As the closing date for normal CAO applications approaches (Feb 1st), many students are in the process of making some of the biggest decisions they have ever had to make about their future. Students across the country are putting the finishing touches to their CAO applications and selecting college courses in order of preference before they get a chance to revisit their choices again at selected dates in the future. According to Science Foundation of Ireland research, 62% of students said “fitting in” was the main reason they chose their college course, with fitting in being more important than career prospects (56%) and entry requirements (28%).

Considering these events, Verify Recruitment asked the Ada Lovelace Initiative role models what their experience was like during the Leaving Cert and if they had any advice for the thousands of students who will be submitting CAO applications this year.

Sona Harrison, UX/UI Designer at Tapadoo: “Most 18 year olds don’t really know what they want to do, I know I didn’t! I was dead set on studying fashion design in whatever art college I got into, but once I tried it out, I quickly realised it wasn’t for me. I think it’s important to note that no matter what you end up studying in college, that’s not the be all and end all, a lot of people end up working in a completely different field than they originally thought. It doesn’t hurt to give yourself as many options as possible just in case you completely change your mind throughout the course of the rest of your leaving cert year. I think it’s also important to think about what the course you choose will enable you to do once you graduate. My advice would be to really think about what you want to do and not to necessarily focus on getting the highest points. Also, don’t be afraid to go in a completely different direction to your friends, whether that’s going to a different college or moving to a different county!”

Mary Browne, Lead Solutions Analyst at Citi-: “While this is an important decision, it is more important to keep moving forward and not worry about making the wrong decision. If you are unsure of what you want to do in life, get a base degree and then decide! I did not get my first choice in CAO, and even though at the time I was devastated, it worked out to be the best thing that happened to me!

Siobhan Maughan, Founder of IntegratedThinking:“It is so important when you are choosing your CAO courses to not let outdated perceptions cloud your judgement. Although technology and engineering courses may have traditionally been perceived as only relevant for male candidates this is something we need to change. It is clear that women add huge value in the fields of science and technology and the opportunities for them are huge – so what’s holding you back?”

Louise Bernstein, Senior Product Manager at ALTIFY: “The CAO application is not your only chance to do something you love! I, and most of my friends swapped or did a few different courses over time as we gained experience and learned more about what we liked outside standard school subjects. The first course you do doesn’t have to be your last, breathe easy. Plus there is a back door into most courses If you don’t get in the first time, such as doing a certificate first and then building up to the degree. Lastly, don’t select courses based upon the points alone. The merit of a course should be first based on how well it fits into your area of interest.”

Neasa Walsh, Analytics Manager at Citi: “Confirming your application to the CAO is a difficult time. I got some helpful advice at the time of my own CAO decision, that the combination of technology, numeracy and business skills would be increasingly important in future. That helped me to decide on a college course that combined those disciplines, and I think that advice is still highly relevant today, for students that have those aptitudes. Most of all, be optimistic about the future. There are many paths to enlightenment!”

Fiona Savage, IT Application Support Officer at Concern Worldwide: “When it came time to make my CAO decisions, I felt a little overwhelmed; it can be difficult to tackle these choices about your life when you feel unsure about what you want to do. I felt very young to be making these big, momentous decisions. In the end I choose subjects I loved, English & History of Art, and knew I would enjoy. Studying something you enjoy is a good deal easier than struggling with something that gives you no joy. After college I did what many would consider a 180-degree turn and went into technology. But even now, I am glad that I choose to study Arts and would make the same choice again. What I learned is that it is possible at any point in your life to change track, and my college choice was only one step in bringing me to where I am today.”

Christina Lynch, Technical Support Engineer at Microsoft: “When I was filling out my CAO and making my decision, I was unsure what to put. I put in something that I didn’t really want as my first choice and had the choices that appealed to me more further down the list. Luckily I didn’t get my first choice but I cannot recommend enough putting down what you really want to do. I ended up doing a general science degree which allowed me to get an insight into various different subject areas and learn which one I was most interested in. Since I’ve left college, I’ve met so many people that have done something in college and are now in an area that is completely different, so I’ve learned that if you’re really interested in a specific area, you can get into that area. My main advice is just not to panic!”

Caroline Hynes, Director Product Operations at Intercom: “When thinking about college there are a couple of things to consider. It’s really difficult for most people to know what career they would like at this stage so don’t fret about that. When looking at colleges specifically it’s worth understanding if you might like to do a term (or year) abroad – do the colleges you’re considering offer that? What additional facilities and activities are important for you in college – do you want active sports clubs or debating. If at all practical try to visit the college campuses you are considering so you can get a sense for the environment and atmosphere, you’ll be surprised how much that varies between colleges.”

Verify Recruitment launched The Ada Lovelace Initiative in May of 2015 to address one of the main contributing factors to the low numbers of women entering STEM careers; a lack of visibility or access to female role models in this field. The Ada Lovelace Initiative connects female professionals working in technology with Transition Year secondary school students to present to students an insight into working in technology by telling their story. The Initiative has reached approximately 4000 students since the school visits officially began in on the 5th of October 2015.

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