Careers rarely develop the way we plan them. Our career path often takes many twists and turns, with particular events, choices and people influencing our direction.
We asked Lynsey Gargan from Smart Futures to give some advice for people considering this job:
With regard to education I say don't worry if you think you have the wrong subjects in school. I certainly didn't have the subjects you would typically expect.
There are a number of courses that cater to different backgrounds. The most important thing is to do your research. Go to open days, talk to the colleges and generally just find out what exactly you would be getting in to.
Don't just take for granted you know what a certain course or career is all about. Think about what you like to do, and not just necessarily in school, if you find yourself being curious about how things work or how thing are made, it's a good indication that you could like something like engineering.
One of the best things about engineering is that it really can be your passport to the world. There are great travel opportunities within the industry and chances to be involved in the next big thing.
Practically every man-made product around you came from a manufacturing plant, it's a huge industry with a lot of different avenues to take. Innovation is a really big part of what engineers do. The desire to be creative and improve production and processes is an important attribute for a manufacturing engineer.
What are your interests?
Not surprisingly, some aspect of the natural sciences will run through the Naturalist's interests - from ecological awareness to nutrition and health. People with an interest in horticulture, land usage and farming (including fish) are Naturalists.
Some Naturalists focus on animals rather than plants, and may enjoy working with, training, caring for, or simply herding them. Other Naturalists will prefer working with the end result of nature's produce - the food produced from plants and animals. Naturalists like solving problems with solutions that show some sensitivity to the environmental impact of what they do. They like to see practical results and prefer action to talking and discussing.
Selecting the right subjects for senior cycle, and the level at which to take them, is a critical task faced by 60,000 second-level students every year. Before embarking on the Leaving Cert. programme students must consider their future educational goals as decisions they make now can have consequences for future college applications.
There are good reasons why students tend to have a science subject and a third language in their arsenal and, as you will find out if you read on, there are no “soft” options on the Leaving Cert exam.
Video: Studying STEM subjects in school and college and their importance for Irish industry.
Factors to Consider When Choosing Your Leaving Cert Subjects
Most students will study a European language. A third language is required for entry to National University of Ireland colleges (UCD, Maynooth University, UCC, NUIG and for a range of assocaited constituent college, all of whiach are listed on the NUI website) for most degree programmes in Arts, Human Sciences, Law, Social Science, Commerce, Medicine and Health Sciences and some other degrees. If you want to keep all your options open stick with the language studies. Some schools offer Japanese as an option and this language can be taken up from scratch in 5th year.
Choosing a subject in the field of science is also a popular choice. Having a lab science (Agricultural Science, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Physics & Chemistry) is a requirement for some courses so it is good to be aware of these before dropping science from your list.
Be aware that most courses in healthcare professions require a science subject e.g. nursing, physiotherapy, occupational therapy. Additionally some medical courses require two science subjects such as Dentistry and Medicine.
Chemistry is a required subject for Pharmacy in RCSI and UCC. Trinity also requires Chemistry but will accept Physics/Chemistry as an alternative. Veterinary Science (UCD), Dentistry (UCC), Medicine (UCC), Medical and Health Sciences (UCC), Human Nutrition and Dietetics (TU Dublin) all require Chemistry.
Some engineering courses require a science subject but many will accept an alternative e.g. the Leaving Cert subject Technology is accepted as an alternative for Maynooth MH304 and UCC CK600.
A lab science is required for entry to many Science courses. However, some courses accept alternative subjects. Some of these include the following:
UCD (DN200) accepts Applied Maths or Geography
TU Dublin (DT201) accepts Engineering, Technology or Applied Mathematics.
Maynooth University (MH201) accepts Applied Mathematics, Computer Science.
Biology is a firm favourite amongst students. Year-on-year the number of candidates taking biology is in excess of the number of candidates taking all the other sciences combined. It is the most popular Leaving Cert optional subject. . . but this doesn’t mean it’s the easiest. Biology is a long course that requires a lot of rote learning. Mathematically minded students might do better in Chemistry or Physics.
Choosing a practical or creative subject can be a good option for students. The practical subjects have project work that accounts for a substantial percentage of the overall grade. This can ease the burden on students. Having a practical focus can add variety to your Leaving Cert subject combination and if you have a passion for the subject the practical element can be an outlet for stress, this can be especially true for art students, musicians or wood-turners.
Course Work and Projects
Many subjects now contain a course work or project element and unfortunately the deadlines for these projects fall very closely together. The deadline for the DCG coursework is in late February. March sees the deadline for projects in Home Economics, Engineering, Art, Technology and LCVP. Agricultural Science coursework deadline is early April and the end of April sees the coursework deadline for the big hitters History and Geography, as well as Religious Studies, Music, Home Economics (textile elective) and the Construction Studies project. It is wise to consider the coursework involved in the subject combination you are thinking about before making your final decision.
Interests and Aptitude/Ability Assessments
It is a good idea to choose subjects that you are good at and that you have an interest in. Most schools will administer aptitude tests such as the DAT or CAT and offer feedback on your performance. You may show signs of having natural aptitude in one or two areas. Some areas you might show strengths in include: verbal or numerical reasoning, spatial awareness, mechanical reasoning. Strengths in these areas will point you in direction of career areas that could compliment your ability.
Interest assessments can be very enlightening for students. Through answering a series of preference questions interest assessments can reveal a lot about your work preferences. The Career Interests Profiler on CareersPortal takes about 15 minutes to complete. This instrument provides you with a free printable report containing a summary of your career interests, along with some occupations that match your interest profile. Being armed with this information helps students to pick subjects that might feed into these careers.
Everyone wants to reduce the workload so think about what subjects might overlap. Home Economics and Biology overlap in human anatomy sections, Home Economics also overlaps with Construction Studies and Business Studies. There is a strong correlation between Physics and Applied Maths, and Agricultural Science has some overlap with Geography and Biology. The Link Modules in the LCVP programme are deeply rooted in the Business Studies course; if a student chooses complimentary subjects they might be able to cut down on some of the study.
A pass in ordinary level maths is essential for entry to the majority of courses. The number of students now choosing foundation level maths is increasing every year and there is a growing number of colleges and courses that offer places to students who secure a minimum of a pass in foundation level maths. Use the 'Accepts Foundation Level Maths' filter in our CAO CourseFinder here to search relevant courses.
A few final tips
Do your research –Talk to teachers about the subjects you are considering. Many subjects are very different from their Junior Cert equivalent so make sure the course is what you imagined it to be. Talk to students who are currently in 5th and 6th year about the subjects they are taking to get an idea of the topics covered and the workload involved. Browse through the Leaving Cert textbooks to gain a greater insight into the courses.
And lastly. . .
Be independent; well meaning parents may try to make the decision for their sons and daughters but ultimately this is your Leaving Cert and you should take responsibility for the decision. Try not to be overly influenced by your friends, choose the subjects you want to do and not the subjects all your friends are doing.
What subjects did you take in school and how have these influenced your career path?
In school there was very poor attention given to, or ‘guidance’ towards suitable careers. I was lucky I knew what I wanted to do. This, looking back was disappointing because I had no drive to go to third level college. I knew all I needed to be a Paramedic was the Leaving Cert.
In the Leaving Cert I took English, Irish, Maths, French, Biology, Chemistry and History pretty much the standard, they didn’t really have much influence on my career choice. That said, Biology and Chemistry are a great foundation for studying medicine as a Paramedic.