The first thing to think of when choosing a CAO course is what you actually want to do. If you’re interested in computers there’s not much point putting arts courses on your list just because you think you‘ll have a better chance of getting the points. However, you do need to be realistic. If you’re getting mostly Cs you’re not going to get the points for medicine so why waste an option applying for it? You’re only allowed to choose 10 courses on each list so you need to put quite a bit of thought into what you’d like to spend 3-4 years studying. Obviously, what you want to do after college and, unfortunately, how many points you’re likely to get in your Leaving Cert will also need to be taken into consideration, so a bit of research is required.
Make a list of the courses you’d really like to do, then check into how many points are required for each and eliminate the courses you have no chance of getting enough points for. Don’t be too pessimistic though. If you leave off a course you’d really like to do because you think you probably won’t get the points for it, you could end up kicking yourself in August if your exams go well. Try asking your teachers how they think you’ll do – they should be more objective than you and their comments might surprise you. It certainly won’t hurt to ask! Once you’ve decided what’s out of reach, arrange the remaining courses in order of preference. This is vital. You will be offered the highest-placed course on your list that you have enough points for, so think carefully about which one you want most. Even if you don’t get it in the first round of offers, there’ll still be a chance you could get it in the second round. When you read your CAO handbook you‘ll see that it tells you:
“It is MOST IMPORTANT that you state your course choices in view of genuine preference and/or career plans. IT IS A MISTAKE to base your choices only on your present expectation of examination performance or the points levels of previous years. There is no need to fear that a statement of your genuine order of preference will militate against you. If you are not successful in your first choice, this will have no effect on your chances of obtaining a place in one of your lower preferences.”
Despite this, every year students end up being offered a course other than the one they really wanted because they didn’t think they’d get the points. Try not to be one of them.
Another thing to bear in mind, especially if you’re worried that your results might not be as good as you’re hoping for, is that there are often “back doors” into a career. For example, if you’re interested in medicine you can do a degree in biology and then go on to do medicine. Also, you don’t necessarily have to become a doctor. You could choose nursing, physiotherapy, radiology or pharmacology. For those interested in business there are business courses but also management, economics and accounting. There are ways round the points requirements if you really want to do something, but you must bear in mind that the way around will often take longer and cost more.
The actual application is pretty simple but the CAO recommends that you use the online process as it’s practically foolproof and it’s very unlikely you’ll make an error using it. There is also the option on the website of going through an interactive “demo” application procedure before filling in your actual application. The form has two lists; Level 8 (for honours degree courses) and Level 7/6 (for ordinary degree or higher certificate courses). You can apply to both lists, they operate independently of each other. Some courses, e.g. Art and Design or music degree courses, are “restricted application”. These courses will be noted in the handbook and must be applied for by Feb 1 (though you can use the correction or amendment facility between February 5 and March 1). An application to these courses will not be considered in a later application unless you’ve applied for them first time round, as some of them have extra assessment procedures, e.g. music tests, that take place usually in March or April. So, if you are interested make sure you put them on your list. You can always remove them later if you change your mind. Although the deadline for initial applications is 1st February, you may change your mind up until 1st July. To apply online, visit www.cao.ie. As well as making your application, you can get lots of helpful information from the website, which has links to each college. This means you can get lots of information on the colleges and on each course. It’s a good idea to check out the website in advance of making your decision.
Finally, in spite of what a lot of people will tell you at this time, remember that this is NOT the most important decision you’ll ever make. Apart from the fact that it is, after all, reversible – you can always change courses or do more than one – there is more to life than study and if your decisions turn out to be incorrect you will have other chances at furthering your study and career.