See-Ay-Oh.

That title may make no sense whatsoever to you, but I was just trying to mix things up a bit. And yes, I am aware that that was an extremely innovative and mind-blowing way of doing it. Titles are not my forte.

If you’re still lost, I’m talking about the CAO. Central Applications Office, for those of you lucky enough not to have a clue what those three little letters stand for; three little letters that strike fear into the hearts of sixth years nationwide. I’ve been thinking about what direction I want to go down later in life for a while now. I suppose that’s an obvious statement. In reality, I think that, as children, we’re always thinking about it, even if we don’t realise it. When I was four years old I decided I wanted to be a vet. Nothing else would suffice.

For the next nine years or so I watched every ‘Animal Hospital’, ‘Vets on Call’ and ‘Emergency Vets’ I could find. I dreamed of opening my own surgery and treating every animal that walked, hopped, flew, slid or swam through the door. Truth be told, I did manage to have my own veterinary hospital, where I successfully managed to treat all the stuffed toys I owned. There was a notebook too, where everything was recorded. I took things very seriously, although I did offer free check-ups.. Not sure was that such a good idea..

Fourteen years on, and I wish I was still as sure about my career as I was back then. Between then and now I’ve contemplated teaching, science, pharmacy, medicine, law, Irish, media and probably a lot more I can’t think of right now. The vet phase lasted until I started secondary school, and slowly I started thinking about science of some description. Then at some point, law became a possibility followed by journalism within the last year or two. To sum things up, I haven’t a clue what to do.

Since starting into our final year of secondary education, we’ve been bombarded with prospectuses, guidance sessions, predict-your-points worksheets, entry requirements, UCAS, HPAT, closing dates, open days and university fairs. That big, brown, scary CAO envelope was thrust into my hands all too soon, and things started to seem a bit too real and ‘official’.

My own dilemma is the fact that I am torn between two completely opposite areas. Should I go down the science route? Medicine, pharmacy, veterinary, biomed, biochem? After all, I’m doing both Chemistry and Biology, as well as honours maths, so surely this is the route I should be taking? We’re told it’s the future of our world, the smart economy, it’s where the jobs and the high salaries will be.

Then at the completely opposite end of the spectrum, we have law, journalism and media. Last Saturday, I went to talk upon talk at the UCC open day. Everything was great and interesting and what have you, but when I was listening to that law talk, it was like something clicked. When the lecturer described a law student, it was like she was describing me. When she talked about career opportunities, it was what I wanted to hear. I left UCC completely set on either Law and Irish or Law International. I had found ‘the one’.

Not for long though. The little insecurities slowly started creeping back. Will I like it? Employment opportunities? Is science ‘safer’? Is science more ‘sensible’? Am I really a more scientific person? So we’re back to square one.

After going through all of this, I have two main issues with the CAO system:

1. How are 17 and 18 year olds expected to know what they want to do? I know this has been said a thousand times before, but it’s so, so true that I see no harm in it being said again. The guidance we receive in school is minimal. Proper career guidance should begin well before we need to begin worrying about CAO forms, ideally in third year. I know that 5th year subject choice has affected a lot of people, so Leaving Cert is too late to begin talking about college courses.

2. My main gripe lies with the points system. This, too, is nothing new, but it probably affects me more than number 1. I’ll say it straight. A1 students only do medicine because they can. They do it for the prestige, to show forever that they got 600 points in the Leaving Cert. How in God’s name could they ever contemplate doing something like Arts? Sure, no-one would even know they were intelligent then! Ha! And so, we end up with lots of unhappy students: those doing medicine who wish they were somewhere else, and those who wish they had gotten medicine, whose place was robbed by unhappy student type 1.

Of course there’ll be exceptions. There are many students who get 550+ and do the low-points courses, because they realise it’s all based on supply and demand. But for the vast majority of them, they’ll always feel the need to answer ‘BIS, but I was thinking of doing Pharmacy too..’, when asked what course they’re doing.

Tomorrow I have my careers interview with the guidance counsellor. Let’s hope she can work some magic.

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