Students still have time to reconsider CAO choices

Around half of Leaving Cert students used the CAO’s change-of-mind facility in 2016

Students who might feel torn between subjects should look at practical outcomes. Photograph: iStockphoto/Getty Images

Students who might feel torn between subjects should look at practical outcomes. Photograph: iStockphoto/Getty Images


Once the exams season ends, it is understandable that the CAO might be the last thing on students’ minds.

However,  it can be a good time to sit down with a parent or guidance counsellor and revise your course choices on the CAO again.

Around half of Leaving Certificate students used the change-of-mind facility on the CAO last year to add, remove or re-order their choices so don’t be afraid to have a rethink.

Some caveats apply. There are restrictions on adding courses for which interviews, portfolio submission deadlines or other additional assessment dates have already passed.

So, the mocks didn’t go well and now you’re doubting your CAO choices, what should you do?

Ita McGuigan, Senior Schools Liaison Officer at DCU, advises students not to panic.

“The change-of-mind facility closes on July 1st so you have time to reconsider or finalise those CAO choices. You have 20 CAO choices, the important thing is to think strategically about what order are you going to fill them out,” she says.

If the mocks went well enough but you’re unsure about the course you put down, what should you do?

“I would always recommend talking to your school’s guidance counsellor about any doubts you may have. They are experts with vast knowledge and experience in helping young people decide their future career. In addition, talk to course providers, for example visit the university, ask for a campus tour, ask to talk to a lecturer or someone who can help you make your decision,” she says.

McGuigan says if you’re still in doubt about your CAO choices, list out your subjects and list what exams you performed well in, which subjects are you naturally best at and put down any subjects you know you don’t enjoy.

“Work with the list of subjects you enjoy – if you like them at second level and are doing well at them, choose an undergraduate programme that contains some or all of these subjects; the chances are that you will succeed and complete such a programme rather than choosing one with subjects you don’t like,” she says.

“For example, if you enjoy mathematics and physics, you may have a natural aptitude for a degree in engineering or if you like helping people and enjoy biology perhaps you should consider nursing.”

If you have an aptitude for variety or subjects, don’t limit yourself, says McGuigan. Students who might feel torn between subjects should look at practical outcomes.

“Let’s say you love problem-solving, are naturally good at mathematics but you have always excelled at English and have considered a career in journalism.” This, she says, can be a “tough call as they are so different”.

In this case she would advise students to consider studying engineering now as it might be more adaptable before perhaps pursuing journalism at a later date.

“If you study engineering, you can still pursue the journalism career if it is still niggling at you in the future. An engineering graduate can further their study in many areas, or can change direction and study for a masters in journalism.”

“However if you choose the degree in English you can’t then do a masters in engineering,” she adds.

If you are thinking of undertaking a vocational degree course or if there is an opportunity to do a placement or spend a day shadowing someone – take it – advises McGuigan.

College students studying the course you are interested in are a great source of information, as are student blogs. She says it is important to conduct as much research into the course content as possible to avoid having misconceived ideas or expectations.

“For example, I had a student who was so upset and wanted to leave her course not that long after starting. She was studying midwifery, had over 500 points in her Leaving and got her number-one CAO choice.

“I could not understand why she wanted to leave but she had just returned from clinical placement and said she could not see herself working in the environment,” she adds.

List 20 choices

Filling in all 20 courses on the CAO form gives students a good safety net, says McGuigan. If you don’t have enough points for your level-eight course, many colleges offer level-seven courses which give students a chance to advance to the level-eight version of their course.

“After the three years, there may be the opportunity to progress to a level-eight programme in the same institution or the student can apply to other universities,” she says.

“You have 10 level-nine choices and 10 level seven. Complete the form in genuine order of preference and not on points.”

She advises students to think hard before deciding what to put at the top of the list. “I had a call from someone who was offered their number-one choice last year, but had changed their mind and wanted their second choice. They had over 500 points and sufficient points for their second choice, but the CAO process does not work like that – they got their first choice,” she says.

McGuigan advises students to “dream big” when it comes to putting their course preferences in order.

“Your number-one choice should be the course you would pick if you had 600 points in your Leaving (assuming you have the basic entry requirements) and not just what you think you will achieve. You could be pleasantly surprised by your results and you don’t want to regret not dreaming big.”

“From number two to 10, put your choices down in genuine order of preference and taking other factors into consideration, eg, X university over Y because of location, size of campus, facilities, clubs and societies, graduate employability and so on, she says.

CAO checklist

Double-check entry requirements for your chosen course to make sure if you need a higher-level subject or not.

While ball-park points expectations should be kept in mind, students should list their course choice by preference instead of anticipated points scores, or past points requirements.

Applicants should always have a couple of “fall-back” options and ensure they thoroughly research every course choice.

Filling in all 20 courses on the CAO form gives students a good safety net, should it all go wrong on the day.

A lesser-known option is the “available places” facility which open in August. It offers places that remain unfilled on particular courses after all offers have been made and waiting lists have been exhausted.

Studying in Europe is becoming increasingly common due to post-Brexit fears. See Eunicas for more details.

The UK also offers a “clearing option” which is how universities and colleges fill any places they still have on their courses, it is available from July to September.

Keep an eye on for ongoing Leaving Cert and CAO-related coverage and news.

This article was amended on 21/06/2017