Navigating the CAO system

Posted on: 17th January, 2017

Category: Features

Contributor: West Cork People

How can you choose one career path or course when there is such a huge choice available? Carol McCarthy of West Cork Guidance says this wide choice should be viewed as an advantage, an opportunity to pursue whatever you want, your passion. It can be useful to imagine the alternative: how would you feel if there was very little choice? Most of us seem hardwired to focus on the negative in our situations, always wishing life was plain-sailing. Try to embrace the positivity of the situation and see it as the chance to design your own life.

Knowledge is power

Most of the negative or anxious feelings around this time – of both student and parent – are due to a fear of the unknown. It is important for both to empower themselves with information. You are not supposed to know it all yourself; draw on the many resources available to you. In school, your Guidance Counsellor has given you much valuable information over the years. Remember, he or she is highly qualified and knowledgeable in this area. Also discuss your options with someone close to you, someone who knows you well, such as a parent. Such individuals can help you identify your passions.

For factual information, go straight to source: always refer to the CAO website and your CAO handbook (available online or in hardcopy from your school). Do not listen to hearsay, especially regarding order of course choices. They simply need to be listed in order of preference. Updates to the handbook are published on the website, and should be taken to form part of the handbook. Check these updates for reference to any relevant courses.

The ‘demo application’ allows for a practice application to be made without any information being submitted. This is worthwhile to familiarise yourself with the process. If in doubt, ask your Guidance Counsellor for clarification. Remember, you are not alone. These resources are like lighthouses, guiding you through the uncertain areas.

As a parent, if you are well informed, you can help your child feel empowered through reassurance about their situation going forward. The CAO website has a specific section entitled ‘Information for Parents’. This has various resources including a guide to CAO for parents, in addition to informative videos.

Making the application

To avail of the discounted application fee of €25, submit your application by January 20; between then and February 1 the standard fee of €40 applies. (It is possible to make a late application between March 6 and May 1 but it will cost you €50). The cut-off time on any of these dates is 17.15, but it is advisable not to leave it until deadline day.

There are two separate elements to applying: firstly, the setting up of your account for which your personal details are required. Once this is completed, note your CAO applicant number and keep it and your password safe. The second stage is completing your two lists of course choices – one for Level 6/7 and one for Level 8. The majority of Level 6/7 courses now have options leading to a Level 8 award, so they should not be overlooked.

You can edit your lists of course choices from May 5 to July 1, so there is no need to panic if you have not yet settled on your final choices. The only exception to this is the ‘restricted courses’; courses requiring portfolio submission, interview or other form of additional assessment. These are clearly marked in your handbook and must be included in your application now as they cannot be added later.

Once the two compulsory sections are completed, there are a number of other subsections. It is worth it to take the few minutes to complete these. Firstly, if you intend applying for a maintenance grant then you can tick a box giving permission for CAO to link your information with your grant application. Please note, grant applications must be made separately at a later date.

Secondly, you can indicate if you wish to apply for HEAR and/or DARE. HEAR is for applicants from low socio-economic backgrounds, while DARE is for applicants with any number of a wide variety of ‘disabilities’. Take time to read the criteria for each of these. If applying, links will be provided in your CAO account for the forms which need to be filled along with instructions for posting documents of evidence.

In essence, CAO applications are not complicated but perhaps a little complex if you are ill-informed. Keep it straightforward for yourself by taking your time and reading everything carefully, including all future correspondence from CAO.

CAO is for entry to Higher Education; other options for school leavers include Further Education, apprenticeships and, of course, employment. Whichever path you embark on, try not to feel overwhelmed by the unknowns. Draw on your resources and get informed. Only you can design your life from this point forward. Remember, plain sailing is just that: plain and boring. Embrace the waves in order to live life to its fullest; you might just need help surfing some of the way.

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