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 Liam McCaul from Sustainable Energy Authority to give some advice for people considering this job:

Liam McCaul

R&D Engineer

Sustainable Energy Authority

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Liam McCaul
Do your best to find out the most you can about your specific engineering category, whether it be Electronics, Mechanical, Civil etc. Approach companies to try and get experience whilst you are at college, that way you have a running start on how to use the most up to date packages and instruments that companies have, and that then gets you the work experience when you finish college.

Realists are usually interested in 'things' - such as buildings, mechanics, equipment, tools, electronics etc. Their primary focus is dealing with these - as in building, fixing, operating or designing them. Involvement in these areas leads to high manual skills, or a fine aptitude for practical design - as found in the various forms of engineering.

Realists like to find practical solutions to problems using tools, technology and skilled work. Realists usually prefer to be active in their work environment, often do most of their work alone, and enjoy taking decisive action with a minimum amount of discussion and paperwork.
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Choosing CAO Courses

Each year a new report is released highlighting the number of students who drop out of third level courses or don’t progress from the first year. Reasons always include choosing the wrong course and lack of information about the course content.

In this area, we have put together some information to help you with making the best possible course choices and hopefully avoid making the same mistakes. You may already have a clear idea of what you plan to study, or maybe you are finding it difficult to decide. The following tips aim to help you make the best decision, regardless of your starting point.

For some students, choosing a course is simple - they have always wanted to be a doctor, or an architect or an engineer. They may actually have been researching this career area for years – reading books and articles, watching videos, paying attention whenever related career information is being discussed.

Other students look at third-level options based solely on the number of points they expect to achieve in the Leaving Certificate. By virtue of their academic prowess at second-level, they choose high-points courses (i.e. actuarial studies, law, science or medicine). They may really want to study arts but see it as “wasting” their points. This can be a big mistake, leading to a course you don’t enjoy.

For others, there is simply a bewildering variety of courses out there, many of which involve subjects that they had no experience of in school.

If you find the right course at the right college for you, you will be inspired to succeed.

The place to start is with self-awareness:


Self-awareness is about asking yourself: What kind of person am I?

Self-assessment is the process of gathering this information about yourself.

It will help you to make good decisions that are based on understanding yourself. It is the first step in the Career Planning process.

Uncovering your particular interests, personality, aptitude, values and skills and being aware of these things can really help you to figure out what college courses will be a good match for you. The greater the overlap between your interests and personal characteristics and those required by the area of study, the greater the degree of satisfaction you will have in that area of study.

Visit Self- assessment for more information

The self-assessment process will help you with identifying which courses are the best fits for you.

Reflect - Ask yourself:

  • What subjects am I good at /confident in?
  • Would I enjoy studying this subject for another two - four years?
  • Is there some area I feel particularly drawn towards?
  • Is this something I really want to do? (Be honest!), or am I just going along with friends or other students?


The next step is identifying courses that suit you. Start by searching for courses in your areas of Interest.

Visit Course Search Tools to help with this.

Then, find out as much as you can about the particular courses that attract you before putting them down on your CAO form.

You cannot underestimate the importance of doing your research!

Study Course Detail

  • Read the detailed information about each course that appeals to you
  • Pay particular attention to any specific entry requirements listed e.g. a particular LC subject such as Higher Level Maths or Irish
  • Check the most recent points for the courses that interest you and use these as a rough guide only
  • What is the duration of the course?

Ask yourself

  • Is this course relevant to the career area I have an interest in?
  • Will this course lead to a professional qualification for the career area I’m interested in?
  • Is it very academic? Will I be happy on a very academic course with lots of theory, essays, and written examinations?
  • Would I be better to look at courses which involve a higher proportion of practical work, where I am learning more skills and less theory?
  • Where is the college/university located?
  • Will there be extra accommodation costs etc. involved and will I be able to afford them?

