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Leaving Cert Students: How to make the most of the Higher Options Expo

With the 2018 Higher Options Expo commencing in less than a week, and hundreds of colleges setting up shop in the RDS Dublin with the view to wooing leaving cert students with their offerings, it makes sense to be as prepared as possible. To avoid wandering aimlessly around the RDS, it pays to be very clear about who you want to meet and what information you require.


But first, you need to know what your interests are and what career paths and courses appeal to you. Here are some steps that you should follow.


Step 1: Get yourself a sturdy notebook and start to record the key pieces of information you are about to gather. Write as legibly as possible as you will return to review your notes often.


Step 2: A quick and easy way to get started on identifying interests is to check out the Self-Assessment section of Careers Portal.ie and complete as many online assessments as you like, particularly John Holland’s Self-Directed Search at www.self-directed-search.com. It is important to note that as you are totally unique, standardised tests are not all that accurate. Be critical and see what you think fits for you. Also, career possibilities are limitless and developing at a very rapid pace.


Stand back and reflect on what you have learned about yourself. Does it ring true for you? Ask a parent to pick out what they see as the main points also. Best to take notes as you will soon suffer from information overload.


Step 2: General wisdom in this area suggests that unless you are certain that a particular career is right for you, start your research with the bigger picture in mind, i.e a career area for example engineering, business, marketing, healthcare etc. Then look at the job roles within the sector(s) that most appeal to you. Again, Careers Portal is very helpful. A great starting point is Career Sectors, providing a short, clear overview of all sectors and the main elements within them. Labour Market information provides a long list of the career areas currently in demand and therefore a useful reference point.


Step 3: Click Courses/ Higher Education & CAO Course Finder and type in the career area. I checked out Engineering and found that there are 164 courses listed (Universities and Institutes of Technology only), each identifying the college, level on the National Framework of Qualifications, points in CAO 2018, and number of years of study. Clicking on individual course links brings you to the college website where there is a brief description of the course, leaving cert entry requirements, a list of modules/subjects taught in each year, careers, CAO points over the past 3 years and often a video.


Still researching Engineering, I discovered that there are 41 courses in Further Education colleges at level 5 and 6. If you would like to dip your toes into a specific sector without making too big a commitment, then Further Education courses are a great option. Courses are generally one-year in duration and many have progression routes into higher education.

So, with Careers Portal and its link to Qualifax and the Colleges providing a one-stop-shop, there is every reason to expect that this first part of your research is relatively straightforward. Of course, this does depend on you having a strong sense of where your interests lie.


Remember the golden rule – you must enjoy your topic/course. Choosing a course based solely on being good at it is a bad idea. Getting a good feel for the course subjects and their content is very important and is a piece of research on its own. Time for that later.


Step 4: In advance of attending Higher Options, make a list of the courses and colleges you would like to check out. Take note of the number of the college exhibition stand and where it is located.


Step 5: Arrive early at the event as there are interesting presentations occurring throughout the morning. These include: CAO Application Process; Careers in Science, Engineering & Construction, Nursing & Midwifery, Art & Design; and Studying in Europe.


When speaking to the college representative, ask about Open Days and what they involve. Your aim is to visit the college - see where classes are held; inspect the sporting and recreational facilities if this is important to you; and meet with faculty members, students and graduates. Finally, take the opportunity to check out some key reading material and textbooks in their library. If this area is right for you, you should expect to feel really excited about the course content.


Step 6: Ask yourself – is this how I want to spend the next 3 – 4 years of my life?
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