Feeling fretful as the CAO deadline looms? University student Niamh Shields shares her top tips for picking your perfect college course.

College Corner columnist Niamh Shields

I loved my Leaving Cert as crazy as that sounds, but I did.

I loved being organised, getting into a study routine, being excited for the various events such as the school musical, prom, results night, my friends’ 18ths. I was one step away from being an official adult.

I did feel one tiny bit of stress regarding one thing, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to study in college.

I remember feeling an empty pit in my stomach going to careers class. I like to call myself Super-Woman sometimes, I want to do so many things, I like the feeling of taking on the world, but when narrowing it down to one college course I was hopeless.

It felt as though everyone around me had their future sorted, I had so many teachers telling me to pick various courses, such as teaching, nursing, journalism, performing arts and so on. I didn’t know which road to pick.

The CAO can be the most daunting thing you will ever have to do, it has your life planned out from 1-10.

However, it is important you pick purely for yourself. I picked the amazing Media and English in DCU and have never looked back since! Here are some CAO tips I found useful throughout my Leaving Cert Year.


Make A List:

Being the organised geek I am, I make lists every day. Lists make everything so much clearer. Throughout my Leaving Cert, I made a list with three sections, which included: Interests, Hobbies and Favourite Subjects.

All these three sections correspond with Course Content, Subjects Taught and Careers or Further Progression that linked with course finder on Qualifax.

This will help eliminate what you want and don’t want to do. For example, I had Marketing as a possible career. I found out marketing in parts involved math and lacked English. Therefore, Marketing was a no as it didn’t correspond to my list. This is tedious but through endless searching I found my dream course.

I get to read endless English classics and analyse advertisements and how to read film. It suits me down to a tee.

This is your future, so base it around you and only you.

Ask People Who Are Working In A Potential Field You Want To Work In:

I was very fortunate to have many role models throughout my Leaving Cert Year, those included, my best friend and sister, Marie, who studied Communications in DCU and now runs her own company, Moss Marketing.

I also had great teachers whom I consider friends and helped me decide what courses would suit me. Marie and my English Teacher, Mr Harmon constantly would sit down with me and answers any questions I would have regarding their profession.

Both of them are the reasons, why I’m studying English and Media. English due to Harmon’s passionate and fun English classes and Media for how far my sister has come.


Know your back-route ways:

Although you may know the exact course you want to do, however, it is important to know your options. Whether it be repeating the year, taking a year out, deferring, or simply adding a few extra level 7/6s help you get there, you need to research, research and research.

Do what you think is best.

Everyone is different:

Everyone has different choices and we all should respect that. If someone wants to do a back-route course, repeat, take a year out, it’s important to respect that decision. Comments like ‘I wouldn’t do that’, ‘You can’t get a job if you do that’ – don’t listen to any negative comments, just focus on you.


Everything will fall into place and I’m a strong believer in the old saying ‘Everything happens for a reason.’


Best of luck with everything,

Niamh. xx