TODAY’S CAO DEADLINE means it is a stressful time for students. Many have spent the last few weeks struggling to wrap their heads around seemingly open- ended questions:
What do I study? Where do I study? What happens if I don’t get the course I want?
The good news is that now that the economic recovery is in full swing, the jobs market has a great deal to offer the current 200,000 students in third-level education, in both broad and specialist fields.
While I’m hopeful that there will be increased job opportunities for the class of 2016 once they enter the jobs market in a few years’ time, in the short-term they face a number of challenges as they make their decisions on college course choices.
One such challenge is the high number of CAO applicants, with over 80,000 expected to apply this year – the highest number since the CAO system was founded almost 40 years ago.
The result will be higher points for in-demand courses such as science, business and technology.
As it was with construction pre-recession, technology is now the industry in vogue.
Even for those who don’t found the next Facebook and make their billions, the tech sector offers extremely lucrative career options and equally enticing salaries.
Follow your own path
But while data scientists and mobile developers are among the most sought-after professionals in developed economies today (particularly in tech hubs like Ireland), the reality is that not everyone is suited to a career in technology. Ultimately, it’s important to pursue a career that you want and are confident you can handle.
Spending years studying something you have no interest in or are no good at is not only a categorical waste of time and money, but is likely to set you up for long-term disappointment and unhappiness. While you can of course always re-skill and re- educate yourself later on in life, it’s preferable to get it right the first time, particularly as demand for college places is set to increase by 30 per cent over the coming decade.
It’s useful to get an outside perspective on college choices. Career guidance counsellors in particular will be able to help you navigate the CAO, answering the questions you have on the finer points of applying to college and the career options your chosen course or courses promise; and provide an objective assessment of your abilities. Even better, visit the colleges you’re interested in and talk to a faculty member, or perhaps even sit in on a lecture.
Bowing to pressure from peers, teachers or parents if your heart is set on something else is one of the reasons students are dropping out of college. A reduction in the availability of career guidance hours for students arising from recessionary cuts, and the lack of curriculum reform to keep pace with societal change, is impacting negatively on student college course choices.
For example, we still don’t have computer science or programming as a subject for Leaving Cert. Recent Higher Education Authority figures indicated a large percentage of Irish computer science undergraduates are failing to progress to their second year. For example, the number of students dropping out of Trinity’s Computer Science and
Language course is 50% before second year, and as high as 80% for IT Tralee’s Computing with Games Development course.
It’s difficult to say whether or not this rate is to do with disillusionment with course choice or a lack of ability. It’s likely a mix of both, and that underlines the importance of genuine reflection on your ambitions and an honest assessment of your ability.
If you’re looking to study computer science but struggle with numbers and have no experience with programming, you may be setting yourself up for a costly mistake.
There are certainly systemic factors at play here. You cannot be expected to understand third-level computer science if your first glimpse of Java is as a fresher.
What’s absolutely clear is a need for the Government to continue to push STEM learning at not only secondary level, but primary too. Important steps are being made—like the introduction of a computer coding module for the Junior Cert — but we must maintain this momentum. In the UK, children as young as five are coding at school, while in many other EU countries, computer science is not only taught but mandatory at second level.
Of course it’s critical to remember that there is a myriad of courses and careers open to you. So take a moment, sit back and think about what subjects/areas you are good at and really enjoy. Then think which of these areas most translate into an applicable college course, as it likely this is the course for you.
After the Leaving Cert
If Results Day comes and you don’t get your choices, remember that it really isn’t the end of the world. First and foremost, if you’re confident that you did well in a paper but received a poor grade, you can apply for a recheck.
If the option is open to you, try the Leaving Cert again. Another year at school might seem like the least appealing thing conceivable to you, but two more terms of focused work could be the only difference between you and your dream course and career. There are other worthy routes to third level, like one- or two-year Post-Leaving Cert courses (PLCs).
While the CAO deadline is today, you’ll still have until 1 July to change your mind. Do your research, seek advice, reflect on your ambitions then select your course options. Don’t be afraid to reassess or drastically alter your choices over the following five months.
Clive Byrne is Director of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD).