My son still has no idea what course he wants. Should he still apply to the CAO?

Ask Brian: College one of a range of options – and by no means the only one

College is only one of a wide range of options, but by no means the only one. Photograph: iStock

College is only one of a wide range of options, but by no means the only one. Photograph: iStock


My son sits the Leaving Cert in June but has no idea what he wants to do. Is there any point making a CAO application – or should he take a year out to consider his options?

College is only one of a wide range of options open to your son, but by no means the only one. My greatest concern for him would be that he feels marginalised in any way from his friends or peer group through not having any specific course aspirations at this stage in sixth year.

Thousands, if not tens of thousands, of young school leavers apply for and start college courses each year, for no reason other than to follow their friends. Many of them drop out shortly after they engage with their course, as they lack the motivation necessary to progress successfully, even to the end of first year.

So, the first piece of advice I would give you as a parent is to affirm your son’s doubts and assure him that he needs have no further anxiety over his lack of college aspirations.

The world and his career options may look very different in six months’ time, when he has finished the Leaving Cert. Therefore, wasting time and piling on further stress at this stage is counterproductive.


This is not to say that he will not get to a point in August next when he will decide that seeking and accepting a college place in the coming academic year fits in well with his career aspirations. It is for that reason that I would advise him to register with the CAO before the February 1st closing date deadline for the €45 application fee.

Consider it as an insurance payment, which gives him the right up to July 1st next, to list any restricted application courses now before February 1st, and any non-restricted application courses, which he may add now or in May or June next.

If at that stage college has become a serious option for him, he can simply add a list of non-restricted course choices to his CAO application, which will put him in the exact same situation as any other applicant.

Alternate options

While focusing on his studies over the coming months, I would advise him to reflect on the wide range of alternate options such as further education and apprenticeships.

The career journey of life has many twists and turns and attending third-level college following the Leaving Cert is but one of them. As a society we would hugely reduce mental health issues affecting young people if we took a more balanced approach to the options open to school-leavers.