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 Mary Ita Heffernan from Health Service Executive to give some advice for people considering this job:


Mary Ita Heffernan

Social Worker

Health Service Executive

Read more

  Mary Ita Heffernan

Whilst in secondary school, I changed my mind many a time regarding the career path I wanted to pursue! I always knew that I wanted to work with people but was unsure about the profession which would most suit my interests and skills in this regard.

While in school, I definitely found that being unsure about the type or area of work you want to pursue is a very difficult and confusing position to be in, especially given the array of career choices now available and the pressure one feels in trying to make one’s mind up.

To this end, I would strongly advise anybody in this position to research courses and job descriptions well in order to make the most informed decision possible at that time in your life. 

I recommend one tries to gain as much work experience as possible as it will provide you with valuable insight into your skills, ability, likes/dislikes for certain areas of employment!!!!

Also I would research the courses and job areas as much as possible so that you can make an informed decision regarding your choices. If you can't gain enough information in school, contact the college directly or arrange to talk to somebody who facilitates the course. In particular, it would be really valuable to talk to somebody in the profession to gain a realistic and practical insight into the job.


Creative people are drawn to careers and activities that enable them to take responsibility for the design, layout or sensory impact of something (visual, auditory etc). They may be drawn towards the traditional artistic pursuits such as painting, sculpture, singing, or music. Or they may show more interest in design, such as architecture, animation, or craft areas, such as pottery and ceramics.

Creative people use their personal understanding of people and the world they live in to guide their work. Creative people like to work in unstructured workplaces, enjoy taking risks and prefer a minimum of routine.
Career Interviews
Sector Profiles
School Subjects (LC)
College Courses
Study Skills
Work Experience (School)
CV & Interview Preparation
Leaving Certificate
Sub Menu menu button
logo imagelogo image

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 first year. The main reasons given 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, aptitudes, 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

CAO Preferences

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.


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.

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 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?

Administrative people are interested in work that offers security and a sense of being part of a larger process. They may be at their best operating under supervisors who give clear guidelines, and performing routine tasks in a methodical and reliable way.

They tend to enjoy clerical and most forms of office work, where they perform essential administrative duties. They often form the backbone of large and small organisations alike. They may enjoy being in charge of office filing systems, and using computers and other office equipment to keep things running smoothly. They usually like routine work hours and prefer comfortable indoor workplaces.

  Go... Explore Career Interests here...