Mapping your career path: how to engage with Higher Options

Expo can help you make the right choice before deciding on what career option to pursue after the Leaving Cert

Representatives from the CAO, universities, colleges, further education institutions, Solas and educational bodies from all over the world will be available to discuss career choices with second-level school students at this year’s Higher Options and World Skills expo.

The conference is the starting point for many students as they begin to plan the next phase of their educational journey.

It brings together representatives of institutions and organisations offering students information on almost every conceivable educational progression opportunity available in Ireland and abroad.

Representatives from the CAO, universities, colleges, further education institutions and educational bodies will be available at their stands in the exhibition hall, to speak with the students individually.


Talks will also be delivered by specialist speakers in three auditoriums over the course of the three hours of each morning and afternoon session.

Students are encouraged to consult the timetable in advance as they prepare for the event.

Each student will have their own interests and can attend the wide range of talks accordingly.


The benefit to school-leavers of this unique event depends entirely on each student’s level of preparation before it.

This preparation will have been ongoing over the previous two years through career exploration activities undertaken in transition year and fifth year in schools.

The Institute of Guidance Counsellors provides students attending the event, through their guidance counsellors in schools, with a comprehensive preparation document to enable them to plan their engagements throughout the day.

By working through this document, students maximise the benefits of attending the expo. Careful planning and an understanding of what they need to accomplish at Higher Options will hugely enhance the long-term value of attending.

Guidance counsellors will provide students with details of various talks at the event, covering every conceivable topic relevant to progression to higher or further education, both in Ireland and abroad.

This year the world Skills Expo is taking place simultaneously in the RDS alongside the Higher Options exhibition. This event will provide extensive coverage of opportunities on offer through apprenticeships both in the traditional construction trades, where there are huge deficits of qualified tradespeople, and in the many 60-plus new apprenticeships co-ordinated by Solas. Their hero’s stage enables attendees to hear directly from those who have built successful careers through training routes.

Given the hundreds of exhibitors and the thousands of courses and other options on offer at both events, attendees should draw up a list of colleges or other exhibitors they want to interact with on the day.

They should also compose a series of written questions they wish to tease out with the representatives on the stands.

Each college will, of course, present the most positive picture possible of the benefits of the various options their organisation offers. All students can do is engage systematically with each one and after the event sift the information received to enable them to move their career-planning process on to the next stage.

Stand-holders will not expect students to make a final decision concerning their future career options based only on attending a talk or following a visit to the stand and a conversation with a representative at Higher Options and World Skills.

But, for those who plan their activities in advance, these interactions will help set the agenda for each student as they consider their first step beyond second-level education in the months and years ahead.


If they have done their homework, many students will have developed very clear course preferences by the time they attend the Higher Options event in the coming days.

Some might learn they are not likely to secure the high points required for their preferred course or are not taking the subjects necessary to meet the minimum requirements for entry.

This is where the Higher Options event can be of real value. Rather than feeling downcast and abandoning dreams of their preferred career, they will have the opportunity to interact with other stand-holders, where they will learn about other options that might enable them to achieve their dream course by another route.

There are hundreds of high-points CAO programmes across all disciplines that are now accessible through further education (FE) one-year level-five programmes.

Many students do not realise that CAO colleges reserve thousands of places each year for graduates of such programmes, where your Leaving Cert points results are not relevant. More than 4,000 offers are made at the beginning of August each year, based on students’ performances in their FE programme.

Many of these FE colleges will be present at Higher Options this year, so seek them out and find out which courses in the CAO link to their FE courses.

Alternatively, while CAO points requirements are very high for many programmes in Ireland, European universities have a very different admissions system. They often simply require two H5s and four passes to gain entry to many courses that require more than 500 points in Ireland.

Again, these colleges from all over Europe, where lectures are delivered through English, will be present at Higher Options.

In eastern European universities, fees for programmes in medical and paramedical programmes can range from €10,000 upwards. In many western European universities, fees can be modest to non-existent.

Open days

Once a student’s interest has been heightened by an interaction at Higher Options, consolidated and strengthened perhaps by a close reading of the literature published by the college, the next step should be to find out when the college is planning its 2023-2024 on-campus open days. Many colleges will take your email details at their stand to notify you when such events are occurring.

No Leaving Cert student should seriously consider deciding at this stage which college to attend without engaging with the institution in question and soaking in the atmosphere of the place at some stage before course choices are finalised next June.

Remember, choosing a course commits you to far more than just a set of lectures and exams over several years.

Choosing a course or college is like committing to a long-term relationship and it commits you to a lifestyle and a range of social and extracurricular activities offered by the institution in question.

Every student is different in both personality and interests. Some will revel in the cut-and-thrust of very large colleges, while others may prefer smaller institutions where everyone gets to know each other very quickly.

Students who select their course choices based solely on the details of the course itself without considering the context within which it is delivered can often find very quickly that they have made a bad choice.

How not to engage with Higher Options and World Skills

Having attended the Higher Options event for more than 20 years, it has become clear to me that a proportion of students attend each year without having given any serious thought to why they are there.

They drift around the complex for a few hours, become bored and wander up Anglesea Road with a plastic bag full of prospectuses, which is regularly dumped, as it becomes too heavy to carry. Don’t sell yourself short and pass up this amazing opportunity to inform yourself of what is on offer at Higher Options and World Skills.

As a final-year second-level student you will never get so many education/training providers in one place ready to support your career journey. This experience has the potential to be the most productive three hours of career exploration you will spend this year, in clarifying your future options. Use it wisely and build on it in the weeks and months ahead.


Brian Mooney

Brian Mooney

Brian Mooney is a guidance counsellor and education columnist. He contributes education articles to The Irish Times