What to do if you didn’t get the results you wanted: a 10-step guide

I didn’t achieve the points or get offered the course I wanted. What are my options?

The class of 2021 have waited longer than any other for their Leaving Cert results. For many, stripped of the rites of passage like a Leaving Cert holiday or simply being able to hang out with friends, it’s been a torturous wait that follows two years of uncertainty.

And the wait is not over yet: the CAO offers are yet to come, and it’s not entirely clear whether grade inflation might drive points up. So, if you didn’t get the results or the course you wanted, what are your options?

1. Take a breath. A lot of people will try to reassure you with their personal experience, but this isn't always helpful. It's okay to feel disappointed and upset. Take some time to process that disappointment. Perhaps talk to someone who will listen to your concerns without telling you what to do. Be good to yourself, whether that's taking to your bedroom to play computer games with the curtains closed, getting some exercise (which helps with stress relief) or having your favourite takeaway.

Alice O'Connor, a guidance counsellor at Stepaside Educate Together Secondary School, advises parents to empathise and listen rather than gloss over their distress. "After that, I would always start by asking a student for their own thoughts on what they might do next," she says.


2. Try not to sit on that disappointment for too long: You do have many other options – and, once you're over the initial shock, now is the time to take advice. Your school career guidance should be able to help you, but you can also call The Irish Times Helpdesk for advice.

3. Your first option, if you're not happy with a grade in any given subject and think you should have done better, is to appeal either the accredited grade or the exam grade. Online, students can access their component marks in subjects for exams they sat (including written paper marks, oral marks and practical marks), apply to view their marked scripts, view the marked scripts in certain subjects and go through the appeal application process. For accredited grades, students can view the estimated percentage mark provided by the school and the accredited mark following the process of standardisation, and initiate the appeal application process.

A spokesperson for the State Examinations Commission advises: “Candidates who sat the examinations will have access to the written examinations appeal process, candidates who opted for accredited grades will have access to the accredited grades appeals process and candidates who opted for both will have access to both appeals processes. The appeals process for the written exams follows the normal written appeals process whereby each appealed script is [reviewed] by an experienced examiner not involved in the original marking. The accredited grades appeals process is a process review focusing on looking for errors in the transmission and receipt of candidate data. The professional judgment of the school in providing an estimated percentage mark and the standardisation process are not open to appeal.”

At time of writing, the SEC did not have a date by which the appeals results will be issued.

4. CAO options: O'Connor says that while you mightn't have got your number one choice, if you've filled out the CAO application, you will hopefully get other level-eight or level-six/seven offers – talk to your guidance counsellor about whether they might be right for you.

5. Accept an offer: If you're appealing, or hoping for an offer in CAO round two, you need to accept an offer – even if it's not the course you want. This is because, if you reject any CAO offer, you might not get a second offer in the next round. You can also accept a CAO offer while still pursuing your other options, including PLCs, apprenticeships, traineeships, repeating the Leaving Cert , a year out, working, studying abroad or a university access course.

6. Defer: Caitriona MacNamara, an independent careers adviser based in Galway, says the UK tradition of a "gap year" between school and college has never been as popular in Ireland. "If you are taking a year out, it's important to have a plan as to what you will do with this time, whether that's a course, work or travel – although the pandemic means that travel may be off the cards at the moment."

7. Repeat: Can you face repeating a single subject for matriculation purposes – or even the entire Leaving Cert – again? "Ask yourself why you want to repeat and be aware that there is still likely to be more uncertainty than usual around CAO points in 2022," says MacNamara. "You need to figure out what went wrong for you and how you would do it differently next year. But I'd be inclined to look at other options first." And these include:

8. Vacant places: Not all courses are in high demand, but that doesn't make them any less valuable. Some colleges, especially in institutes of technology and independent fee-paying colleges like Griffith or DBS, will have vacant places, which are advertised on the CAO website after the first-round offers. Once you meet the minimum entry requirements for the course, you can apply through your CAO account.

9. PLC, traineeship and apprenticeship: Next week, The Irish Times will publish Smart Options, a supplement detailing on post-Leaving Cert courses, apprenticeships and traineeships. A PLC course, as well as being a valuable qualification in its own right, can open the doors to a third-level course; there's also compelling evidence that students who do a PLC ultimately get better results in third level. See FetchCourses.ie for more details.

Apprenticeships include training for trades such as plumbing and motor mechanics as well as new options such as auctioneering, recruitment and ICT: you’ll learn on the job and be paid, ultimately coming out with a degree between level six and eight. You’ll find more information on apprenticeship.ie.

Traineeships, meanwhile, are courses developed with specific employers to train workers for specific roles, and are a great route into employment. And once in that job, you’ll not only have potential promotion opportunities; you’ll also be able to consider future learning options, including a PLC or college course down the line.

10. Head for the hills: In many other countries, it's a lot easier to get into college, and there are plenty of spaces in UK and European universities for Irish students who might like to broaden their horizons. UCAS.co.uk will have details of spaces in UK universities, while Eunicas.ie is your portal to European universities and courses delivered through the English language – yes, even medicine.