August 16th will be a day fraught with nerves and excitement for many as thousands of students receive their Leaving Cert results.
While we can all be our own worst critics and feel we didn’t do our best during the exams, there is time to make a contingency plan if it all went pear shaped.
Those who fall short of the points requirement have a slim window to weigh up their options before answering that important question: do I repeat or not?
With repeating the Leaving Certificate becoming less common than in recent years, it is worth weighing up other options.
Many go back, seeking to score higher points while others might repeat because they feel they didn’t work as hard as they should or could have.
The decision to repeat should not be taken lightly and students should look for advice from their parents and ideally from their guidance counsellor.
Mary Dorgan, career guidance counsellor and head of admissions at the Institute of Education in Dublin, has interviewed hundreds of potential repeat students.
She says students’ first port of call is to get any exam paper they were unhappy with rechecked.
“The first thing you should do if you are unhappy with your grade in a subject is to make an appointment to view your exam paper. You learn so much from it, especially with the new marking scheme which gives a greater breakdown of your grade and those margins matter,” she said.
From this year, Leaving Cert students will be able to achieve eight different grades rather than the previous 14.
The new grades are H1-H8 for Higher Level and O1-O2 for Ordinary Level.
The points system has been changed to reduce the number of students who get the exact same points score.
“If you feel there are any grounds, you can put in for a recheck and it will at least give you peace of mind that you got the grade you deserved,” Ms Dorgan said.
"There is always the opportunity to sit a second-chance maths exam, so say if someone was applying for engineering and they didn't make the required grade for some reason in maths. A lot of the universities and colleges – Maynooth, Limerick, DIT, Carlow, Waterford, University of Limerick and several others – offer a second-chance maths exam," says Dorgan.
“Students should get on to whatever college they have applied to and see if they offer the second-chance maths exam as it can save a student having to repeat,” she says.
Dorgan says another little-known option is the CAO available places which opens up each ear. This service lists places that remain unfilled in certain courses after all first-round offers have been made and there is no-one left on the waiting list for them.
There is no charge for existing CAO applicants for checking this list and adding any of these courses to their Level 8 or Level 7/6 wishlist.
“Check the CAO available places. The CAO update this constantly from when the results come out and there are always available places that you can apply for if a course is not filled. It will probably not apply to the most sought-after or competitive courses like primary school teaching but it is worth a look for the less common courses,” she says.
If you don’t receive the required points for a given course, look at private or independent colleges.
“A lot of the private colleges have direct entry courses that are not on the CAO so it’s worth looking up the various private colleges. Fees apply so it a more expensive option for parents and students,” she says.
While Britain may have been a popular option for Irish students, it is becoming less attractive due to Brexit jitters and the possible reintroduction of fees.
The UK also offers a “clearing option” which is how universities and colleges fill any places they still have on their courses; it is available from July to September.
"We don't know what fees will be like in colleges in England but it's worth noting Scotland still have free fees. Colleges in Europe, are becoming more popular with Irish students so students can check out Eunicas.ie for courses in Europe or UCAS for course in the UK," she says.
"We have a lot of Irish students heading to the Netherlands – fees are about €2,000 and the cost of living is much cheaper than Ireland – particularly for students moving to Dublin," she says.
Dorgan says if students still feel like repeating they should give it their best shot.
“Sometime people just mature, grow up during the year and it’s worth repeating it. They know what they want and they are more motivated the second time around.
“You are far better off repeating than doing a course that you will not like for the sake of it. You have to examine why it went wrong and if you can say to yourself you’re willing to give it a better shot and give it your all, then go for it,” she says.
Frank Costello, head of enrolment planning and admissions at DIT, said students should ensure they have filled in all their Level 6 and level 8 courses.
“Students should also make sure their 10 courses are what they want before the change of mind option arises in July. You can progress from most Level 6 or Level 7 course to Level 8 so fill them all in,” he says.
He says Fetac (Further Education and Training Awards Council) courses should also be considered by students as an entry routes if they do not get their required points.
“Repeating the Leaving Cert is almost necessary if you are going after a course that require high points but but if you want to do a general subject like science, or business, I wouldn’t say repeating the Leaving Cert is the best option. A Fetac or a course at a further college of education that will get you on to a Level 8 course is a better option,” he says.
“If you are absolutely dedicated to a discipline that requires a certain amount of points that you need to get into – the likes of medicine, dentistry – repeat your Leaving,” he says. “Transferability and conversion is always an option – there are always ways and means. You can do an engineering programme initially but then go and do a postgraduate conversion programme later on.”
Costello says if you feel an exam paper didn’t go well, it is always a good idea to view scripts with your teacher.
“You can see the reason why the exam didn’t go well and decide if it’s worth checking to see if you can get an upgrade. It’s always worth getting a second opinion particularly with a teacher who knows your ability. Many students who appeal their exams get an upgrade; of course there is always the risk you may go down so that’s why it’s a good idea to view the script with a teacher as they can help you to decide,” he says.
“You will not get the result of your appealed grade until October but all colleges will allow you to defer the course if you need to change. It can make for an anxious wait but it is worth it if you get on your chosen course,” he says.
Costello says students should not see the Leaving Cert as their last chance at getting the course or career they want.
“The Leaving Cert is important but it isn’t the be all and end all. There are always other routes to your chosen career or doing what you want to do.
Many students come to college and realise the course they picked isn’t what they want to do but they see there are ways and means to get where you need to go,” he says.
Dedicated repeat years
A number of schools and private colleges offer dedicated repeat years, where classes tend to be small and where students are treated as young adults.
Education and Training Boards (ETB) – the former VECs offer repeat Leaving Certificate courses in a number of colleges throughout the country.
Alternatively a number of private colleges offer repeat Leaving Certificate courses. Enrolment and advice on subject choices normally takes place from the beginning of August to mid-September each year, depending on the college. The cost of doing a repeat Leaving Cert varies.
ETB colleges are the less expensive option; however students are advised to check with their local ETB to see exactly what costs are involved.
In the Dublin ETB area, repeat Leaving Certificate classes are offered in Plunkett College, Whitehall; Pearse College, Crumlin; Rathmines College and Ringsend College.
Schools with dedicated repeat classes include CBS Coláiste Mhuire, Mullingar, Co Westmeath, and St Aloysius College, Athlone, Co Westmeath.
Other Dublin schools with dedicated repeat classes are Marian College, Ballsbridge; O'Connell's School, North Richmond Street and St Joseph's School, Marino.
Private colleges, such as Yeats College, offer courses in Galway and Waterford. In Dublin there is the Institute of Education on Leeson Street and Ashfield College, Dundrum.*
Hewitt College in Cork and Limerick Tutorial College also offer repeat years, but there are fees to be paid.
*Correction: An earlier version of this story said Ashfield College is in Templeogue. It has moved to Dundrum.