Personally, every time I filled out the CAO form I put down different courses, in different orders, so I know what a nightmare it can be. I was never one of those lucky few who just ‘know’ what they want to be. For me, the CAO form was a pain nearly as large as the Leaving Cert itself. I found myself crippled with the thought of what I would do with my life, even if I did manage to negotiate the Leaving Cert relatively successfully – would all that hard work be for nothing? 

Inform yourself

The first step is to inform yourself. Go to all the college open days, campus tours and summer schools. You cannot know whether you will like something unless you hear about it first hand. Ideally from the people studying it. If you hear of something you think you’d be interested in, invest a little more time in it. Go to one of the specialized open evenings, designed to answer any and all questions students might have. Don’t be afraid of asking questions, as a UCD Student Ambassador we want to help prospective students make an informed decision so if you come on tour with us, don’t be afraid to ask us about our course, the clubs and societies, campus facilities and student life in general. 

Family and friends

Talk to family and friends. They know you better than you realise and the majority will be very helpful and have observations of you and years of life experience. They may be better positioned than you think to see how where you might excel and flourish. 


Stick to your interests if possible. Although this is an obvious one, it’s also the most important. Choosing subjects tactically for points at the Leaving Certificate may have worked – but how far can you push this? You shouldn’t be aiming to ‘trick’ the system, find an ‘easy’ or ‘guaranteed’ job and be comfortable. It simply won’t work. There will come a point, not even that far down the line, where you will regret that you chose what you thought would earn you money, rather than happiness. However, it can be hard sometimes to match your interests to a particular course, so one helpful tip is to read about the wide range of careers graduates of a college have entered into. 

Keep your confidences

Don’t ask your friends what courses they’re putting down. Even when armed with the best intentions, if you subconsciously know you’ll at least have a friend in a course, you’re more likely to choose it, even if it may not be the right course for you. Trust yourself to maintain your existing friendships outside college and make new ones within whatever course you choose. 

Similarly, don’t feel you have to tell anyone what you put down on your own CAO form. You shouldn’t need to worry about people questioning whether you’ll get the points for the ABC course, or whether you should be considering going to XYZ University. If it’s your ambition, put it down. If you don’t get it no harm, no foul. No one else will know – unless you tell them. 


Finally, despite everything I’ve said thus far, one of the most important things about the CAO is to avoid hyping it up into the be-all-and-end-all. People change their mind every day and you have the CAO Change of Courses and Change of Mind facilities open to use.

Finally, remember to take a deep breath and make your choice. Try not to worry. Despite what everyone says, the CAO and the Leaving Cert really isn’t everything. 


If you would like to chat with UCD students and ask about their courses or anything related to student life pop over HERE