This year, it began with round zero. Many further education students secured the grades they needed to progress into their chosen CAO course, but because the course was oversubscribed, the college used random selection - meaning, inevitably, that some students missed out.
There’s a particular agony in securing the grades or points you need to get the course, but losing out because of a lottery. But it’s not the first time it’s happened, and probably won’t be the last.
“It’s not unusual to miss out on your first choice of CAO course,” says Betty McLaughlin, past president of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors and a guidance counsellor based in Mullingar, Co Westmeath. “The CAO is a hard-fought competition and, when it comes to highly sought courses, the number of places will be less than the number of applicants. It’s important for students to have a plan A, B and C.”
McLaughlin points out that it’s not the end of the road if you don’t get your number one course choice in round one, because there may be ways around it. So what are they? And, if you’re gutted that you didn’t get what you wanted, what options do you have now?
Read more on the Leaving Cert
- Full coverage of Leaving Cert 2022
- How to understand the new points system
- Advice, options and what next: irishtimes.com coverage of the results
- Five takeaways from Leaving Cert 2022
- University president calls for end to grade inflation
1. Try not to panic
Over the coming weeks, you’ll hear plenty of anecdotes from people who missed out on the course they wanted and are now storming ahead in their career. This isn’t always helpful: you need to take some time to sit with your disappointment, feel your feelings, and get good advice that empowers you to decide what you want to do next - rather than what others tell you to do.
Be kind to yourself: eat some chocolate if it makes you feel better, go to the gym if it makes you feel better, lie in bed for an afternoon if it makes you feel better.
Once you’ve recovered from the initial disappointment, it’s time to take action. If you’re lucky, you had a good school guidance counsellor and they may be willing to chat with you about your next steps. You can also call The Irish Times exam helpdesk for advice.
If you think you should have done better in one or more exams - and it has dragged your CAO points below what you need - you can get your paper rechecked by applying for a recheck online.
Last year, just 400 of almost 4,000 appeals were successful, but this was because the accredited grades system had already awarded relatively high grades; in a normal year, the number of scripts upgraded is higher. There is a very small risk you may be downgraded but, in 2018, just five of 9,087 scripts were downgraded.
3. Wait for round two
The grim reality is that, this year, many students who get offered college places will have to turn them down because they can’t find a place to live. They may end up looking towards more local course providers, which might in turn lead to a drop in CAO points for some college courses in round two.
Crucially, however, you MUST accept the level six/seven OR level eight course that you have been offered if you hope to get a higher offer in the next CAO round. Otherwise, you will not receive a further offer.
You can do this at the same time as pursuing other options such as Post-Leaving Cert courses, apprenticeships, traineeships, studying abroad or repeating.
4. Apprenticeship, PLC or traineeship
“These are wonderful options for people,” say McLaughlin. “An apprenticeship, in particular, is suited for people who like practical or hands-on learning. You’re paid to do it, and the qualifications - as high as level eight and beyond - are highly regarded.”
PLCs, meanwhile, are a useful qualification in their own right and can be a route into a higher education course - just bear in mind that there is no guarantee of getting into the college course you want even if you meet all the entry requirements, and this is because random selection may apply.
Traineeships are another option worth considering. These are relatively shorter courses designed to lead straight to employment. You could do a traineeship, gain valuable skills and, perhaps after a year or two, look at going to a PLC or college course.
See FetchCourses.ie for more information.*
The numbers opting to repeat the Leaving Cert has dipped slightly as more students look at further education options.
“People see that the PLCs offer enormous choice and that they have other routes,” says McLaughlin. “The Leaving Cert is a tough ride for most students and they don’t necessarily want to repeat.”
It may be a huge gamble to repeat if you did your very best and, say, missed out on a high-points course by a handful of points.
“It can be an option if people feel that they have not done their best, had more to give and feel but something put them off and that they could improve their points by studying more,” McLaughlin says.
6. Vacant places
There’s a tendency to conflate high points courses with better courses, but this is a misconception. CAO points are set by nothing more than supply and demand, and some third-levels, especially in the technological universities and the independent fee-paying colleges such as Griffith and DBS, will have vacant places advertised on the CAO website after round one of the CAO.
7. Go abroad
If you’re not emotionally invested in staying in Ireland, it makes huge sense to look at colleges in Europe and beyond. Many courses - such as medicine in a number of Polish universities or any course in the Netherlands - are delivered through English.
Fees are lower, accommodation is plentiful, entry requirements are lower and you get to experience a whole new culture.
The deadline for most - but not all - 2022 courses has closed but there are still spaces available. Companies such as medicalpoland.ie facilitate students who wish to study medicine or veterinary in Poland and they estimate that they will send more than 150 students to Poland this year. You’ll find more information about UK universities on UCAS.co.uk, European universities on Eunicas.ie and European and international universities on Erudera.com.
* The Irish Times will publish Smart Choices, a special supplement on further education and training, on 6 September.