Edel McManus, Guidance Counsellor at Lucan Community College, shares her expert advice for students weighing up their options…
It is an exciting time for students all over the country as they are in the middle of deciding their next step after secondary school.
Students taking the traditional leaving certificate and the leaving certificate applied are fortunate to have a wide range of available options.
For some, it can seem like a daunting or overwhelming decision but, rest assured, when you begin to engage with the process, you will find plenty of information to help you to make your decision.
Keys to Success in Making your Decision
- Focus on your interests – When we are interested in what we are studying/doing, we are willing to make an effort and, most of the time, it may not seem like much of an effort at all. This is why understanding your interests will be helpful in making your choice. Careers Portal (careersportal.ie) provides a free online interest assessment and it has an excellent follow-on process where you can link your interests to courses/training you would like to consider.
- Consider your abilities – You will have an idea of where your academic ability lies from subjects you have taken in school. You may have taken an aptitude test at some stage in school as well. While ability is important, it is not the most crucial factor. Remember, you can take subjects at third level without having any experience with them in the past.
- Careers portal have a suite of self-assessment tools on their website (more are available if you have a REACH account). These include examining your values, personality and many more. Remember, no one assessment will make this decision for you and that is an important consideration when you partake in any assessment.
- Investigate all the routes available into the area of study you would like – Higher Education (Level 6, 7 & 8 – apply through the CAO). Find out what the entry requirements are and if you potentially could fulfill those requirements – are you doing the correct amount of subjects, at the level required which could potentially get the points you may need?
- Further Education (Level 5 & 6 – apply directly to the college). Apprenticeships (a huge variety of training available here even beyond the traditional trades), Defence Forces, Gardaí, Civil and Public Service & Traineeships. The National Learning Network is also available for students who may require more specialised support.
- Consider more than one option. The CAO form offers 20 options for courses. You apply in order of preference. Do not fixate on one course only. Take the opportunity to investigate what you would pursue if your first choice did not work out. Remember, CAO points are not decided until August and can fluctuate each year.
- Research access schemes like HEAR and DARE (accesscollege.ie) for Higher Education. These schemes offer a potential points reduction and student support for courses if you are eligible and selected for a place by a college. HEAR looks at socio-economic factors and DARE looks at a student who may have a disability. Overall these schemes are tackling disadvantage in education by supporting students whose education may have been impacted by either of those factors.
If you do not get a place through these schemes, you should still make contact with the access office in your college where supports may be available when you start your course.
- Investigate scholarships available. If you have a particular strength, be it sporting/musical or academic, you may receive a points reduction and/or access supports to allow you to pursue your talent in college. There are a range of scholarships available in each college.
- Keep a healthy perspective – you are choosing the next stage in your education/training – not the career you will end up in forever. Students can sometimes become bogged down in the process if they exert too much pressure on themselves with the decision they are making.
- Remember, the world of work is constantly evolving. There will be jobs in five years’ time that do not exist today. Employers are looking for flexible skills like teamwork, communication skills, problem solving, organisation and resilience. Examine if your course will give you opportunities to develop these.
- Research, research and do some more research! Virtual open days have been taking place nationwide over the last few months and will continue throughout the rest of the year in various forms. Download a calendar of career events on careersportal and keep up to date with events that you are interested in attending. Speak to staff, students and in your own circle, speak with friends, family and of course, your guidance counsellor.
- Think of the process like a jigsaw. You are collecting pieces of the puzzle and when you put all of the information together, you will get a clearer picture.
- Ultimately, it is important that you take time, after you have researched your options. Decide what will really suit YOU. You are unique, talented and have many strengths and the right option is waiting for you.