What if you didn’t get the results you hoped for? It can feel like a crushing disappointment and a waste of hard work, but the class of 2019 have more options than ever before.
Alice O'Connor, a guidance counsellor at Stepaside Educate Together Secondary School in Co Dublin, says it's important to acknowledge a student's sadness or distress. "Students have done a lot of work over the years leading up to the Leaving Cert, and there's been such a build-up to the exams. It's important to empathise and acknowledge their distress, rather than dismiss or plaster over it. After that, I would always start by asking a student for their own thoughts on what they might do next."
1. Consider your other CAO options
“If they’ve done their CAO application, they will hopefully have filled out both the level 6/7 and the level 8 courses, all the way down,” says O’Connor. “This will hopefully mean they get some offer or offers, so it’s a good idea to talk to your guidance counsellor about whether these other courses might be a good fit.”
2. Accept your offer – and wait
O’Connor says students should always accept a CAO offer, even if it’s not the course they necessarily want. This seems counterintuitive but it’s good advice. “If you accept an offer for, say, your fifth preference – even if you really wanted your third – then you could get a new offer for a preferred course in CAO round two. But if you reject any offer, you may not get a second chance in round two or three. And accepting a CAO offer does not close off your other options, including PLC courses, apprenticeships and training.”
The last CAO offers will be issued by September 25th.
3. Vacant places
After everyone has filled out their CAO form and round one offers have been issued, some courses will still have vacant places. "These are advertised on the CAO website after the first round offers, and the various higher-education institutions will update them every day," O'Connor advises. "They're offered by all the third-levels, although you will see more of them in the institutes of technology than in Trinity College or UCD.'
Applicants for these courses must still meet minimum entry requirements for the course. Students apply through their online CAO account. The independent, fee-paying colleges such as Griffith College Dublin and Cork or Dublin Business School often have courses with vacant places.
4. Repeat the Leaving
It’s perhaps the biggest and most daunting decision facing a student who missed out on the course they really wanted: should they repeat? Nobody can make that decision for you, but it’s worth figuring out if you can really put yourself through the exams again with no absolute guarantee your CAO points score will rise. There’s also the risk that your points will rise – but so will the points for the course you have in mind.
“For some students, it can feel like a step backwards,” says O’Connor. “It does suit some students, for sure, but for those in the middle ground of CAO points, I don’t know if they will necessarily do much better on a repeat.”
It can be a good call for students who accept that they slacked off the first time around and, upon the shock of seeing their low points, make a firm resolution to knuckle down for the year. There's no denying it's a stressful exam to go through for a second time but, on the upside, repeat students who have already met the minimum entry requirements in Irish, English, maths and a European language don't need to take those subjects again – indeed, they could do any six subjects to make up their points, including a new one if they wanted. Some students move to a new school for a fresh start, with places like St Laurence's College in Loughlinstown offering a very exam-focused repeat "seventh year".
“If a student is trying for a high-points, competitive course such as medicine and they were only a few points off, they could perhaps benefit,” says O’Connor. “I wouldn’t immediately do it, however, as there are options to study abroad or do a PLC which could be an entry route into their preferred course.”
5. The PLC option
The Post-Leaving Cert course has undergone a transformation over the past decade, changing radically in both style and substance.
Quality and Qualifications Ireland, the overseeing body that accredits and guarantees quality for all further- and higher-education courses in Ireland, has recently completed a re-engagement process with the education and training boards that run PLC courses and standards on these courses are high. Colleges of further education are more than a local option or a fallback for students who didn't get enough points elsewhere – the quality of the courses at Ballyfermot College of Further Education, for instance, draws in students from all over Ireland.
“I worked in a school where a very hard-working student got 475 points, a really good score,” says O’Connor. “He was really capable and he wanted to study science in UCD but, that year, the points went up to 505, so he just missed out. With that points score, he had other CAO offers, including one in DIT, but he was still really keen to do science in UCD.
