Laura Smith reflects on her CAO experiences and what she wishes she told herself in her final year of school.
So you’re a young 17/18 year old student at school enjoying life, feeling on cloud nine to be exact. You are about to make a massive decision about your future life. Do you flee the nest and adventure elsewhere? Mammy’s home cooked dinners may be no more.
 
The word CAO - sound familiar? The CAO handout feeling like your life is in your own hands? Well here is some tips and advice to help you with your CAO journey.
 
With the CAO having opened on the 4th November, if you’re a 6th year student it’s definitely time to start choosing your courses of preference. If you apply online by the 20th January (5:15pm) you can avail of the discounted application fee of €25. 
 
But keeping the key dates in mind is not what I would recommend. The advice I would tell my past self about the CAO is:
 
1) As hard as it may be - Don’t Worry!
 
My mam always told me ‘What’s for you, won’t go by you’, and you know that it's true. If it’s meant to be,it will be. Originally,I wanted to do Journalism but with the course requirements, I didn’t make the cut. So I got to do secondary teaching instead and you know what? Things couldn’t have worked out any better. I have made some friends for life. It’s mad to think what a simple ‘Hello’ or ‘What room are we in now’ can do. I did things I never thought I could do when I entered college. The course I chose in the end really did open many doors for me. If you told me two years ago to talk to my year group or to make a presentation which involved talking to a big group of people, I would have probably run a mile. Now? Now I would confidently (maybe still feeling the urge to run out the door) but I can do it. I can talk without messing up my words or getting anxious in front of everyone.
 
2) Attend LOADS of open days and go to as many college talks as possible.
 
Open days are great to get a sense of the college atmosphere and you can speak to fellow college students who may be doing a course you’re interested in. You can ask the college many questions and check out the on-campus accommodation available.
 
3) Try not to focus on course points.
 
Another piece of advice I would tell my past self about the CAO is not to worry about the course points. If a course you really want is maybe 550 points, who cares? Put it down as your number one.. If you’re not in it you can’t win it. Don’t let the points race scare you. I spent so many nights stressing and worrying myself sick about whether my course would jump up fifty points or whether I would reach the entry requirements for my chosen course.
 
4) RESEARCH.
 
On the 5th of February at 12:00 noon, the online change of mind facility opens (€10 fee) which then closes on the 1st of March. It also opens again for free in May. If needed, use this time wisely! Students have until the 1st July at 5:15pm until the change of mind closes for good.
I can’t stress research enough! Research helps you make a better decision on choosing your university courses. The website I found the most useful was qualifax.ie. This gives you the lowdown on the modules you will be taking in the course, the entry requirements, and the points for the course in the previous years and much more information. Other useful websites are the actual college websites. These websites may have extra information on the courses, student advice and support, the facilities around the university and contact numbers if necessary. Nearly all the colleges have a student handout book which gives you a low down on all things in the university life.
 
Stay up to date with CAO deadlines here: https://www.cao.ie/?page=timetableevents&bb=importantdates