DO NOT PANIC!! There is ALWAYS more than one way to get where you want to be.

Photograph of painting by Dublin artist, Neil Douglas, Courtesy of the Artist.


This Post has been updated.

See it as a companion piece to the Posts ~


'Interview Season, Yikes!!!'


'A Student's Curriculum Vitae'


Get yourself ready!




 October 2018 Update




Iseult Catherine O'Brien

Montessori Teacher & Supervisor | Volunteer Tutor with Second Level Students |

A Member of The Tutors' Association



Examinations and education organisations mentioned below are specific to Ireland. However, the general contents are relevant to any students, younger or older.









Remember, there is never, ever, only one way to get to where you want to end up. If you don't get the examination results you hoped for, and feel now that you won't be able to take subjects at the level you require, at or after Junior or Leaving Certificate, to enable you get a specific place, on a specific course, in college or university, or whatever is your dream ~ Do Not Panic!




If you were doing the Leaving Certificate in Ireland, you have had your results.  If you were disappointed with your results ~ I hope you let the shock hit, and then pass.  When you were ready, you read the results again.



There never an imperative to discuss your results until YOU are ready to do so. Don't let ANYONE push you into disclosing your results.  If people try to push you, just walk away.


If you applied for a place in a College or University via the CAO, I hope you were able to take another course, if your primary choice was unavailable to you.


Perhaps, you did well in a subject or two which had not been in your reckoning for your planned higher results, do not discard these as irrelevant. However your results turned out ~ STAY CALM. Assess how you did in the subjects for which you felt you would need the best results to allow you take a specific Course, and follow your ambition.


If you feel lost, as if everything has fallen apart, and you begin to doubt yourself, have a look at my Post, 'A Student's Curriculum Vitae', on this website.  It is full of questions which will HELP you calm down, recover your nerve, and realise just how much you do have to offer.



PLEASE REMEMBER ALWAYS, just because you didn't do as you may have hoped for in an exam, you are NOT a FAILURE.  Failing things, like not getting a grade you wished for, is part of life for everyone, and one of the best ways of getting to learn where one's skills, aptitudes, and sticking power lie.  We all fail.  To quote the not very successful for a long time, playwright and author, Samuel Beckett,  "Ever tried.  Ever failed.  No matter.  Try Again.  Fail again.  Fail better."  Beckett knew what he was talking about,  it is the getting up, and trying again that counts.



Now, more than ever before, a Student has many options to investigate, via various college courses, possibly attaining FETAC Level 5 or 6 results in relevant or related subjects, which subsequently get that Student on the route to the qualifications wanted, even if it is via a circuitous route.



NEVER feel that spending a year getting a qualification to enable you to get onto your ultimate course is a waste of your time.


Treat this year as an educational bonus!


YOU WILL LEARN how better to manage your study time, as your workload will increase compared to school requirements, as will the overall standard of work required.  Excuses for work not submitted on time, or missing references and a bibliography, are not tolerated in college.  You will learn how to pace yourself, including daily exercise and some time to relax.  You need to learn how to manage your health, both mental and physical, and to eat properly.  These are the life skills you shall need to manage and stick with your workload throughout your education and future careers.


YOU WILL LEARN to devise, from very early, a proper filing system for your source materials, both physical pieces, and backups on memory sticks, large external hard drives, or whatever system works best for you.  'Belt and braces' is always the best approach.  You will learn how to maximise the use of each piece of information that comes your way.


YOU WILL LEARN, at the start of the first term, your required referencing and bibliography systems, so that you are on top of your projects and papers, and when you do get on your ideal Course, you will be able to jump right in.  The various colleges and universities use differing referencing and bibliography systems, make sure you know which is required for where, as soon as you get there.


The amount of stress you will have saved yourself already, with this degree of preparation, is extraordinary!





Be proactive regarding what you should do next, and decide who would be most useful to you for sensible advice.  Do not wait for your current or former Form Tutor or Year Teacher to get around to seeing you.


Approach your School’s Careers' Guidance Officer, requesting a double-period appointment, as soon as possible, even if you have done your final school exams.  CGOs are happy to help someone who is officially a former student of the School.  You are still part of the School.  You should go to the meeting with two copies of everything, one each.


Bring the details of your most recent results, previous exam results (if you still have them; if you don’t, try for copies from your School, if possible), plus all the literature you have gathered on the Course / Courses you hoped to take at third level, to qualify in your ideal subject.  Also, bring copies of your Letters of Reference and details of your Referees.  You may not be well known to your Careers' Guidance Officer, nor he or she to you, so bring everything you think might be useful to your discussions.


Advice on how to get the most satisfactory and useful Referees and Letters of Reference is to be found at the end of my Post, 'A Student's Curriculum Vitae'.


BE CERTAIN that your Careers' Guidance Officer is CLEAR what advice you require on what routes are available for you to take a third level / FETAC course, or any type of course which, when completed successfully, will gain you access to your dream.



Your Careers' Guidance Officer will require time to investigate the available courses and how they could be knitted to your ultimate Course.  Check in with him or her regularly, to see about updates.



If for whatever reason you did not get or take a place available at third level, do not despair.  If you have found yourself with a year on your hands, not knowing what to do, investigate internships in various colleges and universities, some may be available even if you didn't get or take a place.



