How to avail of your guidance teacher

Make the best use of your limited time with your career guidance teacher

‘It’s important to remember that your guidance counsellor can also help you to deal with a wide range of personal or social issues that may arise for you during the year.’ Photograph: iStock

‘It’s important to remember that your guidance counsellor can also help you to deal with a wide range of personal or social issues that may arise for you during the year.’ Photograph: iStock


Your school guidance counsellor might be your most precious resource during senior cycle. But, outside the fee-paying sector, many schools still are still under-resourced. Guidance teachers are increasingly the first port of call for students with concerns ranging from career-related decisions that need to be made to mental-health difficulties – while many guidance teachers also teach another subject.

All of these time demands mean that, in some schools, students may – if they’re lucky – sometimes only get an hour of one-to-one career guidance over the whole of fifth and sixth year.

So how can you best make use of your limited time with the career guidance teacher? We asked two career guidance teachers for their advice – Laura Walshe, a career guidance expert and founder of, and Roisin O’Donohue, a career guidance teacher at Belvedere College in Dublin, for their advice.

“Ideally, students would have three to four guidance sessions spread out over over the senior cycle,” says Walshe.

“The first session is just to get the student into the room and build up the relationship. Some schools will do an aptitude test on students in transition year but, often, the results are not properly explained to the student.”

1. Make an appointment

“It is important to make an appointment with your guidance counsellor to begin the decision-making process,” says O’Donohue. “Your guidance counsellor will take a holistic approach to helping you decide on what’s next. They will chat with you about your interests, your skills, your values, your dreams, your personality, as well as your academics. This helps to ensure that your decision will be the best for you as a whole person.”

2. Know yourself

Think of the subjects you like in school, but also what you like outside school, including sport and hobbies, Walshe advises. “What do you like to read and watch? What are your favourite films, TV shows and books? A pattern may emerge and they may may be attracted to certain types of working environments. Think of role models they admire, which can be a person who is alive or dead, a friend or family member, or perhaps someone you’ve never met. A person you admire is a person who represents your ideal self.”

3. Be your own person

Think widely about different careers, Walshe advises. “Ask relatives what their job is like. But be aware that young people can sometimes choose a course based on what their parents think is best for them, rather than what they want to do themselves.”

4. Be ready

“You can never do enough research and you can never start too early,” says O’Donohue. “It is important to be aware of the various pathways available to you when you leave school. Your guidance counsellor can help you to explore all of your options and can help guide you through various research tools. has some excellent and accessible tools to help make the research easier. It is important to make notes and to record your research as you go. In order to make a well-informed decision, start the process early.”

There may only be one chance to see the guidance counsellor, so come armed with your questions, says Walshe. “Students may arrive with preconceptions on courses, based on the jobs they know through familiarity. Many have no idea what apprenticeships are.”

Students should definitely have a look at, a nifty website that outlines all their further-education options, including apprenticeship, traineeship and post-Leaving Cert courses.

Walshe advises students to look at the interest inventory on and do it at home in their own time, before bringing it to the career guidance teacher. “You may find something you didn’t even know existed,” she says.

5. Get out and about

A crucial part of the process is to attend open days, information evenings or visit various workplaces, says O’Donohue. “Nothing beats the first-hand experience of a college campus or workplace. Your guidance counsellor can help you prepare for any visits or work placements in order to ensure that you maximise your visit and capture your thoughts and reflections.”

6. Investigate available pathways

Students have many pathways, so don’t overstress about whether or not you’ll get the points for that dream course, says O’Donohue. “Have a chat with your guidance counsellor to gain unbiased advice on the various course levels and on how to achieve your goal. They will discuss the National Qualifications Framework with you to ensure that you have a clear understanding of the levels available. They will also help you prepare a back-up plan, or safety net options, in case things don’t go your way on the day.”

7. Get help with your application

“Whether you are filling in a CAO application, applying for a college of further education or preparing for an apprenticeship interview, your guidance counsellor can help you ensure that you understand the process completely,” says O’Donohue. “Making an application for the first time can be nerve-wracking so don’t be shy about asking for help when needed and make sure you fully understand the process.”

8. Would you ever go away?

While the shape of Brexit to come may have lessened the number of Irish applications to UK colleges, the UK’s departure from the EU may (finally) be settled by 2021. In the meantime, the option to study in Europe (see for more details) is popular because it can be easier to get into certain courses, particularly medicine. O’Donohue points out that many of these colleges offer excellent courses through English. “Your guidance counsellor will help you weigh up the pros and cons of studying abroad and can offer advice on navigating the various application systems,” she says.

9. Scholarships and financial support

Students may be eligible for financial support or scholarships. “Your guidance counsellor can point you in the right direction in terms of researching scholarships and opportunities that may be suitable. They can also chat to you about making a Susi application for financial support and can help you determine if you are eligible to apply,” O’Donohue says.

10. Lift the pressure lever

“It’s important to remember that your guidance counsellor can also help you to deal with a wide range of personal or social issues that may arise for you during the year,” says O’Donohue. “If you are finding the process overwhelming or if you are going through a tough time in school or at home, your guidance counsellor is available for a talk. They will lend a supportive, non-judgemental ear during the tough times and your wellbeing is their number one concern. Every journey has its ups and downs, but your guidance counsellor is there to journey alongside you – and to support you each step of the way.”