‘I’m living proof that Leaving Cert points aren’t everything’

Don’t despair if you get ‘disappointing’ results - there are alternative options

While there will be tears of joy shed by many of the 57,000 students delighted with their Leaving Cert results today, many others may be feeling disappointed and disheartened after receiving their final grades.

Don't despair, is the overarching message to students from Irish Times readers who received "disappointing" results in their own Leaving Cert. Some took an alternative route into the college course or job they aspired to, while for others, not getting the points they had hoped for has led to a completely unexpected change in career direction.

Here is a selection of stories we received from readers this week.

Darren Johnston, Cork: ‘Pick something you love and do it to the best of your ability’

I had just turned 16 when I sat my Leaving Cert. I hated school. Most of the subjects bored me, I didn’t connect with most of the teachers and I was bullied. The only subjects I felt I had any grasp of were English and music. I coasted through my Leaving Cert year, picked my courses through the CAO just to keep everyone from bothering me, and generally spent the year on the hop or in a daze.


When results day came about, I knew I was goosed. I had put in very little work and the ramifications suddenly hit home. After surveying my results, I added up the numbers (albeit very slowly... I failed maths) and came to a grand total of 215 points. My heart sank. As my friends celebrated around me, revelling in their success following months of hard work, I cried. I didn’t get the points for a single course on my CAO application. I could see no future.

I resigned myself to my bedroom and playing video games, reading and shutting myself off from the world as best I could. My dad said he wouldn’t allow me to waste my life away in my bedroom and told me that unless I started to investigate other options, I was going to have to find a full-time job.

That idea didn’t really appeal to my teenage sensibilities so I applied for a course in radio broadcasting in Coláiste Stiofáin Naofa in Cork. Using my ability to talk to a wall and all the charisma I possessed, I managed to win over the course director and started the course. I worked hard in the first year, earning merits and distinctions. I got a part time job with Cork’s 96FM hosting the overnight shift on Saturday nights. It was a start, but I felt like king of the world. This was the first time I had ever seen physical results of commitment to a plan and hard work to achieve it, and it felt great. I still had a part-time job in XtraVision to bring in the bucks but I was on the radio. Success!

Three years later, I applied for a part-time job with the Street Fleet and got it, which became full-time. Through hard work and determination, I was promoted a few times and, as I type this, I’m sitting in my office on the top floor of Cork’s 96FM, looking out on a beautiful view of our city. I am now a commercial producer (I make the ads) with my own show every Saturday night from 6pm.

I’ve played a set on stage Live at the Marquee supporting Chic and Nile Rodgers, I’ve had drinks in a classroom in Watergrasshill with the Rubberbandits, I’ve worked backstage at music festivals and met some of the biggest names in the music and entertainment industry, and I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside and earning the respect of some of the voices I grew up hearing on my radio. All after I did a crap Leaving Cert.

My point, I suppose, is that the Leaving Cert doesn’t matter. It’s a nice shortcut in a lot of instances. If you get the points you need for the course you want, you’ll probably spend three or four years in college, walk into a job in the profession of your choice, and have a full-time job by the time you’re in your mid-20s.

But if, like me, you’re forced into taking the road less travelled, don’t despair. It’s going to take you a bit more time and a lot more hard work to get there, but although the road less travelled might take longer and might be harder to walk on, it’s got the most beautiful scenery and you’ll meet the most interesting people walking beside you. Pick something you love and do it to the best of your ability. If all else fails, you can always become a radio presenter.

Niamh Rudd: ‘I applied to the UK and exceeded the entry requirements’

I was rather aggrieved to not have reached the points in my Leaving Cert to do what I wanted, which was physiotherapy; I had been told by school career guidance counsellors that such a career would never be an option for me. But I decided to put aside my disappointment and complete a PLC course in sports therapy, where I studied subjects I actually enjoyed. I also took level 5 maths again.

