I can’t say that the Irish Leaving Cert or the CAO points system is the best we can offer to the young people of this country. It certainly has its flaws, as many would agree but it’s not going anywhere for a while, so all we can really do is assist the next generation in making the big decisions, as it’s a hugely daunting time.
At 17 or 18, you’re still a child. You are barely legal to do a lot of things but yet you suddenly need to decide what career path you’d like to take, even though you may never have gotten a taste of any potential career. The idea that the occupation you choose, maybe your home for the following 45 years is incredibly pressurising to students and I know this from my own experiences.
I was never too stressed about anything in school. In 5th and 6th-year, I thought a lot about what I wanted to do. Some days I was set on journalism, other days it was law. However, in the last year as exams drew closer, I became sure that I would like to work in agriculture.
I wanted to be outside, doing what I loved, and I felt agriculture or horticulture could take me anywhere. I worked for a landscaper for a couple of years in secondary school - John Kennedy of Midland Gardening Services and I really did love that job. We would be up with the sun each morning, working somewhere new - turning overgrown; abandoned and dilapidated gardens and patios into beautiful spaces.
I also loved farming and animals, and have done so for as long as I can remember. So agriculture was right there at the top, and I had listed agriculture first on the CAO from the very beginning.
I filled out my CAO at the beginning of the year, and shuffled my choices around in July during the change of mind period. I felt pressurised to change my options as other people were doing so, but I shouldn’t have. I already knew what I wanted. I should have had faith in myself.
The results came out, and the offers followed. As you know, the demand for agriculture courses in Ireland is always climbing. I wasn’t offered agricultural science, as it wasn’t my first option. I was offered horticulture instead. I cursed myself for swapping them around, back in July, as there was no need. I had shot myself in the foot. Nowadays, I know better than to be fazed by anyone else’s decisions – I have built my confidence over the last 3 years. When I was 19 heading to college, I didn’t know any different.
I thought about repeating the Leaving Cert, taking a year out or going travelling. In the end, I decided to accept the Horticulture offer from Waterford IT. All of my friends were heading to college, I felt I was wasting time if I didn’t go too. I felt I was being left behind.
From Horticulture to Agriculture
It wasn’t that I didn’t like horticulture and landscaping, so I told myself; “I’ll go, it’ll be fine, I’ll figure it out”. Off I went to college, and I had a ball. The first semester was epic, I made friends for life. However, I wasn’t enjoying the course. I tried to justify it by the fact that I was enjoying myself so much. Honestly, though, I didn’t enjoy a bit of it. It wasn’t what I expected – I had no interest in being sat in a lab, looking at the leaf of a plant through a microscope. Or discussing the dozens of varieties of this particular weed.
I wanted to learn about animals and farming. A brief knowledge of plants was welcome but not four years of it. The best friends I made were the ones studying ag. I tried my best to transfer to ag, as we were studying 4 of the same modules, but it wasn’t to be. I sat my Christmas exams, passed them all and went home. I told my parents I didn’t want to go back in semester two. They were confused, as I hadn’t been expressing my feelings until then. I was lucky that they encouraged me to do what made me happy even if it meant leaving college. They had spent plenty of money to get me there, and it all seemed like a waste. For a long time, I felt I had failed; I’d never have seen myself to be the one to drop out of college.
I paid the rent myself for the rest of the year – thankfully, having my job in Midland Garden Services to fall back on. I reapplied to CAO with one choice and one choice only. That has led me to here, and I couldn’t be happier. I love the Ag course in Waterford and the majority of what we learn. Chemistry was never my favourite, but I got through it like everyone else.
I’m almost finished now, and I can’t help but think – where would I be now if I hadn’t listened to myself and took the plunge. I always said I would pay my own way in college after that, so that any decisions I made would not affect anyone else, and I have stuck to that since. My family are still there to help if I need it, which I’m grateful for.
As the CAO deadline draws close once again, don’t be thrown off by what anyone else is doing. As nervous as you feel, you know best what you want, don’t panic and change your choices because your friend did, or because you want to go to the same college as one of your pals. You’ll make so many friends in college – it’s the best thing about it. I have still stayed in contact with all of my close friends in school, despite the fact that we split up back then.
When the results come out, don’t panic. It feels like the end of the world but it’s really not. If you didn’t get the number of points you wanted or the offer you were hoping for, don’t panic. There are lots of ways around these things, and plenty of people to help you out with it. Don’t accept an offer for the sake of it. And if, in a few months from now you find yourself unhappy in a course that you thought you wanted so badly, don’t stress.
I would stick with it for at least a month, and if you’re sure it isn’t for you, talk to your lecturers for help. They’ll point you in the right direction. In a lot of colleges, if you decide within a month, you can transfer to another course. If you want to leave the course because you don’t like it, and don’t want to get up in the mornings and go to the lectures, leaving may be the best option. Don’t trap yourself in a career that is not for you.
If you receive a grant you will be worried about losing it for a year, if you drop out. You may be worried about it being a waste of money going at all, as it’s so expensive, and often you may be worried about what others will think and how they’ll react if they hear that you have dropped out.
Don’t give any time to thoughts like that. Sometimes you have to put yourself first – and this is one of those situations.
Nobody else is going to be going to lectures for you, doing your assignments or sitting your exams. If you don’t want the occupation that your course offers, why get the degree? There is such a wide variety of courses out there, and countless routes you can take to get you there. You can do whatever you want, once you’re determined to do it. If you like your course – it makes things a lot easier.
Don’t let the upcoming CAO deadline pressure you into a decision. Do what will make you happy – you’re the only one who decides your future.
The very best of luck to everyone – no matter what that sheet of paper says, you are still a credit to yourself.
Well done for completing the Leaving Cert and don’t worry, things get easier in college. You have so much potential, the whole world is at your fingertips and you can achieve anything you want to. There are thousands of people that would love to be in your shoes. Believe in yourself.
By Emma McCormack.