is the time to expose ourselves to as many possibilities as possible. We may never be 100pc sure that our choices will be what we expect, but through research, reflection and discussion we can improve our understanding of what we are signing up to and whether it is likely to be for us.

Sixth year students must now commit time to careers and college research. It should be completed regularly and revisited often. If students are not sure where they would like to be this time next year they should read up on as many courses as possible, asking themselves questions like: ‘What do I like about this course?’; ‘Is there any part that I don’t like?’; ‘Is there anything I don’t understand?; ‘Do I like this more or less than the last course I read?’. Eventually students will find that a small number of courses begin to stand out – and these are likely to end up as their top CAO choices.

If a student is past this stage and has a good idea what they would like to do, their research might focus on similar courses, alternative entry routes or courses which might be quite different, but lead to the same career.

Students should be wary of searching for a perfect course. Doing this is more likely to hinder research rather than help it, as there is no such thing as a perfect course. It is likely every course will contain aspects students will enjoy and dislike, and this type of thinking will encourage students to find negatives rather than positives.

Students should aim to find as many ‘maybe courses’ as possible. Later, they can attempt to organise all their ‘maybe courses’ in order of preference. This should help them to identify their first preference more easily, with courses of less interest eventually dropping off the list.

Remember that applicants may fill up to 20 places on the CAO form and the more courses one can list the better.

It is essential to keep excellent records of the courses explored. Once a student comes across a ‘maybe’ course, they should mark it in the prospectus, print it etc., and keep them all in the one folder.

Students can use post-its to jot their questions or thoughts onto the course descriptions and keep them for later. There is a lot of reading to do, and CAO changes can be made up to July 2017. It will be important to remember then all the details of the research that is being completed now.

Aoife Walsh is a guidance counsellor at Malahide Community School, Co Dublin

Q. I am a sixth year student studying higher level maths. I got a D3 in my fifth year exams but it took a lot of work and I am not sure I will be able to keep giving this subject as much attention this year. Should drop to ordinary level?

A. In previous years my advice would have been not to risk getting below a 40pc (D3), as it is a matriculation subject. However, under the new points system students who don’t achieve a minimum 40pc in a higher level subject will face much less risk, and, potentially, for more reward.

A student who achieves between 30pc-39pc (H7) will receive 37 points.

They will also be considered to have the equivalent of a ‘pass’ at ordinary level. All courses and colleges that previously required a D3 in maths at higher or ordinary level will now accept the new grades of H7 or O6.

In addition, because of the 25 bonus points for students achieving a minimum 40pc (H6) in higher level maths, a H6 in the subject will be rewarded  with 71 points (46 for the H6, plus 25 bonus points), more than an O1 (90pc-100pc at ordinary level) or the same as between a H4 and H3 in another higher level subject.

Author: Francis O' Toole

Francis O' Toole is a Educational Psychotherapist & Guidance Counsellor. I set up this blog page to help students gain as much information as possible to be able to make right choices and decisions regarding their career options. I believe that we will be very successful in our careers if we follow what we enjoy.

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