CAO 2021: 10 Things To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do!

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Sophie Coffey
Sophie Coffey
A self-confessed shopaholic with a severe bookshop obsession.

The CAO is a huge part of your sixth year experience if you are hoping to continue with education and pursue a further qualification such as a degree. 

There is a lot of emphasis on this in your final year of school which can be doubly stressful if you really have no clue what you want to do next. And that’s okay! At 17 or 18 it is perfectly okay not to have your whole career mapped out. But it can make coming up with a CAO order of preference understandably tricky. 

To help you out this CAO season, here are our ten tips!

Keep your options open

If you don’t know what career you want (and that’s absolutely fine!), the CAO is not the time to be specific. Stick to broad and open course choices that will still leave you with plenty of options at the end of the degree. Arts, humanities and social sciences courses are often considered to be among the most versatile when it comes to graduate areas of employment. If you have no idea what career you want, vocational courses like nursing might leave you stuck in a few years’ time!

Seek the student voice

Online websites and college brochures can be hugely helpful. However, the uncensored advice and considerations of college students tend to be even more beneficial. Speak to older siblings or friends to gain an insight into the more practical and day-to-day aspects of courses.

Consider Career Paths

Unlike what we are sometimes led to believe, education is not a linear path of primary-to-secondary-to-degree-to-job. But furthering your knowledge in a sector can help you land a job in that area. It can be worthwhile to explore the careers that graduates of different courses end up in.

Never too early to network!

Unsure of what a course will actually entail or whether a career will live up to your hopes? Get in contact with someone you know involved in that sector for some relevant and honest feedback.

Specialise in your strengths

Still have no idea what area you want to study or eventually work in? I repeat: that is okay! Often people will choose to further their knowledge and skills in areas that they are best at. Consider your favourite or strongest subjects and try to discover if there are career options or courses that link to those. This can also apply to hobbies or extracurriculars that you’re involved in.

Work on your weaknesses

If you’re not sure what you want to do, it can sometimes be hard to be ambitious and strive for your results. Try to avoid a situation where you miss out on a course simply because you didn’t yet realise you wanted it during sixth year. Work as hard as you can on your weaker subjects in the hopes that you willl have a variety of choice. Maximising your points will hopefully maximise your options. 

Personality tests

You might have completed every zoom quiz under the sun at this point but for something different try a personality quiz. Aptitude tests are not 100% guarantees but they can often help guide you towards a certain sector or field of work.

Attend virtual college open days

College open days have joined the rest of our world in moving online. They can still be a great way to get more information and help you narrow down some options. Prepare some questions or areas you would like to learn more about in advance just as you would plan for a physical event.

Worthwhile work experience

Consider any work experience you engaged in back in TY. This can be just as helpful to help you realise you don’t want a particular career. If you did like your work experience then that can help with your choices. But, if you didn’t, then try to narrow down why it wasn’t for you and apply that criteria to other jobs.

Points in the right direction

The order of preference on your COA form is just as important as the courses you list! Approach every option on your form as if you might get it. Hopefully, the chances are low that you will get your 10th option but the fact it’s on the list at all, means it’s not impossible. Do your research on all of your courses and make sure that the CAO codes match the right courses.

Do you have any great tips for finalising your CAO?

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