Newly qualified as a gym instructor and sports therapist, I applied to the UCAS system in the UK last year and attended three interviews, delighted that my new set of results now exceeded the entry requirements for the courses I was interested in. I am happy to say that next month I start university, and in three years will graduate as a physiotherapist.

Tim Sheridan, Dublin: ‘I am living proof that points aren’t everything’

When I started my course in pre-hospital emergency medicine at 21, I was young compared to my colleagues. I was frequently met with comments about my age and how the study and exams must be a breeze for me due to only being out of school. The truth is, I was a school dropout. Like many young people, I suffered with depression and anxiety, which resulted in poor school attendance and isolation. I struggled with homework, study and applying myself. I missed almost all of my fourth, fifth and sixth years, dropping out completely around October.

I had some very supportive teachers and year heads, who were extremely persistent in their attempts to get me back into the school system. Without them I would not have returned to sit my Leaving Cert at the final hour and scrape through it, sitting all but one of my papers and passing all but one. Had I not been supported and pushed into sitting my Leaving Cert, even just to ‘give it a go’, I can’t say I would have gone back to ever do it again and my life would be now very different.

I didn’t come close to having enough points to get into any Level 8 courses through the CAO. I thought about joining the public service through the Guards or Ambulance Service, and an opportunity arose in December 2016 in the form of a recruitment drive for student paramedics by the National Ambulance Service. The minimum educational requirements were at least six passes at ordinary level in Leaving Cert subjects, to include maths and one science, which I had managed to obtain.

I’m happy to say that four years on from being a school dropout, I am now working as an intern paramedic in Dublin, and plan to pursue post-graduate studies in the next few years.

I was never a fan of the Irish education system, which culminates in two weeks in June and a dozen or so exams that reward rote learning and will allegedly decide your future. This system gives students very little ability in problem solving and critical thinking. I am living proof that points aren’t everything. There are many avenues to success and further education available to you if you don’t get your desired points. What is important however is that you sit and achieve a second level qualification of some kind, whether that be the Leaving Cert, a Fetac course, or whatever works for you.

Your Leaving Cert points are not the be all and end all and do not translate to your intelligence, skills and abilities. Having performed terribly in my own Leaving, I’ve gone on to do well in my current course exams, and can’t even remember how many points I got.

Anonymous, Cork: ‘The Leaving Cert is important but it doesn’t define everybody’s life path’

I was never academic. I loved the social side of school, not the academic side. I hated most subjects but I loved English, and my teacher was fantastic and showed me not only how to learn, but how to love the subject.

I completed my Leaving Cert in 2000 with mostly pass subjects and obtained 220 points. I then completed a four-month secretarial course and went out to work. I have been employed in offices ever since with the exception of 14 months out of work during the crash in 2009 / 2010. In every job I have always worked beyond my job description; I wasn’t academic but I was a hard worker and I was always interested in finding out how a task could be done faster or cheaper.

I’m now 36 and general manager of a medium sized business, with ten staff reporting to me. I earn more than €50, 000 per year. I am the highest earner of all my siblings, all of whom were very academic - one has a degree, another a Master’s. I always felt self conscious in my family because I was the least academic, it knocked my confidence and I wasn’t sure if I was capable of achieving much in life. To this day I still feel that way sometimes.

The Leaving Cert is important, I believe you should work your hardest and walk away with that piece of paper, nobody can ever take it away from you. But it doesn’t define everybody’s life path. Hard work pays off, the minute you step foot inside a business you have an opportunity to make a name for yourself as a hard worker, somebody willing to go beyond the job description, somebody who makes a difference. My dad always told us to make ourselves indispensable, and that stuck in my head forever.

My own daughter is about to begin third year, and all I ask of her is that she works hard and achieves her very best result, not perfection.

