CAO countdown: A degree is no guarantee of a job
Push yourself beyond your comfort zone to gain vital skills in college
Dara O’Keefe, senior lecturer, with students during the Royal College of Surgeons open day. Students should try to select a degree course they will enjoy and that also has long-term employability. Photograph: Maxwells
The main motivating factor driving school leavers and adults in applying to the CAO is to secure high quality employment over a lifetime. In considering your course and college options, how can you maximise your chances of success?
Other than in vocational disciplines – such as dentistry or law etc – the answer is that the breadth of your experiences during college can greatly improve your employability skills. That’s why employers favour college graduates over school-leavers.
A degree in itself is no guarantee of securing decent employment following graduation. I meet regularly with deflated young graduates who find themselves in the same poorly paid jobs which sustained them through college.
Their expectation was that acquiring the degree itself would smooth the pathway to a relatively well paid job.
A generation ago this was the case, and graduates on average secured good quality employment and higher salaries than non-graduates.
As the proportion of school-leavers progressing to further and higher education increased to 65-70 per cent, this employability premium is by no means automatic.
Nowadays, all prospective college applicants need to bear in mind their ultimate economic objective, both in selecting their degree course options and their preferred colleges.
Many CAO applicants focus solely on good employability prospects to the detriment of their own aptitudes and interests.
As the economy recovered strongly in the past two years, these numbers recovered, but application in arts degrees dropped off.
This pattern in how applications increase and decrease with the economic tide – though understandable – belies the fact that all career sectors go through cycles.
If you select yours based on its strength at the moment you leave second-level education, you may feel trapped in an occupation which gives you no sense of personal fulfilment and little enjoyment.
How then can you marry the need to select a degree course, which you will genuinely enjoy and flourish in, with the need to strengthen you long-term employability?
The answer lies in realising before you start into college that constantly broadening your skills in as wide a range of areas as possible is essential, alongside securing a good degree.
Some colleges offer students the option of taking individual modules outside their specific degree which can add to your employability.
Maynooth university, for instance, has introduced a specific programme in critical skills open to students from all faculties addressing complex problems from a number of distinct perspectives. Over 30 per cent of first year students have taken it in this its first year.
Many other colleges offer free maths support services and computer coding clubs.
Therefore, when finalising your course and college choices over the coming months, do not focus exclusively on the content of specific programmes. You should also focus on the widest range of opportunities available to you over your undergraduate years which will enhance and enrich your employability. Tomorrow: Your final checklist to ensure a successful application outcome