Video courtesy NUI Maynooth (2014 edition)
Going to college is much more than just preparing yourself for a career. The three or four years students spend at third level is often life changing - the final year student and graduate is very often a different person to the one who entered college in first year.
The following steps are guidelines to follow before making the final decision.
Step 1: Assess yourself and your interests.
The more interested you are in a subject, the more likely you are to study it and achieve a strong result. This is particularly important at college when you are responsible for your own study. You can take our Interest Profiler (click on the Interest Profiler panel, left) and use the results to shortlist CAO courses that match your interests.
Step 2: Investigate different universities and colleges.
For some courses there will be only one or two colleges to choose from (e.g. speech therapy), however for the majority of leaving certificate students there are a range of colleges offering courses in your chosen area.
The content of courses with the same name can vary significantly between different colleges. It is crucial therefore that you read the prospectus, course brochures and websites to find the course programme that best suits your requirements. You can use the 'Compare Courses' facility on Qualifax to do a side by side assessment of up to three courses at any one time.
Attending college open days will give you the opportunity to tour the campus, see the lecture halls, sporting facilities, accommodation, meet the lecturers & students and to ask questions about the college, investigate the different clubs & societies on offer and ask about the destinations of their graduates etc.
Step 3: Think about what you hope to gain from going to College. Students often say they attend college to secure a good job but one of the myths behind choosing a particular course is that it locks you into a specific career path. The college course you choose is only one of many factors that will shape your career path.
Although some careers require a particular course (e.g. medicine), over 60% of graduate employers are more interested in the course result and transferable skills students have gained than the subject of the course.
Employers pay a premium to recruit graduates because of the career skills they gained in college. These skills include teamwork, communication, time management, commercial awareness, planning & organising, problem solving, leadership and flexibility.
A number of colleges have introduced programmes that accredit extra curricular activities for students. To assist students in developing these "employability" skills, a number of colleges have introduced programmes that accredit extra curricular activities. Others have personal development plans, mentoring systems and internship opportunities in place.
Step 4: Investigate what you will be looking for in a career.
What types of careers appeal to you? Research the careers you have an interest in to ensure your career will meets your expectation. You can investigate different career options, entry routes, progression, salaries, etc. using our Career Explorer.
If you are interested in a certain career, do some research to see if a particular course is essential, or will give you an advantage. Check to see also what professional recognition and exemptions you are entitled to. For example if you are going to study accountancy compare the exemptions you will get from the professional accounting exams from (all the) different colleges.
If you feel you will not achieve the necessary points to get into your chosen field, investigate other ways of getting in after you graduate e.g. a postgraduate or higher diploma in law or psychology will bring you to course standard in the subject.
However, as stated previously around 60% of graduate opportunities are open to graduates from any field so there is no need to worry if you have not yet decided on a career path. There are numerous examples of zoology graduates pursuing careers in human resources, social science graduates becoming accountants and IT graduates going on to study medicine (for example).
Ask colleges for information on what past graduates are now doing. Colleges will produce a First Destination Report detailing what graduates are doing 6- 9months after graduation. This will give you an excellent insight into the full range of options graduates pursue.
Step 5: Realistically evaluate your options.
Do you love the idea of being a doctor but don't like science subjects? Does your desired career path require a postgraduate? If so are you willing to continue studying after your course?
Investigate the entry requirements for each course carefully. Some courses require specific grades in certain subjects, also there may be area based partnership agreements in place, athletes may be accepted into some colleges on reduced points. Entry requirements can be found by following the links to each course to Qualifax or the online college web pages, accessable from the Course Search facility here.
Step 6: Pick your Top 10 Colleges and courses.
As a result of the research you will have done you will have a better idea of the careers and courses you are interested in as well as those you feel are no longer an option. From here you will be in a position to choose your Top courses to enter into the CAO application form.