It is a busy time of the year for students as many prepare to sit mock exams at the end of January. With CAO application dates looming, students need to ask themselves the following: what do I want to do after school? Where would I like to go to college? What course or career would I enjoy?

Finishing secondary school is a big moment and one every student should be proud of. There is no better feeling than having a world of possibilities at your fingertips. Deciding whether you want to go to college and what degree you would like to study are tough decision to make, but it doesn’t have to be a stressful one.

There are so many opportunities these days, particularly when it comes to college courses. There are always back routes into many careers, so if you don’t get the points you were hoping for then try not to be discouraged.

Technological Universities

This year there are changes to some of the technological universities offering courses through the CAO. There is a new South East Technological University (SETU), which combined IT Carlow and IT Waterford in 2022.

SETU is providing several courses on different campuses in the southeast region. They have four new courses in Organic Agriculture and Agricultural Systems Engineering at levels 8 and 7.

Munster Technological University (MTU) was formed in 2021 to combine Cork Institute of Technology and the Institute of Technology Tralee. Their course codes have changed to MT.

Atlantic Technological University (ATU) was also formed in 2022 as three existing institutions – Galway-Mayo IT, IT Sligo and Letterkenny IT – merged and their courses are now found under the code AU.

Make sure you look at your CAO booklet thoroughly, as some courses offered last year have moved to technological universities and are under new codes.

Picking the correct course for you

The most important piece of advice is to take time to research what course you’re applying for. Don’t choose a course based on wanting to go to a specific college.

Take a deeper look into the modules and assessment structure. Does this course actually interest you? A large number of students drop out of college in the first year because the course wasn’t for them. It is essential to look at what you will be studying and what potential career that degree might lead you into. In this regard, another important consideration is if the course has an Erasmus, internship or work placement element.

It is important to fill in your CAO with multiple course options, especially in the level 7 and 6 courses, just to keep all of your options open.

Go through your CAO booklet with a highlighter and mark any course that interests you before researching the modules and course structure, then put them down on your CAO application in order of preference. If you are offered your number one choice, it restricts you from other offers, so make sure whatever course you have at the top of your CAO application is your first preference.

change of mind facility

Don’t be afraid to change your mind. Take me, for example; I decided to change my CAO application during the change-of-mind period (before 1 July) and it was the best decision I ever made. I decided on a degree in agriculture because I wanted a career I could travel with, but also a secure job along with wanting to study modules I was interested in. I only came to this conclusion after my exams were over and the stress of studying was behind me.

Choosing agriculture

There are several opportunities in the agri-food industry in terms of career opportunities and employment which many students aren’t even aware of.

In 2021, just over 170,400 people were employed in the agri-food sector. These roles contributed to creating exports with a value of €15.4bn. In my opinion, there are huge career and educational opportunities in this sector that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Make sure to put a wide variety of courses on your CAO that interest you and that you’d enjoy studying. Although a college course doesn’t define your career and you can progress into many different pathways, it is important to pick a course you feel passionate about.

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