My CAO experience: College offers don’t determine your career path

leaving certOne year on from CAO results day 2014, and I’m getting nostalgic reading and seeing the reactions of Leaving Cert students everywhere. None of you should be disappointed with what you have achieved, because even if you do miss out on your first choice, there is always another option. I had this very experience last year.I opened the envelope with my results on the Wednesday. I got 395 points which was short of my initial target by five points. I knew that I was likely to miss out on my first choice – Journalism in DIT, and by a cruel margin. Nonetheless, I waited for Monday morning to see my offers. After being woken by my mother at 7am, I was barely able to see my phone as I checked. Place offered – DN500, Arts English and History in UCD, which was my third choice. The day before the CAO deadline, I didn’t even have that course on my form. My Dad had pointed out that it’s a back route into journalism, and opens up so many career options with a range of skills learned at the same time between linguistic and communication and writing. Being honest, I had put it down more to appease him more than for personal benefit. I didn’t think I’d end up in Dublin 4.I was delighted to be going to any college, but I had geared myself up to go and study in DIT, so as a result I sent away to have three of my Leaving Cert grades rechecked in the hope that they would rise, and drag me over the line. After that, I tried to get it out of my mind and prepare myself over the summer for UCD.September came about, and with trepidation I entered Belfield, again, a bit unsure of the whole situation, wondering if the grades did go up, what I would choose to do. College was welcoming, and a huge difference from school. Work began almost straight away, which I was happy about. It helped to take my mind off things.Eight weeks into the first semester, I got another envelope from the CAO, with the results of the appeal. Two of my grades had gone up, including my lowest, which as a result gave me an extra 10 points. It was enough for me to scrape into Journalism – if I wanted to. I was caught in a difficult situation: uproot from UCD after a quarter of the year down and with essays and modules already started, and move to my ideal course, or stick to my guns, and work for my Arts degree. Consulting friends in UCD, family, officers in both colleges, and many many journalists made my mind up for me. Almost all of them told me to stick to it, and the option was always there afterwards if I wanted to do a Masters degree in journalism.Sticking with it has probably been the best decision I’ll ever make. Yes, there is the question of what if I had moved, and time will tell, but since deciding to stay with UCD I’ve had an amazing time. Throwing all the work away, and being eight weeks behind in DIT just would not have been worth the stress and hassle of it all. Now I’m enjoying my course, I’ve made friends, I’ve had a few beverages with some of the nicest people I know, and that is the glorious thing about college.No matter what you got on your CAO offer yesterday, feel proud of yourself. You worked for those points, and you deserve it. Feel safe in the knowledge that you always have an option. If you’ve missed out on your first choice, it doesn’t mean you can never study what you enjoy. There are always options; throw yourself into any course you have been offered, or take a gap year out and go travelling (like many of the students from my secondary school chose to do). If that’s not something you want to do, and you really want to get to that first option, then repeating is always an option, or you can enrol in a PLC course. There is an alternative route to most career paths that is different from the traditional Leaving Cert entry.I got my first choice. I chose my third choice. That is the reality of my situation. Try not to be too downbeat if you didn’t get your first choice. Sometimes it can be a blessing in disguise.