CAO Change of Mind: 12 tips for the undecided

If you are unsure about your course choice you still have time to amend your selection

Decisions, decisions - you still have time. Photograph: iStock

Decisions, decisions - you still have time. Photograph: iStock

 

Who decided to follow the intense pressure of the Leaving Cert with a few weeks to finalise your college application? The timing, frankly, sucks. But students are stuck with it – so how can they make the best decision?

We turned to two career guidance counsellors for their top tips. Róisín O’Donohoe is a guidance counsellor at Belvedere College in Dublin, while Mary Hosty is a career guidance practitioner with more than 20 years experience and is the founder of SouthDublinCareers.ie, an independent careers consultancy.

1. Know the deadlines

“Perhaps most important at this stage is to take careful note of the deadlines,” says O’Donohue. “Change of mind opened on May 6th and it will remain open until July 1st at 5.15pm.”

If you submit a change of mind (for either your level six/seven or level eight courses), it cancels and supersedes all the previous course choices in that category. You cannot generally enter a change of mind on any restricted-entry courses.

The CAO website, cao.ie, provides a more detailed, step-by-step guide to the process.

2. Fine-tune

“It makes a lot of sense for students to make their decision closer to the time, although some restricted-entry courses such as art, architecture, music and medicine require an earlier decision,” says Hosty. “Some students will put down a sketch of where they want to go and then, based on the mocks, teacher feedback and their own circumstances and interests, fine-tune their options so that, by July 1st, their choices are a much more accurate picture of what interests them. They will have been working with their guidance counsellor from transition year, so should have most of the research done by the mocks. Now it is about reviewing your choices.”

3. Out of the game

Students who had to go the extra mile with a portfolio for art college, an audition for a music college or a HPat to get into medicine, can be particularly upset to miss out. “They will have heard back from many of the courses by now, while the medicine results come in June,” says Hosty. “If they haven’t been successful, they should review their choices and include new courses on the change-of-mind form. If they haven’t achieved a strong enough score on the HPat, for instance, they could consider a course that might bring them into a graduate medicine programme, such as common-entry science or biomedical science.”

4. Pros and cons list

“If, at this stage, students have done all the background preparation and research and are still undecided about which courses and in what order, I advise them to go old-school and do a pros and cons list,” says O’Donohue. “Perhaps you have two courses that you’re trying to decide between. Consider all the different factors in your decision, and give each of these factors a value based from one to five, with one being the least important and five being the most important. These scores will vary from one student to another, but five might go to course content, for instance, while extracurricular activities might get a three, how easy it is for you to get there might get a two, campus catering might get a one, and so on. Do also consider whether the course offers work placements or a year abroad option, and whether the size of the campus is the right fit for you. The act of writing this down takes it out of the student’s head; getting it on paper helps organise their thoughts.”

O’Donohue says that this could be done with a parent or other adult and that even the act of simply talking it through can help clarify the decision.

5. Your best day, your best self

Hosty suggests that a student’s first two or three choices for each of their level six/seven and level eight courses should reflect “their best result, on their best day, for their best selves”. All courses should be based on genuine interest and not points predictions, but it’s a good idea to put a few “bankers” – courses that you’re very likely to get the points for – as ninth and 10th courses.

Those bankers can be a safety net for students, says O’Donohue. “If they have carefully considered them, it can relieve a lot of the pressure.”

6. Still can’t pin it down?

The pros and cons list can be useful if a student is trying to narrow down two or three courses, but what if a student has so many interests they can’t figure out what thread to follow? “Consider opting for a fairly broad degree,” suggests O’Donohue. “General entry arts, engineering or science, for instance, allow students to explore lots of different options before specialising in second year. Maynooth University’s course arts degree has entry routes to business, law and computer science, giving students further options. Students can also consider a broad degree and then specialise in a postgraduate masters afterwards.”

7. Step away from the CAO

CAO is not the only option. “There can be a lot of all or nothing thinking about it, that it’s the end of the world to get it wrong, but it is just one stage in a young adult’s life and almost every course of education and study has a value on it. Step away from that thinking.”

If a student doesn’t think they’ll get the points, or they’re not sure about the course, or simply don’t feel ready for college, PLC courses are a good option. “If you want to taste-test before doing a full degree, there are good pre-university science, arts and engineering courses that give a sample of what to expect,” says O’Donohue. “These courses can also be an entry-route to college.”

Don’t rule out apprenticeships either. Once the preserve of trades and offering reliable careers in areas such as carpentry and plumbing, apprenticeships are now available for insurance, auctioneering, accounting, biopharma and ICT. “They give students a chance to earn as they learn and a valid option to gain a professional qualification,” says O’Donohue.

8. Level six/seven offer great opportunities

There can be a lot of focus on the level eight courses, but students neglect the level six and seven side of the form at their peril. “Don’t look down your nose at them,” says Hosty. “Level six and seven courses can be a good link to your chosen course or career. I know of engineers who are at the top of their profession and started with a level six or seven.”

9. Extra attention for extracurricular

Can students ever be 100 per cent sure about their course choices? “There are those who know from a very early age, but many of the young people I speak to have been exposed to many different opportunities and activities in school and outside, and they have a broad range of interests,” says O’Donohue. “Going to college can allow you to explore your interests, whether that is sport, drama, music, journalism, languages, business or something else entirely, through sports clubs and student societies.”

Indeed, students can gain much of the soft skills, including communication, teamwork, leadership and organisation, through being involved in clubs and societies. They could also effectively gain the practical skills for professions such as business, acting or journalism through a college club or society, almost like a parallel degree.

Earlier this month, Irish Times education editor Carl O’Brien reported how the move to semesterised exams and continuous assessment is putting more pressure on students and giving them less time for the college experience. For students who are extra keen to throw themselves into the student life, it may be a good idea to know how many contact hours they will have and how much coursework is required.

10. Good advice and bad advice

“Good advice is an honest conversation with a professional working in the area you’re interested in,” says Hosty. “Bad advice is from your cousin telling you that her friend did that course a few years ago and hated it. Good advice considers your interests, strengths and what you like to in your spare time.”

11. It’s not too late

“There is a lot of demand on a students’ time at the moment, but while they are still in school, they have access to resources, so draw on them,” O’Donohue advises. “Make time to schedule an appointment with the guidance counsellor if possible.”

Of course, not all schools have enough guidance resources to give every student the help they need. Some students still won’t have a clue. And they may have put their research on the long finger.

Hosty says it’s not too late. “Students have until July 1st to fill out that form. There’s a lot they can get through between now and then. CareersPortal.ie is a great resource for information on courses, subjects, content and points. Students can also get advice from their school guidance counsellor, a private guidance teacher or a teacher. And if it’s too late to visit the campus, there will be information on the college website, including virtual tours.”

12. Mind yourself

This is a lot to take in, particularly in the run-up to the exams. It can seem overwhelming. “Sit down and carefully plan out how you will spend your time between now and July 1st. If you have a well-planned schedule with blocks of downtime and study time, you can get out for that walk, meet that friend, get some fresh air and exercise, take those two hours to play football on a Sunday – and do so without any guilt,” says O’Donohue. “Connect with friends. If you’re starting to feel overwhelmed, ask a guidance counsellor or a trusted adult for help.”