Clare Lyons-Collins, London: ‘Without my “awful” results, I would not have achieved what I have today’

My Leaving Cert results did matter in my life but not in the way I thought they would when I opened them in 1992. I had wanted to do occupational therapy at Trinity College, but I didn’t get the grades for this, or for Arts in UCD, which was a later choice.

But I did get a place on a business studies course in London, which I took. Once I completed my degree, I applied for a postgraduate OT training place at the Royal London Medical School and qualified in 1999. I have used both degrees and a further MBA qualification in a lot in my work.

Most importantly, the move to London (which was only going to be temporary) changed my life. This is where I met my husband, and where we still live with our two children, Rebecca and James.

I thought that all those years ago that not getting the result I wanted was awful. But without that experience, I would not have achieved what I have today career-wise, and may not have met my husband. It has all worked out for the best, and I wish those getting results today all the best. I took the road less travelled, but it has certainly served me well.

Ross Power, Dublin: ‘Through a Fetac course I ended up getting an MA in Law’

I sat the Leaving Certificate in 2008 (for the second time!) and was equally as disappointed with my results as I was with the 2007 sitting. Having doing mostly honours level subjects, I had majorly underachieved due to both immaturity and lack of proper direction at school. The second sitting was less painful because I had realised at that stage that school wasn’t working for me at the time.

At school I was told that I should do something in art (because it was the only class I was semi-good at), or become a detective. Confused? So was I.

I enrolled in an animation course in Ballyfermot College of Further Education. Four of its alumni were up for Oscars that year. Unfortunately that course didn’t work out for me either and I was left, in the middle of the recession, with little or no opportunities having not done well enough in the Leaving Certificate to advance in any third level education. All my friends had finished university, emigrated to Canada or Australia, and were busy having the time of their lives.

Luckily, I was working in a menswear shop off Grafton Street at the time which transitioned into a full-time role in my first year after I left Ballyfermot. Despite loving the job (nice suits were a perk!), after the first nine months of full-time work I knew I needed something more. I enrolled in a Fetac course in Liberties College where I was exposed to and became interested in law. The course was designed to give students a taster of arts and social science subjects such as sociology, politics, history, psychology and English literature. If you did well, there was the chance that you could get a place in a third level course. I loved it.

With a lot of help and support from my family, I made it through the course successfully obtaining eight distinctions and a new academic focus. I was accepted into Maynooth University in 2012 via one of only three places available nationally through Fetac at the time. I studied law, anthropology and politics in my first year, and in second year I transferred into “pure law” (as they called it).

I was 22 in first semester of university. I put my head down and worked really hard. Maynooth University was a brilliant place for someone like me who was eager to learn. It’s a beautiful campus with a great community feeling, everything a student could want.

Upon graduating with first class honours, I interned that summer in the Supreme Court before starting a Masters in international and European business law in Trinity College Dublin. Ten years on from my first Leaving Certificate disappointment I graduated in December 2017 with first class honours and an job secured in a leading international firm in Dublin.

The Leaving Certificate is great for some people but it is not the most important exam a person will ever take. You may take the scenic route like me but that is all part of the learning process and if I could go back in time, I don’t think I’d be so worried about how everything would unfold. If I never did badly in the Leaving Certificate things mightn’t have worked out so well.

Anne-Marie O’Hara: ‘When I got to college I collapsed under the pressure’

My leaving cert results made no difference to my life. I put in a lot of work and did quite well but when I got to college I collapsed under the pressure and dropped out. At 25 I’m returning to college because it is what I want to do, no pressure or expectations from family. There is way too much put on the shoulders of our young people and not enough support.

Chris Mulhall

I got my Leaving Certificate results in 1996. Not getting enough points for my first choice, I felt somewhat disappointed. I took my second option on my CAO form and it led me to a career that I still enjoy to this day. I didn’t stop studying after my Leaving Certificate and completed a degree, Master’s and PhD in the 13 years thereafter. Exam results are naturally viewed with importance at the time of their release, but they are never definitive in assessing ability or pursuing a career.