CAO countdown: The dos and donts of supporting your child’s course choices

Parents’ perception of the education options for their children are often outdated

With unemployment at an all-time low and thousands of jobs set to be created this year,  opportunities for school leavers have never been higher. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

With unemployment at an all-time low and thousands of jobs set to be created this year, opportunities for school leavers have never been higher. Photograph: Cyril Byrne


Tens of thousands of school-leavers, and others who have completed their second-level education prior to 2019, are currently reflecting on the next step in their career journey as the college application season reaches its peak over the coming weeks.

The deadline to register with the CAO (January 20th for discounted €30 fee, or February 1st for normal deadlines for €45) is focusing minds right across the country.

With the economy booming, unemployment at an all-time low, tens of thousands of new jobs set to be created again this year, the opportunities for those seeking to improve their skill levels through further and higher education have never been bigger.

In the case of school-leavers, parents provide vital and much-needed support to their children in choosing a career or course that will help them realise their full potential.

But there are some important dos and donts that should be borne in mind:

Don’t steer your child based on your own education experience

Your perception of the opportunities and challenges open to your children are most likely shaped by the education, training or employment choices you made decades ago.

They bear no relationship to the rapidly changing world of work. Who ever heard of LinkedIn, whose announcement on Friday last will create up to 4, 000 jobs on their new city centre campus, when today’s parents were making their career decisions?

To attempt to direct your child’s career choices based on your perception of what is in their best interest may be well-meaning, but it could lead them to make choices that are not in tune with the most suitable opportunities for them given their interests and aptitudes.

Do encourage your son or daughter to have an open mind

Educational and training programmes are changing constantly.

A parent’s role in supporting a son or daughter to select the most suitable vehicle to progress their career journey should be to encourage them to approach the process with an open mind.

Try to make sure your child structures their research in a systematic manner, so they come to realise which option most suits their own skills and talents.

Websites such as and provide a treasure trove of information.

Don’t insist your child selects an honours degree

Think of what your child’s strongest aptitudes are and help them identify educational and/or training options that are in tune with them.

Selecting a course with the highest points or an honours degree as the default option isn’t always wise.

They are delivered through highly academic lecture-style learning environments. If your child flourishes in this type of setting, great; but it doesn’t suit everyone.

Accepting that a high-points course in a top university may not be the best fit for your child is not easy; some parents even feel it is a sign they have somehow failed in their parenting role.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Think of the kind of education that best suits your child’s learning style.

How your son or daughter learns most effectively plays a huge role in selecting the most appropriate course or training option.

Aptitude tests can help identity learners’ strengths across a range of abilities if they are not sure themselves.

Remember: everyone is different and the combination of factors that leads to their most effective learning style can vary.

Don’t ignore the wide array of choices out there

There is a wide and ever-expanding range of third-level courses, further educational opportunities, apprenticeships, traineeships and employment opportunities for young people today.

Parents need to realise that helping and supporting a son or daughter find a match with a course or other option that plays to their existing strengths helps them grow in confidence and self-belief.

It also consolidates their sense of self-worth, leads to healthier relationships, positive mental and physical health and puts them in a very positive place to enable them to enter the labour market in a role or function in which they will excel and prosper.

Do encourage your child to research their choices thoroughly

The bible for information on higher or further education courses is, a website operated by Qualifications and Quality Ireland.

It has an advanced search facility that enables users to fine-tune their course explorations to narrow down the range of courses to a manageable number for detailed research.

The nature of the world of work in today’s Irish labour market is most clearly outlined on the website.

Employers from across all our major industry sectors promote the opportunities they offer in video clips explaining their major career pathways.

As a parent, exploring those websites is a useful way of both supporting your child’s career journey beyond school and empowering you to understand today’s world of work.

Don’t restrict your course horizons to Ireland

In the past five years, opportunities for students to access Europe’s top universities in courses that require high CAO points in Irish universities have exploded.

Thousands of Irish students are now selecting third-level choices in Europe, given the low to non-existing fees charged in continental countries and the modest entry requirements.

They often involve securing two higher-level grade H5/H4s and four O4s in the Leaving Cert.

Qualifications secured in an EU country are recognised in Ireland by the appropriate regulatory bodies. Details of all such courses are online at

Do look into the benefits of ‘earn and learn’ options

Solas is helping to ramp up the number of apprenticeships in traditional areas such as construction and the motor industry, and in non-so-traditional areas such as insurance, taxation, financial services, pharmaceuticals, chefing, etc, tailor-made for the needs of the modern economy. provides a good overview of what’s available. Many provide well-paid employment as part of the overall programme, which considerably lightens the financial burden of educating a child on family budgets.

* The Irish Times will publish a special supplement tomorrow to help guide students on making the right course choices ahead of the CAO’s registration deadline