Find out more

Ask others – Students, Lecturers, Tutors, Parents, Guidance Professionals

  • See if there are any course videos available (here on, or on the individual college websites)
  • Get an opinion from a student who is doing the course
  • Talk to course Lecturers /Tutors
  • Check out when the College Open Day is happening and make sure to go along, especially if you are seriously considering a course at a particular college.
  • Most Institutes of Technology, Colleges and Universities have Open days, usually between September and February each year. Make every effort to go along and speak to students, course lecturers, college tutors and admissions staff
  • Find out not just which subjects you will be studying on the course that interests you, but also check out the content of the individual modules for each subject. In this way, you will know exactly what lies ahead of you and there will be no surprises.
Finally  - Don’t rush your decision! But don’t be late!
  • Students sometimes feel under pressure because they must submit a CAO form by February 1st. However, for most courses (with the exception of many creative arts and portfolio-based programmes, as well as medical courses) you can change your mind up to July 1st using the CAO Change of Mind form.
  • The important thing is to have your application in the system by 31st January. You can revisit it and make changes as you find out more and give your choices more consideration


This refers to the order in which you list your course choices on the CAO application form. It is important that you list your course preferences in the order in which you genuinely want to receive an offer, and not in the order in which you think you might get an offer, based on points you think you’ll get.

Why? - Once the CAO makes you a course offer, all courses lower down on your list of preferences are removed. If you get more points than you expect to, you may receive an offer you didn’t really expect, or not receive an offer for the course you really want.

August is the season of CAO offers. It regularly happens that a student would prefer a place on a course they have listed lower down on their

August is the season of CAO offers. It regularly happens that a student would prefer a place on a course they have listed lower down on their list than the course place offered. You may have the entry requirements and the required points, but it it is not possible.

At all CAO Deadline times, and throughout Senior Cycle, you will hear the mantra 'Genuine order of preference' over and over again. Yet, every year many applicants make the mistake of not filling out their options lists in this order, only realise the repercussions when offers are issued in August.

The CAO operates on the basis of course lists being in the genuine order of preference. It, therefore, presumes that the course an applicant has placed at the top of their list is the one they want most, and that course is preferred above any that appears below it.

When the CAO receives an applicants' Leaving Cert exam results, they will offer the course that is listed highest on that applicant's CAO form, for which they have met all entry requirements and points. If an applicant meets the academic requirements and has the CAO points to receive an offer for the course they have listed in first place, then this will be the only offer they receive.

When an applicant receives an offer from the CAO, whether it is their top choice or not, then all courses that appear lower down their preference list will be removed. This is because by completing the list in order of preference, the applicant is indicating that they would prefer that particular course to any of the ones listed below it.

From time to time, a course that an applicant had placed higher on the list than the one for which they receive an offer in Round One, becomes available during Round Two. This may happen where a place is not accepted by another applicant during Round One, in which case, it is now offered to the next person on the list - i.e. the person with the highest points who also meets all relevant entry requirements. An applicant who gets such an offer in Round Two will receive it, whether or not they have accepted a place in Round One. The student can now choose to accept the Round Two offer or to stay with their original Round One offer.

The only sure way that you will not be disappointed with your CAO offer is to complete your application list in genuine order of preference. Even if you feel that you may not achieve the points for your desired course you should list it on your CAO. It is never possible to know what the points will be in August. An

It is never possible to predict what the points will be in August. An applicant is guaranteed to be disappointed if they have not listed their preferred course in top place and subsequently achieves the required points. It is also not advisable to list courses in order of the previous year's

It is also not advisable to list courses in order of the previous year's cut-off points - points can change dramatically from year to year and they can go down, as well as up.

Watch this CAO video presentation for more details.

Discovering that you have made the wrong choice can be upsetting, and it can also be expensive. If you decide to change course and repeat the first year in college you will be required to pay the full cost for that repeat year, which can be up to €8,000 as full tuition fees are significantly higher than the standard registration fee. Other living costs must also be factored in.

The last date for changing your mind about the courses you have listed is the 1st July.

Download this useful CAO Course Choice Checklist to help you on your way to making the best possible course choices.

What are your Career Interests?

The Investigative person will usually find a particular area of science to be of interest. They are inclined toward intellectual and analytical activities and enjoy observation and theory. They may prefer thought to action, and enjoy the challenge of solving problems with clever technology. They will often follow the latest developments in their chosen field, and prefer mentally stimulating environments.

  Go... Explore Career Interests here...