Ask Brian: My son has no idea of what he wants to study in college. Can you help?

Online tools can help students identify suitable courses based on their interests

Question: My 21-year-old son is returning home soon having spent the past two years working and travelling in Australia. We want him to get on with his education and recently persuaded him to register with the CAO. He has no idea what he wants to study. How can we help him make the right career choices?

Answer: He is lucky he has such such a supportive parent – especially given that the CAO deadline for applications for the coming academic year has just expired.

Now that he has secured his CAO registration, he – along with all current year applicants – has until July 1st to finalise and submit his course choices.

The first thing he might consider doing is to explore his course interests through one of a range of online resources.


Careersportal ( is widely-used by Irish secondary schools to explore the relationship between the ever-changing world of work and the courses linked to these sectors.

The site also offers users a range of self-administered interest, aptitude and personality tests linked to a database of occupational descriptions and course options.

Your son can register on the site use the database to help focus his career choices ahead of the July 1st deadline.

Centigrade ( is another resource well worth checking out.

Its Cambridge Occupational Analysts (COA) online interest inventory is used by a large number of Irish schools to help their students focus in on a small number of CAO courses and Irish colleges.

Centigrade requires a potential third-level student to answer 150 questions which, when processed, provide the user with comprehensive information about their career interests and course preferences.

I have used it with my own students for many years and find that it crystallises students’ specific occupational interests and identifies specific courses on offer which match those interests.

College Select ( is a new introduction to the Irish careers market. Through a short questionnaire, it attempts to identify 30 courses and career areas which best match the potential student's preferences, taking account of their academic performance to date. It has been piloted in a number of schools in recent months.

When your son returns home to Ireland he should have received the feedback from whatever resources he uses online to help him identify a list of potential courses and colleges, for which his current CAO points will give him access.

He should immediately explore in depth every aspect – including the details of all lecture content – of any courses he is considering placing on his CAO courses lists.

He can do this online at Qualifax ( which will give him the most comprehensive overview of every course on offer in Ireland at all levels including undergraduate CAO.

Once he has identified his preferred courses, he should arrange to visit the colleges in question to assess their suitability for his personal circumstances.

If he wishes to discuss his final choices with a guidance counsellor in private practice, a list of those is available on the Institute of Guidance Counsellors website (