Ahead of the looming Leaving Certificate start, a principal and CAO expert urges students to keep in mind that they can make very final decisions after their exams.
About half of Central Applications Office (CAO) each year use the change of mind facility.
Patricia McGrath, principal of Hewitt College in Cork city, advises students to check their options in the week or more between final exams and the July 1 deadline to use the CAO facility. Regardless of how many times students alter their course choices, it is those listed at 5.15pm on that date which will be used to determine how places are allocated.
“Often the CAO is the last thing on students’ minds when they are in the midst of studying, and once the exams are finished, the need to revisit their application can also fall by the wayside,” said Ms McGrath.
But this can be the best time to review CAO choices.
“When the stress and pressure of exams is finally over, students often find that they can reflect on their CAO choices with a clearer mind. The danger is that many can forget to do so because of the euphoria of finishing the Leaving Cert,” she said.
“I would urge students to use these days to look back over their forms and ensure they have chosen the courses they really want to do. It’s vital to do this beforeJuly 1st, which doesn’t leave a huge window of time.”
CAO general manager Joe O’Grady says most CAO applicants can use the facility to add, remove, or re-order their course choices. There are, however, restrictions on adding courses for which interviews, portfolio submission deadlines or other additional assessment dates have already passed.
Ms McGrath said students are likely to see some impact on college places due to a rise in applicant numbers. The record 76,081 people who had applied up to February 1 — with late applications also received up to May 1 — was 1,657 more than the same time last year.
Most colleges have responded to rising demand in recent years by allowing more first-year entrants. So any rise or fall in points will depend on whether there are more or fewer applicants for a particular course, the CAO points of those applicants, and whether numbers of places are up or down.
Ms McGrath advises double-checking entry requirements for every course a student is interested in to ensure they have the right subjects at the right levels. While a higher-level C3 in Leaving Certificate Irish is required for entry to primary teaching courses, for example, there are other subjects with requirements that are not as obvious.
“Students of speech and language therapy in UCC, for example, will require a higher level C1 grade in a language other than English,” she explained.
Colleges’ course requirements can be checked online at www.qualifax.ie.
Ms McGrath added that students should focus on course preference over anticipated points scores, or past points requirements. She said applicaionts should always have a couple of ‘fallback’ options and ensure they thoroughly research every course choice.
“A safety net is a great asset. By filling in all 20 course choices on the CAO form, students give themselves the best chance of success,” she said.
Many colleges offer Level 7 courses with the option to continue studies for an added year and graduate with a Level 8 degree.
Other options for Leaving Certificate students include the “available places” facility, open in August. It offers places that remain unfilled in particular courses after all offers have been made and waiting lists have been exhausted.
Ms McGrath added there are other choices beyond the CAO, with an increase in students choosing to attend university in the Netherlands.
“The admissions process for Dutch universities is very different to the Irish system. As a general rule, you are eligible for a place on any course with six subjects at Leaving Certificate, with two higher level C3 grades. In addition to the very attractive student loans offered by the Dutch government, there are other grants and loan schemes for which students may qualify. Also, as an EU citizen, if you qualify for a SUSI grant, you may take that with you to the Netherlands.”
She highlighted that just 39,832 of the 52,058 CAO applicants who got a round one offer in 2015 accepted it.
Applicants who are not offered their first choice can, she said, consider other choices. The UK’s clearing option, which is how universities and colleges fill any places they still have on their courses, is available from July to September.
“Get advice in advance from a guidance counsellor who has experience with UCAS applications and UK universities, see what’s available at www.ucas.com, write a personal statement, contact universities, and get an offer before entering a clearing choice on a form.”
There is also the option of following in the footsteps of Malia Obama, the oldest daughter of US President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, who will attend Harvard University in 2017 after taking a gap year. If students choose to take a year off, it can be hugely beneficial.
“They can do a post-Leaving Certificate course, which is a great way to continue their education, broaden their options, study close to home to save money to put towards future college expenses and to mature a little,” she said.
There is also the option of going abroad to learn a language, study new skills or volunteer abroad.
“One in six first-year college students do not progress on their course. There are so many better ways to spend this year than struggling, going through the motions of a course in which you have no interest,” she said.
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