Leaving Ireland after Leaving Cert: ‘Probably the worst day of my life’

‘It was immensely daunting ... but moving abroad was hands down the best decision I ever made’

Rotterdam in the Netherlands. Photograph: iStock

Rotterdam in the Netherlands. Photograph: iStock


Leaving Cert results day can be either one of the happiest days of people’s lives or one of disappointment when things don’t go to plan. People can be left facing tough choices when their results won’t allow them to follow the course they had originally planned for the next stage of their life. Moving overseas to study or live is one option.

We asked readers who decided to move abroad after receiving their results to share their experiences. Here is a selection of the responses:

Hannah Herron: ‘Leaving Cert results day was probably the worst day I’ve ever experienced in my life’

I completed my Leaving Cert in 2012 and the results day was probably the worst day I’ve ever experienced in my life. I thought my dream of becoming an Occupational Therapist (OT) was over. A career guidance counsellor told me I had no options really, only to repeat!

Fast forward seven years later and I have been qualified as an OT for a year. I completed two years at Letterkenny IT (Health and Social Care) where I excelled in my placements and received additional credits. I applied for OT in 2014 through UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admission Service in the UK), which was my best decision ever, and studied at Glasgow Caledonian University. I would have never achieved CAO points for occupational therapy in Ireland.

Yes, I took a long route, but with that I gained invaluable life experience and met friends from all over the world. I currently work as a rotational OT with the Belfast Trust. My degree has been recognised by Coru, the body regulating health and social care professionals in Ireland, and I have been accepted onto the Health Service Executive (HSE) panel. The moral of my story is to never let anyone influence your decision on achieving your dream - CAO points mean nothing (I got in the early 300s).

Eoghan Gilleran: ‘I spent my free time building and launching real rockets’

I live in Delft in the Netherlands, and this year I am starting my Masters in Space Engineering, having spent the past year leading a team of engineering students building the first student rocket to reach space. I’m 22 years old now. Throughout my Leaving Cert cycle I knew that I wanted to study Aerospace Engineering, a subject that simply is not offered in Ireland, so from early on I knew I would have to move abroad. As I researched possible courses I found that Delft, a historical town wedged between The Hague and Rotterdam, with a technical university offering one of the best aerospace engineering bachelor’s degrees in Europe. So that’s where I applied to, and thankfully, got accepted.

Because the application deadlines are earlier in the Netherlands, I was provisionally accepted based on my predicted results, and come results day I just needed to match or exceed them. Given that aerospace engineering is a reasonably niche area, the students come from all over the world, so the university in Delft has to match all of the different education qualifications. I wouldn’t say the requirements they had for Leaving Cert results were as high as they should be given the difficulty of the course, however, your application also depends on your CV and motivation letter, meaning more than just results are taken into account.

The course also accepts quite a few people knowing that by the end of first year only 60 per cent will remain, with the 40 contact hours a week and strict grading filtering out the rest. The international student body the educational backgrounds were also quite diverse, with some first years not knowing what a vector was and others having finished their secondary school thesis on advanced artificial intelligence systems. Without taking applied maths for my Leaving Cert I wouldn’t have got very far.

Outside of the three year course, I joined a student group called DARE (Delft Aerospace Rocket Engineering), one of the biggest and most successful student run rocketry groups in the world. Here I spent my free time applying my theoretical knowledge and getting hands on experience, building, testing and launching real rockets.

After finishing my degree I took a year out to work on this project full time. This is fairly common among the Dutch, with most students taking four years to complete a three-year degree. The rest of their time is dedicated to running student societies or other extra-curricular work. This lack of pressure on finishing courses means people complete their time in college with a well rounded experience, rather than just an academic qualification.

Having spent the year leading a team of 14 full time and 55 part time engineering students working on the first student rocket to reach space, I can say that an experience like this while you are still a student is absolutely invaluable. When making the move I didn’t consider so much the implications, only that I was going to study the course I wanted to.

This year I am starting my masters and seeing the lack of jobs in Ireland in this area, I’m unlikely to be returning home to work any time soon. Additionally, compared to the countries many of my peers come from, I feel little connection is felt between Irish students abroad and their homeland, a contributing factor being the lack of the right to vote from abroad.

My sister has since started studying International Studies at the nearby Ledien University in the Netherlands too, putting a small bit of pressure on my brother who’s going in to sixth year as to where he ends up going for third level.

Overall, I would definitely make the same decision again. I’ve got the opportunity to study the perfect course for me with hands-on experiences I couldn’t have dreamed of with a cohort of like-minded people. And while the Netherlands and Ireland are not exactly the most comparable spots with our contrasting higgledy-piggledy fields and their perfectly laid out greenhouses, the presence of Kerrygold butter in the Albert Heijn supermarket means home is never too far away.

Patrick Moyles: ‘It was an immensely daunting prospect’

I sat my Leaving Cert in 2006 hoping to secure enough points to study medicine in University College Dublin (UCD), but fell short by 30 points. I opted to repeat my exams and enrolled in the Institute of Education in Dublin. During that year I was encouraged to apply to the UK, although at the time there wasn’t a wealth of information available as to how to navigate the UCAS system. I applied to England without really believing I would need to move - it was just a backup plan.

On my second Leaving Cert I performed slightly better, but still didn’t secure enough points to get into medicine in Ireland. I moved to Newcastle later that summer having achieved the two As required to study medicine there.

I was the only one of my friends to leave Dublin for university, and it was an immensely daunting prospect. However, 12 years later I am now an emergency medicine registrar in Newcastle, and happily married to an English girl I met at university. Moving abroad was hands down the best decision I ever made, and I would recommend it to anyone.

Shamim de Brún: ‘The baptism of fire I put myself through was the making of me’

I was desperate to get out of the city when I finished my Leaving Cert in 2010. I hopped, skipped and jumped into a theatrical but very rural life in a drama school in Wales. The transition was messy. I hadn’t realised the train systems were so bad, and the sail and rail option took me 12 hours to get through. I went alone leaving a difficult childhood behind. There are no grants for people like me, and I jumped through many hoops to be told “no” over and over again from both the UK and Irish grant systems.

I developed great friendships, but there were also harrowing times where I couldn’t afford food or props. It was peak recession, but the freedom of being in a new country helped me feel emboldened and immune to it all.

From Wales I went to Canada, and from Canada to California. I had itchy feet for years before I came home. Even with all the downsides, I think the baptism of fire I put myself through was the making of me. I’d do it again in a heartbeat, but ideally with more financial knowledge and planning.

Helen Murphy: ‘I would do it all again tomorrow’

I moved to England to work as a healthcare assistant in a large psychiatric hospital outside London immediately after my Leaving Cert, while I was waiting for results to apply for nurse training, which I did after six months. I started in March 1990 in St Albans in the UK, and I worked in Leavesden Hospital, Watford before this.

I stayed in UK for 15 years after training registered nurse. I worked for University College London Hospital for five years years and completed degree part time. I returned to Wexford in 2004 with two small children so they could grow up here. I have no regrets. I’m working now as clinical nurse manager (CNM2) in Wexford General Hospital. I would do it all again tomorrow. I’ve many happy memories of time in UK and very few memories of Leaving Cert. My son is 18 next year– his turn now.

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