Choosing courses, career paths and making the right CAO/UCAS choices!


Image was obtained from Google images. 

Being the time of year it is, I can't help but to think about this time last year, when I was in the middle of my exam year, preparing for mock exams and contemplating my CAO choices. If you are unaware of what the CAO system is, I will quickly enlighten you. The CAO, standing for Central Applications Office is the Irish system which is more or less the equivalent to the UCAS system in the UK. This is a service available to prospectus students who are sitting the Leaving Cert exams. You fill out a list of 20 courses of your desire (in order of preference), 10 level 8 courses and 10 level 6/7 courses. These can be changed anytime online once you apply to the system up until the closing date! That's why it is extremely important to make your choices in time. Once the exams are completed, results are received etc., CAO applicants will get an offer based on the results they obtained. All in all, I think I filled my CAO form really well last year and I thought this post of tips might be of aid to some of you tackling these life changing decisions currently!

As I am not familar with the UCAS system, my attention in this post will be focusing on the CAO system!

The following is my compilation of tips for completing the CAO form and choosing courses!

  • Making your top courses on CAO in order of preference - We were always told from the outright beginning (as I am sure many of you currently in the Leaving Cert years were told)  to place our courses in order of preference. There is no point putting Politics above Midwifery if Midwifery is what your heart is set on. Sometimes people make this mistake, assuming that they won't get the points for their first choice and then in the end they wind up in a course they are unhappy with. The CAO system is designed to help students obtain a course as close to their first choice as possible and you can always go up the ladder and not down again. This means if you got your 5th choice, you could easily get your 4th in second round offers but there is no way of getting your 6th. That's why the order of your courses is essential!
  • Keeping an eye on the demand trends for courses - It wouldn't be a bad idea to have a look back on the CAO statistics which is available on their website , and examine the rise and fall in demand as well as points required for entry to the course in the past few years. Then you could have a slight prediction on whether courses would rise or fall in points. I was positive that the courses I had an interest in would rise as they had been chronologically for several years. I was correct. Agricultural Science in UCD saw a rise of 10 points last year and Food Science increased by 20 points. There is no need to take these statistics seriously as sometimes there can be surprises. Courses can take huge leaps or huge falls in points from year to year as demand has great tendencies to change in some areas.
  • This tip may come across as a bit of a contradiction to my first point. My tip is to not put courses in order of preference when your second choice has higher points than your first choice. I'm not sure if this is a piece of advice I should be giving out. But I honestly think that it is completely pointless to have your first choice worth 400 points and your choices after that above 400 points. Although demand changes, I am sure that in a lot of cases the points rise as opposed to falling. If you do not get your first choice, you won't get any of your other choices either! Take my case for example. I wanted to study Food Science which was 490 points this year. If I had put Human Nutrition after it I wouldn't have gotten that either as it was always higher points than Food Science and always will. That is why I opted for Agricultural Science which was 465. My options after that also had lower points. I had arts which was 340, Food Science in Cork which was 440 and a variety of food related courses. I knew I'd get something which is very comforting during stressful exams.

  • This is something I didn't really do myself, but when I started studying my course I did it. I would definitely recommend doing it before deciding whether or not you want to do the course. I think every student considering studying a course should thoroughly research the modules of the course. If you like the sound of the modules, there is no question that you will enjoy the course. I haven't started back in University yet, but I am waiting patiently to start my new modules which I find fascinating. Every University should have a website online which shows details of their courses. I know UCD have a module search facility which enables you to search for your area of study and see which modules that area covers. This link will direct you to the very detailed module search engine provided by my university. I'm sure if you Google the title of your chosen university, followed by "module search" you will be able to access a similar facility in a different university!
  • My final tip is to research career opportunities of courses. This is something that helped me choose to study Agricultural Science in UCD as the career opportunities are very similar to those of food science. I can still get into an area involving food safety or food production, something I am very eager to get involved in. Agricultural Science also has some business-based careers which really broadens my horizons.

    I really hope that anybody who is currently in 6th year finds this post somewhat helpful. The whole experience can be daunting. I know for me it was and it caused me to feel very anxious and uneasy. If you would like any other helpful posts like this please let me know!

I'll see you soon,

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