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Tips for School-leavers Finalising CAO Course Choices

Updated: Apr 28

With less than 2 months left to nail down your course choices, what’s important is that you do what you can to maximise your chances of having a great college experience. While the goal is to find the career/work that is right for you, where you get to do what you love in an area that you are passionately interested in, the reality is that it is somewhat down the road. In the meantime, the aim is to give due diligence to your search for the career path that appears to best suit you Now. As you don’t have a crystal ball, there is no point in worrying about what you will or won’t want in 3 or 4 years’ time. So, right now, you want to make an informed decision, move on and enjoy the summer.

It is essential that you find your course interesting. Your self-motivation will ensure that you will do well, deepening your knowledge and learning a whole range of new skills. Employers are looking for people who show the capacity to do well. It is important to note that there is a difference between studying something that you are good at and comes easy to you and studying something that you love. Go for something you love or are interested in. It is very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that studying something you are good at, but not hugely interested in, is an easy option. Not so! Think of the years ahead when it will be part of your job.



How to make an informed decision

There are two elements to making an informed decision - knowing yourself and carrying out effective research. Self-awareness or knowing yourself takes time and comes with life experiences. As there is no crash-course in self-awareness, for now just try to draw from what you intuitively know about your likes and dislikes. What subject areas are you naturally drawn to and get lost in? If you were in a large book shop with every subject under the sun, which section would you gravitate towards? Careers Portal has a free ‘interest inventory’ that you may find helpful.

Effective research has two elements – internet research and talking to people who have first-hand experience of the course, progression routes and career paths.

Because understanding what you will be studying is so important and not doing so puts you at high risk of finding yourself on a course that is not for you, I’ll walk you through how to search for the level of information you need to make an informed decision. Using ‘Biomedical Engineering’ in DCU as an example, let’s begin.



How to search for detailed course information

Step 1: For our starting position search ‘course finder careers portal’. Type ‘engineering’ on the left-hand side under Course Name or Code. Click ‘CAO’ under Course Type, ‘Level 8’ under NFQ Level, and ‘Greater Dublin Area’ under Region. 26 courses are found.

Step 2: We are using the second course on the list ‘Biomedical Engineering in DCU’ as an example. You will see some basic but important information at a glance - it’s a Level 8 programme, points for 2021 were 510 in 2021 and it takes 4 years to complete.

Step 3: Click on the blue arrow (heart) on the right-hand side. This will take you to ‘Course Overview’ and ‘Career Opportunities’. Read these carefully and ask yourself ‘is this for me, does it sound like something that really interests me?’

Step 4: At the end of the page click ‘Full Details’. This brings you to the ‘Course Summary’ usually a repeat of what you read on the previous page. Go straight to ‘Entry Requirements’ on the left side, just to be sure that you are taking the required subjects at the required level.

Step 5: Go back to ‘Summary’ and scroll past the video (you can watch this later). Click ‘College Link > DC197 – Biomedical Engineering’.

Step 6: Scroll down and click ‘About the Course’. In the end, you will find ‘View the Current Course Structure’. Click on this as it's your pot of gold.

You will see a full list of all modules/courses taught in each year of the programme with an overview of the type of assessments and their weighting within the module. But the best is yet to come.

Step 7: When you click on any module you will see a page that provides the following

  • A module description, including the learning outcomes, ie. what you will know and/or be able to do on completion of the module

  • Workload, including the hours you will spend on each type of learning activity

  • Indicative Content includes information on projects

  • Assessment Breakdown and when they occur

This is precisely the level of information that you need. However, not all colleges provide this level of detail. Sometimes you must search the college prospectus on their website and follow the course links. Unfortunately, a small number of the older colleges provide very little information.

Getting first-hand information from people


Seeking information from current students and relatively recent graduates is an important part of your research. Remember that they speak from their unique perspective and their opinions are merely opinions, not facts. Only you know what is right for you. You are the expert on yourself. With the CAO deadline looming, you can talk to the college admissions people directly. Some colleges even have Open Days or Taster events for Leaving Cert students who may still be considering their course options.

Choosing courses is your decision so accept total responsibility. If it doesn’t turn out as you would like, learn from the experience. There is huge value in looking at what it is about something that you don’t like. ing ‘Biomedical Engineering’ in DCU as an example, let’s begin.


Updated April 28th 2022





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