On a Monday morning in August each year, the pressure cooker which has been boiling the brains of thousands of Irish young people for the whole long, rainy Summer comes to an end. At six am, offers are made via the Central Applications Office to different courses in various colleges and universities to the thousands of students who have applied many months in advance. Some will get the course of their dreams. Others will be more disappointed. Some will have a basic idea if they are home safe or not by now, going on the results which they received last Wednesday. Others will be more unsure, the points of some courses are known to be unpredictable, and even some of the more predictable have in the last few years gone their own way on the morning. Today has been that day, the day of the CAO results offers.
Six years ago, I was after staying up all night panicking about whether or not I would get my first choice, Drama and Theatre Studies with Arts in University College Cork. I had collected my results the previous Wednesday, 445 points, a good result but not enough to make me feel better about my “low” B2 in English, my previously straight A1 subject. (I blame you, Saturday paper).
There I was, joining the ranks with many others sitting up all night on discussion forums, half-crashing boards.ie, waiting for someone to go buy the Irish Times at a ridiculous hour of the morning so we could potentially get a few grainy pictures of the different points listed in the paper. That way, at least we would know one way or another what our CAO Results held for us. At six am, I got my offer, accepted it, and ran into my parents to tell them their daughter was officially going to college. This was it. This was the path my life was going to go in, the life of a drama student, following my passion into the arts.
Life didn’t quite work out that way. After all the drama and turmoil needed to get those 445 points, within weeks I knew I had made the wrong choice of course. I was seventeen and unsure what to do with my life, but a few weeks into studying the “fluffier” bits of Drama (and having dropped out of English) I knew this was not what I wanted. There was definitely a time of contemplating dropping out.
Instead, I changed my Arts subject to Economics, which I had liked somewhat in school. My “fluff” subject of Celtic Civilisation turned out to be the best idea (strongly recommended by a housemate instead of my initial choice of philosophy) – despite all my plans to drop it after First Year to focus on my other subjects, the mixture of Religion, Irish, History and Literature appealed to me and wound up being my passion for my three years in University College Cork. Not such a fluff subject after all!
I was lucky, not only in my choice of course but also in the people I had around me. By Christmas I was fit to drop out, but was told to hang in there, see what could be done to change things instead of throwing in the towel completely. By talking to a faculty advisor and having many deep and meaningful conversations with family and friends (some aided by a bottle of wine), I discovered I could change my degree to a joint arts degree, leave Drama and Theatre Studies behind me and focus on my other two subjects. No repeating years, no starting over, no extra fees.
It was the right choice for me and one I know isn’t available in every course. I do feel very lucky in that regard. The key to this was asking questions – and making sure they were to the right people, and asked at the right time. There is an incredible amount of support available to students once they know what direction to look in – it is finding that support that’s the toughest part.
Six years later, I’m a month shy of my 24th birthday, living a very different life to what I envisioned. I graduated in 2012 with a joint degree in Economics and Celtic Civilisation, took a year out to see what I wanted to do with my life and am yet to figure it all out. The skills I learned as an arts student weren’t specific; but there were lots of transferable important skills like research, use of different statistics programmes, public speaking, writing and knowing how to form an argument based on original thought. I learned how to work together with classmates on projects, while also having to use my own initiative when it came to solo projects and essays. I learned just how little sleep I can function on (though being a parent has certainly been a re-education in that regard). Employers have never asked me what subjects I did or what grades I got – they want to know what skills I can bring to the job, what kind of worker I am, and while I’m not currently working in the field I received my qualification in, the things I learned in my three years have definitely stood to me in any workplace. Further education is not all about the piece of paper you get at the end of it – it’s the things you learn and figure out in the interim which can often lead you to where you’re actually meant to be. Friends of mine from college went in to be one thing and have left with life plans leading them quite another way; from scientists ending up in the arts, lawyers who’ve wound up as doctors and random scatterings of writers, politicians and teachers – you simply can’t choose forever at seventeen and have it work out for everyone.
If you’re after getting offers today which aren’t exactly what you wanted, you have some choices to make. Nobody else can make them for you. Don’t feel like you have to rush into anything – higher education will always be there, even if it isn’t the option you choose at the moment. If a course you wanted less than your ideal first choices is what you get, it could be a method to get into the same field, albeit taking potentially a bit longer.
You may choose to repeat your exams to aim for a higher choice. Again, this is an option that only you can decide. While some people flourish in a repeat Leaving Certificate year, there are also those who may flourish better in following a different path. There is more than one way to get anywhere you want to go. With a little bit of research and asking the right questions, there is no reason why you can’t get where you want to be.
The offers you received may or may not be the start of a fantastic course, a fantastic year ahead. What they definitely hand you is the choice to make up your mind. Which route do you want your life to take for now? Good luck!