Readers like you keep news free for everyone.

More than 5,000 readers have already pitched in to keep free access to The Journal.

For the price of one cup of coffee each week you can help keep paywalls away.

Support us today
Not now
Dublin: 8°C Wednesday 28 September 2022

'I was resigned to the fact that I would fail foundation maths'

Sarah O’Hara did not get a university place after she failed to get the maths grade needed. But she did a PLC course and ultimately got into the course she wanted.

Sarah O'Hara

“THE THOUGHTS OF the Leaving Cert results tomorrow. Is it too late to light candles?!”

This was what I tweeted on the 14 August 2014, accompanied by a few emojis summing up my feelings of anticipation and dread.

I was not alone. I saw hundreds of other tweets from anxious students fretting over their grades in subjects like maths, science and business.

A lot of students don’t know until August whether their efforts were good enough. But for me, I knew what I was facing the second I walked out of my maths paper two exam.


I was feeling resigned to the fact that I had failed foundation level maths. Maths was the only subject I struggled with since I was in junior infants. I had zero comprehension of the subject growing up so I always knew I would be massively restricted when it came to college choices.

Filling out the CAO, I only knew of one course I wanted to put down on my list above all else – event management with PR in GMIT. It required a B2 in foundation maths.

Although I instinctively knew I would not achieve that grade, I put it down out of mere obligation. I should not have filled out my CAO form that year, but I got caught up in the hype.

Missing out on the course

Come results day, I remember going into the school at 11am. I did this as I knew the majority of students would have arrived at 9.30am. I did not want to be asked the “what did you get?” question.

I opened that iconic envelope in the car. My first reaction was relief – I had not failed maths. But then realised just what my grade meant. I had achieved a D2, not even close to my target.

Come CAO day, it was confirmed what I’d known since leaving the exam hall in June – I wasn’t offered my first choice. I was offered a place at another college. I accepted it before ultimately deciding it wasn’t what I really wanted.

The right choice

I was at a crossroads. I looked up PLC (post-leaving cert) courses and discovered Galway Technical Institute. I was impressed by the contents of the business studies course and decided to go for an interview.

I began the course in September 2014, and I knew instantly on the first day that I’d made the right choice. I can say with certainty that the PLC course helped me tremendously. I became so much more confident.

For the first time, I felt like I could make sense of mathematical figures. My tutor was a godsend and infinitely patient with me.

The course intensely prepared us for college. We were given assignments every few weeks, including oral presentations. I met so many new people and had a blast.

Making a difference

A mix of advertising and supporting contributions helps keep paywalls away from valuable information like this article.

Over 5,000 readers like you have already stepped up and support us with a monthly payment or a once-off donation.

For the price of one cup of coffee each week you can make sure we can keep reliable, meaningful news open to everyone regardless of their ability to pay.

You have options

I received a letter that summer informing me that I had got a place in GMIT. My reaction was very different to the one I had in August the previous year – sheer joy.

Did I get the one grade I desperately needed in the leaving cert? No. Am I now doing the course I initially wanted? Yes. I’ve just finished up my first year in GMIT.

In fact, I’m glad I wasn’t offered it in 2014. Maybe my grade at the time was a blessing in disguise.

To all those students who opened your results a few weeks ago and felt nothing but sheer disappointment about your grade – I was once that person. Do not let a letter and a number on an exam page define you. You have options.

Maybe, like me, the PLC will be the route for you. Research accredited FETAC colleges; they offer a wide range of courses, from business studies to nursing. Don’t worry if you failed maths. Colleges just want to see enthusiastic people who are prepared to work hard.

You might decide to take a year out from studying. After a year has passed, think again about what you’d like to do in college. If you still have your heart set on the same course, email the PLC course coordinators and ask questions. In a year’s time you’ll be packing your bags for college, knowing it was all worth it.

I won’t lie; there are maths aspects of my course that I do struggle with, and I will for the duration of it. But I’m working my way through it because ultimately my degree will get me my dream job.

Everything worked out for me eventually, and I guarantee that if you want your dream course badly enough, it will for you too.

Sarah O’Hara is studying event management and PR in GMIT.

Read: There’s a real life School of Rock in Dublin city centre

Read: Should students chase jobs when applying for college courses?

About the author:

Sarah O'Hara

Read next: