Important factors to consider when thinking about life after school

Should you always pick your first choice on the CAO or are there other options to consider?

Written by Jessica Viola


This time last year, I was at the homestretch of finishing my Leaving Certificate. My orals were completed, I was running out of past paper questions, and my stress levels were through the roof.

It is funny now to reflect on last year and how I thought that the Leaving Cert was the end all be all for me. I figured, just like everyone else in my year, that once the exams were finished that college was the obvious next step. However, knowing what I know now, that is not necessarily the case.

Flash forward to now, out of the girls from my secondary school group, only five out of nine of us are still in college. Although we all had intentions of receiving a higher third level education, sometimes things do not always work out as planned. In fact, in 2017, one out of six third level students dropped out of a college course within their first year. This is not hard to imagine why.

So, what I am trying to say is that there are definitely some important factors to highlight for those who are leaving secondary school soon and are questioning their future.

  • If you are unhappy with your CAO offers, it is okay to take the year out and explore other options such as repeating or entering the workforce.

One of my peers, had accidentally arranged her level eight CAO choices wrong and managed to get into a course that she had no interest in. So, instead she made the responsible decision to take the year out and enter the workforce and reorganized her CAO choices for next year.

  • Make sure you know the distance and route you are going to take daily to your place of education.

My boyfriend too had an issue when it came to university. The struggle that he faced was that every day he had to commute to his college which in total the travel time daily was 3 hours back and forth. He decided to get a job instead and next year has chosen a closer college to his home.

  • Make sure you have an understanding of the modules and classes that are required in your course and, sitting in on a lecture can help to see exactly what the class is like.

One of my social science buddies was in for a shock in September when she found the course was not as what it intended to be. She had never sat in on a lecture until September and, when she got there the electives and modules did not reflect the course outline whatsoever. She was under the impression that social science would focus on psychology and relationship dynamics, but it only seemed to centre around the history of thought. She additionally dropped out and decided to spend her year traveling the world to places such as Australia, France, and the Canary Islands and now has a better idea of what she wants to study next year.

  • When filling out your CAO, make sure that you are choosing a course that you have a passion or interest in.

Take myself for example, while I am still in college at the moment, I could have never pictured that I would receive my first choice, English with Film, in the third round of CAO offers. Even though I always had an interest in studying this, I figured that perhaps I should just stay in my course of social science as it was the more practical career path. Fortunately, I took that chance and changed courses in the third round and now am so much happier studying a subject that I have a passion for.  

  • Next, don’t be afraid to pick your level six or seven choice if you think it suits you more.

There was a girl in my secondary school who always had intentions to study her level eight choice in the CAO but, found that when she received her offers that her level six course seemed more appealing to her. In the end, she chose her level six course and could not be happier with her decision. I know that there seems to be a stigma against those who chose this option but, sometimes the classes are smaller and help to facilitate pupils better in this environment. Also, it helps students fill in the gaps on any missing knowledge that they have on a particular topic as they tend to start their subjects from scratch.

  • My last piece of advice is that it is completely normal to have absolutely no clue what you want to do next year

Just remember that everyone is going through the same stresses that you are now of trying to figure out what the future holds. It is foolish to think that someone at the age of eighteen or nineteen has the idea of knowing exactly who they want to be and what they want to do next year.  

Overall, it is important for those who are leaving secondary school to explore all of the options that lay ahead for the years to follow. Right now, you are just placing down the foundation for your future and along the way there is going to be some flaws in the lay out plan. However, just remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day so try not to worry if life doesn’t go exactly as planned.

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