Preparing for life after that Leaving Certificate

Wnen it comes to choice, don’t be overwhelmed by the challenge of choosing what you do next

Don’t have a clue what to do after the Leaving? Don’t panic, you don’t have to decide on the rest of your life, just what you will do for the next few years. Photograph: iStockphoto/Getty Images

Don’t have a clue what to do after the Leaving? Don’t panic, you don’t have to decide on the rest of your life, just what you will do for the next few years. Photograph: iStockphoto/Getty Images


Life is a journey of exploration and discovery. Any adult reflecting on their own career journey since school realises that expecting a young person at age 18 or 19 to have decided on their occupation for life in 6th year is completely unrealistic.

Nobody, including myself at 62, knows what the next three to five years will bring. Both you as an 18-year-old and I at 62 go through the same process to determine our future career path. We both look at our life experiences, our interests and aptitudes, likes and dislikes, opportunities, what our financial and personal circumstances offer us.

The only difference between us is I have more clues buried in my life journey than you have. You will probably engage in this reflection and decision-making at least 15-20 times between now and when you are physically incapable of meaningful career activity – which may be 70 years away, in your case.

Career choices will recur many times over your lifetime. The options at the end of second-level education are the first significant career choices you will make, but they are not life-determining.

Therefore, don’t get anxious or distressed by this process now, as you’ll face it again throughout your life. The decision about next September will simply determine what you will commit to for next year, or, with college choices, three to four years. It is perfectly normal to tell your guidance counsellor you have no idea now what to do after the Leaving Cert.

The clues to your future are buried in your past

There are clues, though, embedded in your life story to date which can help you determine the next step. Your unique life experience advances daily as you express yourself in your personal, educational, sporting, musical, social and vocational life.

To make sense of it, sit down and look at the jigsaw pieces of your life. The trick is to put them all together, to see if there is a pattern or linking themes. We all have a wide range of interests, hobbies, skills, aptitudes and achievements, both academic and personal. Can you put the facts about yourself together to see what picture may emerge?

What do you enjoy doing in your personal life? Are you an outdoor type who loves the freedom of being in the open air? Are you good with people and do you enjoy helping or caring for them? Alternatively, you may enjoy making things or taking them apart to see how they work. Are you entrepreneurial, having bought and sold things among your friends and made a profit? Do you like routine and organising your room so it is neat and tidy, where you can find anything you want at a moment’s notice? The answers give you clues to your future career journey.

In your school life is another set of clues going back to when you started school as a four or five-year-old. What are your favourite subjects in school, in which you have done well in school exams or Junior Certificate? Are they language subjects, the sciences, business, technological subjects, the creative arts, music? If you took any interest inventories to help choose Leaving Cert subjects, they may indicate career or course areas of interest.

You probably took aptitude tests either at the end of Junior Cert year or transition year. Did they indicate you were strong in numerical, linguistic, abstract, mechanical, organisational reasoning etc? This is an important clue.

Genetics or family interests may also come into play. Is there a pattern in your family, on either side, which might point you in a direction?

Have you helped out at home or in a family business or profession? Many people follow a family direction, such as politics, farming or business.

Go through the questions posed here, write down any relevant answers or information that arises. When you have finished your list of facts about yourself, look to see if there is a pattern to it. You may see a theme or possible area of interest emerge, which will inform your research in the months ahead.

Remember, you are not looking for any blinding flash of inspiration for your entire working life, but a strong indication of what might be the best next step in your life. If you get that right, it will consolidate the pattern and help you to take the next step in a few years’ time, after completing your initial choice. Remember, just one step at a time constitutes perfect career planning.

Your ultimate decision may be to apply to college for this September or to volunteer abroad for a year or to do something completely different. The choice is yours and only you can know what is right for you.

Online support

For an insight into the changing world of work and evolving roles, go to It has an excellent interest inventory and personality profiler which may help you clarify your emerging picture of yourself by taking one or both tests.

When you have narrowed down your choices, you can research courses in the Republic on, in Britain and Northern Ireland at, and in continental Europe at