1. Remember; it’s YOUR choice – This might seem a bit obvious, but this is your CAO form and it should be your choices that are listed on it. Just because you’re a straight A student doesn’t mean you should do medicine and just because your parents have always wanted you to be a teacher doesn’t mean you should do teaching. You also shouldn’t pick a course solely based on money or job availability. The market is always changing; the jobs in demand now might not be by the time you finish your degree and similarly, the people making a lot of money now may not be in a couple of years time. Remember, you’re going to University to put you on a career path – make sure it’s something you think you would genuinely enjoy doing regardless of external factors.
2. List in order of preference – I know you’ve heard it a million times but there’s always people who don’t follow this advice. Of course you need some “back-up” courses but I would advise you not to start listing these until you get to at least four or five on the CAO.
3. Check entry requirements – A certain grade in a certain subject, a science subject or a third language. There are also restricted application courses such as Art and Music courses which may require a portfolio or an audition. Just make sure you know exactly what you need – it’s not all about points.
4. Do your research – Reading a short description of the course on careersportal.ie or Qualifax is not enough information. When you’ve narrowed down a couple of courses you’re interested in make sure to go to the university’s website and find the course prospectus / module outline. This is where you’ll really see what differentiates one course from another from each institution. You can also check whether your course offers you the chance to go on work experience or Erasmus, if that’s important to you.
5. Think outside of the course – Although the course should probably come first, It’s not JUST the course that’s important. Think about practical stuff like how far away from home the university is. If you’re a homebird the university that’s three hours away with a similar course to the one a half hour away might not be the best option. Societies and clubs are important too. If you’re doing a course like Journalism, you’ll want to check whether your university has a student paper and a radio station, for example.
6. Go to open days – These are invaluable opportunities. You can ask the lecturers more questions about the course and speak to students who are doing the course (they are often orientation guides). Aside from that, you can look around and get a feel for the university, which I think is just as important.
7. Resist the urge to change your CAO after the exams – This one can be tricky but, in general, I’d advise you to avoid changing your CAO after the exams IF your reason for doing so is not that your preferences have changed, but rather you don’t think you will get the points. From my experience, students tend to do better than they think and you don’t want to end up getting your second, third, or fourth choice just because you panicked after a tough Irish paper.
8. Don’t panic – You’ve ample opportunities to change courses, right up to the 1st of July. At this stage, you’ll be finished school and your exams and you can think carefully about what you really want without having to worry about that Biology test you have tomorrow. Try not to worry if you don’t know what you want to do, most of us don’t. You can always take a year out if you need more time to decide or do a PLC in an area of your interest before committing to a three or four year degree. At the end of the day, try not to worry and remember that this time next year, you’ll likely never have to think about the Leaving Cert or the CAO again.