“I met with him after the offers came out. I advised him to accept his CAO offer anyway so that he could still get a higher offer at a later point in the process.
“I told him about a level 5, pre-science course at the Bray Institute of Further Education. We checked with UCD admissions and they said that anyone who studied the course and secured a distinction would get in. Of course, he wasn’t guaranteed a place, but repeating was also a big risk: it would be a big challenge to get an extra 30-40 points in his repeats, with the risk that points could go up again and he’d still miss out.
“He did the course in Bray and he got into UCD. The benefit was that he had that extra year to learn more about science and get a real taster of what college would be like. And if he had missed out, he could still have gone to the DIT course.”
6. Apprenticeships and training
The popularity of apprenticeship programmes are soaring, says Shauna Dunlop, director of apprenticeships and work-based training at Solas, the further education and training authority.
“We have grown numbers from just around 1,200 during the recession in and around a decade ago to 16,000 and growing today,” she says. “Apprentices come from all backgrounds and walks of life and can be school-leavers or mature students. They are also paid while they learn, which is a big draw.”
The range of apprenticeships on offer has grown beyond more traditional crafts such as plumbing, pipefitting, carpentry and motor mechanics. Newer apprenticeships include auctioneering and property services, accounting technician, cybersecurity and chef de partie. Some of the apprenticeships involve learning in a college and gaining a degree up to level 8, ensuring apprentices get a good taste of the college experience too.
Workplace training is another option for school-leavers, where they can undertake on-the-job learning for specific skills. These are usually relatively short courses geared towards providing local employment in particular sectors. They could be a first step on a career ladder, or a stopgap for school-leavers to get valuable and useful employment before returning to full or part-time further or higher education.
7. Go abroad
The website Eunicas.ie is an excellent resource for students considering studying in European universities. On these courses, which span the full range of disciplines including arts, law, medicine, science and veterinary medicine, the content and course material is all delivered in English. In some countries, including Malta, Germany and the Scandinavian countries, Irish students pay little or no fees.
Entry requirements are usually lower; this is not because the courses are of lower quality but because there is simply more pressure for third-level places in Ireland and the UK.
Students can also apply to study in the UK through UCAS Clearing up to October 23rd,” says O’Connor. “This is quite similar to CAO available places. Otherwise, the main deadline for UCAS is January 15th and for Oxford and Cambridge’s medicine and veterinary courses, it’s October 15th before the September of entry the following year – very early. There may be limited course choice but there are so many courses in the UK that most students could find something.
"Of course, due to fees and Brexit, England, Wales and Northern Ireland may be a less attractive option. Currently, the Scottish system allows EU students in on 'free' fees – the same registration fee that they pay here, and no tuition fees."
But students should not take a decision to move to the UK or Europe lightly, O'Connor says. "You have to consider all that comes with moving away at the age of 17 or 18, and particularly if – with just a few weeks' notice – you're going to move to The Netherlands for a few years."
8. Take a year out
“Young people can learn a lot about themselves after a year out,” says O’Connor. “It’s quite common in the UK for people to have a gap year after school and perhaps work or go travelling. In Ireland, there’s a fear that people will never go back to education, and their life will be ruined. But it might be a good idea for some to take a year and catch their breath. Almost any job will be a good experience for a young person to have: it can be a real eye-opener, and it can give them a chance to think about where to go next.”
9. Go to work
Education no longer ends after school or third-level: it’s a lifelong process. While those with a third-level qualification do earn more, school-leavers who find a job they like and which can pay the bills don’t have to rush to college. That said, with rent and bills so costly, it can be hard to make enough money to support yourself independently without some qualifications beyond the Leaving Cert – but it could, at least, keep you afloat until you’re ready for the next step.
Irish Times CAO helpdesk
If you need help dealing with the results and CAO offers, put your questions to our online team of guidance counsellors. They’ll be available after the results come out from Tuesday 13th August to August 17th.