My daughter isn’t sure what course to apply for. How can I help?

Ask Brian: Students don’t have to choose careers – just courses that match their interests, aptitudes and abilities

My eldest daughter will be sitting the Leaving Cert next June. She has been advised by her school to make her CAO application online. She feels a bit overwhelmed with the choices on offer. Can you offer advice on how I, as a parent, can support her to make the right career choice?

You are correct: your daughter is now eligible to go online ( to register her interest in applying for courses.

She can choose up to 10 honours degree courses (level 8) and 10 further ordinary degrees/higher certificates (level 6/7) in order of preference.

If this seems a daunting task in November, there’s no need to panic: the only date that matters in the application process is July 1st, 2019, when the CAO closes the application process.


Nevertheless, it is worth immediately registering with the CAO by completing the application online. This involves submitting personal details and paying €30. She will then receive her CAO number.

There are a relatively small number of courses listed as “restricted” in her CAO handbook and these must be included on her course-choice list by February 1st next if she is to be in the running for a place on any of these programmes.

The common factor in all “restricted” application courses is that they have some assessment process which takes place in March/April. They include art courses (which may require portfolios), medicine (the Hpat) and music/drama (which may require a performance).

Apart from the CAO application process itself, your daughter should also be mindful of the further-education and apprenticeship options available to her.

Your daughter is not necessarily selecting a career at this stage; she is in the process of deciding which courses represent the best fit

Many of these courses are used as stepping stones by students into high-points courses in the CAO for which they do not secure an offer in their Leaving Cert year, or as preparation for entry into the labour market.

Also, she should be aware of the opportunities for Irish students to now take more than 1,000 degree programmes in European universities taught through English.

While all of this can feel daunting, there should be no need to feel anxious. Your daughter is not necessarily selecting a career at this stage; she is in the process of deciding which courses represent the best fit in terms of her interests, aptitudes, and ability over the coming years.

If she gets that step right, the career journey will fall naturally into place in the years ahead.

She should continue to reflect on her options as the year unfolds, attending her open days, studying her course options ( and getting up-to-date career data (

If you do all that, the final decision on course choices will fall naturally into place in those last 10 days of June, after she has finished her exams.

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