Set yourself on the right course from the start

Choosing a course is hard with all that’s going on, but it’s worth getting it right

Mon, Jan 6, 2014, 00:00

This is a tricky time of year for Leaving Cert students. Christmas is over and we’re into the New Year. Mocks are looming and more people than you realise are panicking about the lack of study done so far. Now, in the middle of it all, you’re expected to apply to the CAO. The first deadline is January 20th. It can all seem quite overwhelming.

Of course there are students who are really organised. They may not all be gunning for a place in medicine or veterinary, but they have their goal and they’re working to achieve it. For them, the CAO application process will involve some research about the colleges that offer their chosen course and the variations on their preferred field of study, but mostly it will be about getting the application in on time and ensuring they’ve entered all the details correctly.

It is much more difficult to feel organised and in control if you don’t know what you’re working towards. Whether or not you know what you want after finishing school, you still need to apply to the CAO if you want a college place in Ireland. So what do you do if you really haven’t a clue?

Well, first off, remember you are not alone. Lots of people can’t decide, but the problem is that huge numbers of them just enter some CAO choices in a panic and hope that things will suddenly become clear once they get to college. That’s a terrible idea.

Believe it or not, about three in every 10 first year undergraduate students either drop out of their chosen college course, or fail their first year exams. Think about it: if 30 per cent of Leaving Cert students failed their exams or dropped out during the year, it would be declared a disaster. So why are students, who made it successfully through what many agree is the toughest exam you’re ever likely to sit, finding college so tough?

Quite simply, in most cases, they’re not choosing the right courses, in the right colleges, if indeed college is the right choice for them. While it is really tough to find the time to properly research colleges and courses when you’re expected to study for exams in June, it’s incredibly important to do so. The Leaving Cert is two or three weeks in a lifetime. Your CAO choices dictate your next three or four years and can indirectly influence the rest of your life. So where do you start?

Know yourself
Well, the first step is to take a really good, honest look at yourself. What do you like to do? What are you good at? Ask yourself very basic questions about which subjects you enjoy in school. What do you like outside of school? Do you enjoy sport or gaming? Are you an artist or a musician? What sort of personality do you have? Are you a social butterfly or do you prefer your own company?

Did you do any psychometric or aptitude testing in school? Ask your guidance counsellor for the results and use them as a guide. Use the experience of the people around you. Your parents, your teachers, your friends will all have ideas and opinions about what you’d be good at and what might suit you. Ask them and see what they come up with.

Remember to be honest with yourself. As you grow up, it’s very easy to assume the mantle of people’s expectations and forget what it is you really want. You’re on the cusp of adulthood now and the most important thing is what you want for yourself. Try to resist the temptation of opting for a course because it will impress friends and family. Ask yourself, could you see yourself working in your chosen area?

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