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Leaving Cert tales 'I failed maths, dropped out of college and everything is OK'

On results day, I held myself together among friends and teachers but as soon as I left the school, I broke down crying in the car home with my mam, writes Jordan Kavanagh.

THE LEAVING CERTIFICATE is a stressful time for all students.

Throughout school, you’re told it is the most important thing you will do.

Students will often hear: “You need to have a good Leaving Cert to get into college and get a good job, so make sure you pick the right one.”

That is a lot of pressure to put on any young adult, and while the Leaving Cert and all that follows is important, it can make people sick with worry.

I completed my Leaving Cert in 2011 and it was a horrible experience.

Although I did well in most subjects, I failed higher level maths which was a minimum requirement for the courses I put on my CAO.

To say I was devastated is an understatement.

On results day, I held myself together among friends and teachers but as soon as I left the school, I broke down crying in the car home with my mam.

People kept telling me ‘it will be okay’ and that ‘there are always other options’. Turns out, they were right actually.


The normal route a lot of people go down: Sit the Leaving Cert, get offered a college course and then enter third-level education.

That may be the easiest and quickest way but it is not the only way.

Some people repeat their Leaving or repeat just that one pesky subject. Others take a year out or defer for a year. A very common route is to enter another course, PLC or college of further education.

Others may never enter a third-level institute, opting instead for an apprenticeship or a trade.

Betty McLaughlin, president of the Institute of Guidance Counselors, says she has been inundated with queries from teenagers about their options after secondary school in the past few weeks.

She said students are under a lot of pressure because of the high stakes exam.

They come very anxious to us but the main thing is giving options to the students because it de-stresses them, and it gives them some confidence going into the last few months.

“Students are really crying out for reassurance when they come to us,” she added.

McLaughlin spoke of options outside of third level education for students, noting that apprenticeships are on the rise again.

It’s a culture shift, many of them are starting to apply again and that’s the first time I could say that in around 10 years.”

See? There is no one way to ‘do education’.

For some people, everything will go to plan. But others may spend years working on it before they get to the place they want.

My unique route

After failing maths, I sent my paper in for a re-check. Luckily, it came back as a pass.

I was over the moon and offered one of the level 8 courses I put on my CAO around October.

(The one thing I always recommend to people who may not have gotten the results they want is to enter your papers in for a recheck. You can enter any subject in for a recheck. It costs money but if corrected you will be refunded and if it means the difference of getting a college course, it is worth a shot.)

I could not have been happier but I was just over a month into the semester when I decided to defer.

After working for a year, I took up my deferred place in September.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t prepared for college and soon realised the course wasn’t right for me so I dropped out.

From there I gave up on the idea of going to university, believing it just wasn’t for me.

However, seeing my friends loving college and having great fun, I had to give it another shot. This  time, I wanted to make sure it would be different and worthwhile.

Research what you want

Throughout the following year, I actually researched different courses and colleges around the country.

With no career guidance teacher available this time around, I had to do it all myself. I contacted several colleges with courses I was interested in and staff were extremely helpful.

Most colleges will have a liaison officer with secondary schools or prospective students that you can contact throughout the year.

However the best thing I probably did was ask my friends and people I knew in college about their courses.

If they didn’t know the answers, they would put me in contact with someone who did.

Students will be honest with you and tell you straight about their course. Although experiences may differ, it is worth getting first-hand information from people.

From all my research I put down several courses on my third CAO form and Journalism in DCU was my top choice. I was offered a spot in 2013, have just completed my final year and am set to graduate in November.

I was at least two years older than the majority of my classmates but I thoroughly enjoyed my experience in college and would not have changed anything in the way I got here.

My experience was not ‘normal’ but then what is? I wanted to share my route so people know you always have options no matter what happens.

You may fail a subject, or not get offered your college course or even drop out soon into the semester, but there are always things you can do or people you can talk to.

If you’re unsure or worried about the Leaving Cert next month, you can still talk to your career guidance counsellor or teachers in your school.

If you are unsure about the college course you put on the CAO, you still have the CAO Change of Mind option, which is open until 1 July

Read: Student with dyslexia brings fresh High Court appeal to secure help for Leaving Cert exams >

Read: Opinion: Under exam stress? Take five minutes off and read these tips >

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