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:
YOUR INTERESTS, PERSONALITY, SKILLS and VALUES
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.
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.
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?
- 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
Finally - Don’t rush your decision! But don’t be late!
- See if there are any course videos available (here on careersportal.ie, 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.
- 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.
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.
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.