CAO, or as I like to believe it stands for, Chance and Opportunity, can embody either of these two phenomena; chance or opportunity. In its rarest form, students seize the ‘opportunity’ that third-level policies in Ireland afford them, and perhaps even research their own aspirations and course choice.

Conversely ‘chance’, the strategy adopted by the masses, tends to consist of a late night blindfolded decision, made in approximately ten minutes during the break of Madmen on the eve of the deadline submission.

Most adults that have attempted a career change can appreciate that although exciting, it can place considerable pressure on finances, personal and family life and even emotional or physical well-being. For many of us, getting it right the first time would have been wonderful.  Why then, I’ve mused, is such an important decision so often made without sufficient knowledge and planning? Below are some suggestions.

1. It’s hard to see your own face without a mirror

Most school students have limited exposure to the world of work, but this is not to say they are unaware of their own preferences, skills and abilities. Students often lack insight as to their attributes because they have not had the opportunity to reflect on them. Informal conversations or counselling sessions with students can help to bring these ideas to the fore.

2. Partying is such sweet sorrow

Despite the best efforts of parents and guidance counsellors, parties and college life frequently appear much more relevant to students than the world of work. If your efforts to enforce some work experience are met with cries of fascism or slave tradership, try to at least maintain a dialogue of career progression and long-term realities.

3. Location, location, location

Oftentimes, ideas about which institution would be more fun or more glamorous, or where friends are going,  overshadow where the most appropriate qualification can be obtained. This is particularly true where career aspirations are ill-formed, as students have little else to go on. Helping your teenager to solidify their ambitions and highlighting the realities and benefits of different institutions should help them with their choices.

4.The harder one works, the luckier they get

Academic research suggests that the more students believe forces are outside of their control, the more they appear to let serendipity or ‘chance’ steer their career decisions. Research doesn’t agree on whether letting fate do your work is positive or negative, however one thing is conclusive; there is no substitute for career preparation and planning.

In a country where first year drop-out rates average 15%, at a cost of approximately €40,000 per student per year, a little preparation can go a long way.


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