Also consider that a year working for Concern Worldwide, or the Simon Community, the local Hospice, or whatever is your favourite charity closeby, would be a useful thing to do in any case, and you would learn a great number of skills regarding dealing with people, decision-making, and receiving training.



The age for doing State Exams is fairly fixed during a school career, and one usually does the Leaving Certificate between 17-19 years.  Some of us are mature as good a making the right decision at 16 years equally, some of us don't mature until our mid-twenties; our brains don't mature until our mid-twenties to our thirties.  I'm not suggesting we do nothing while waiting to mature, I am suggesting that nowadays, very few people make a decision about their future in the year they leave school, and are still doing that job thirty years later.



People's lives have changed fundamentally.  We are expected to engage in life-long learning, for our own sense of accomplishment, and also because work changes so quickly we have to be able to change quickly as well, including retraining quite a few times in a career.







It is possible you could get a place on a FETAC course because of extra-curricular work, volunteering, or other activities you took part in. 


NOTHING IS A WASTE, and so never ignore a possibility, out of hand, because you do not see the potential.  Few of us can claim 20/20 vision when it comes to our own skills and abilities. 



Ask for the opinion of someone you respect and who is knowledgeable about educational matters ~ perhaps, a former teacher with whom you had a good rapport.


People do want to help out ~ 

Do not feel you are imposing.





Take all interviews offered to you, and ask for ones in situations where you think that your varied experiences may trump your exam results.  The more interview practise you get the better, and nothing beats the frisson of the real thing!


Please see my Post, 'Interview Season, Yikes!!!'



AFTER EACH interview, make a quick note of the questions you were asked, and especially the ones that surprised you, or caught you on the hop.  Based on this list, work out suitable answers to all the questions.  Even if you are only asked one or two of them again, it will have been worthwhile.  The extra confidence you shall have going into a future interview, will benefit you, helping you give a more polished and professional performance.  Interviews are performances, you are showing your best side.  Any question you are asked about your 'failings' can be turned to positives using your imagination.  This is a common question, along with "describe a situation you did not manage well".


Please do not give "I am a perfectionist" as your 'failing'.  Not only has it got very stale, perfectionism is not a welcome trait.  Those people cursed with it are never satisfied, and work far too long and too late to try to reach unreachable perfection, often ruining their health in the process.


ONLY REJECT some training / course when you are certain it would be of no use to you at all.  However, bear in mind it is always better to be studying something, rather than taking “a year off'' unless, perhaps, you can get relevant and recognized practical experience in the arena of your ambitions.  Once you get out, getting back into the swing of study and a structured day and week, is very hard work.


Often, a Student can get a place on a FETAC or other course, even without the basic academic requirements, IF the Student's CV reflects activities engaged in, related experience, competitions entered, or volunteer work done, relevant to the Course, no matter how tangentially.  Never take NO for an answer.  Always send in your previous exam results showing your long-term commitment, and all the other material suggested above that you should have for your School's Careers' Guidance Officer.   (See also the paragraph below on writing to the college or university Careers' Officer.)  Ask for an interview, perhaps your enthusiasm and relevant experiences might win you a place.


At the end of an interview, always thank the Panel for giving you the opportunity of the interview, and always say that ~


…. "In case I have not made my enthusiasm clear to you, I want you to know that I should really love to get a place ..."


on the particular Course in question.  Surprizingly often, that display of enthusiasm is what wins a place.  Panels hear from many, many, applicants, so show them how keen you are ~ and STAND OUT!



For example, if a Student wanted to do a course in Childcare but did not fulfil the academic requirements, if he or she could show continuous, long-term, work with children with learning difficulties, in his or her own time, that Student is more likely to win a place on the Course he or she wants, than someone with no background experience in the subject of the course in question, but with the basic exam results required.



Entrance to a vocational-type course is particularly likely to depend on a record of work and volunteering in the specific field.  Now is where your Referees and Letters of Reference become VITALLY USEFUL.  If the Interviewing Panel is choosing candidates for the last few places, prior experience, and an obvious commitment through voluntary work, are likely to count in the balance.


Prove yourself in every Submission you make, and at every Interview you attend.


NOW you know why you have to investigate your exam results deeply, almost as if they were the results of someone else. 

You are looking for possible connections, previously not noticed or recognised.  You also have to evaluate all your activities, pastimes, coaching / training, in school or outside school, volunteering work ~ everything you have done or still do.

These may suddenly become very relevant to your options.



ASK ...

For example, if your Leaving Certificate results did not get you a CAO place in your preferred Course, approach by post the Careers' Officer in the college or university you wished to attend.  Send an email first, with your contact details displayed and using the proper, official, title, of the Course you wish to attend as your reference, so that he or she will know to look out for your letter and enclosures.


Make certain you have the correct spelling of the CO’s name, and all the qualifications he or she lists on his / her own website.  A mistake here will make it less likely your correspondence shall get read.


IN YOUR COVERING LETTER, again, use the proper, official, title of the Course you wish to attend as your letter reference, and refer to the email you sent on 'X' date.


Request advice on how you should go about winning a place on the Course you really wish to do in that particular institution.  Say, from the heart, why you wish to study this subject, and say the followingshall give all the information that might be required.  Keep the letter short and friendly. Say that that you would be happy to do ANY intermediate course suggested by the CO, in order to qualify for the place you want.


Ask for an interview, saying you should be grateful to meet the Careers' Officer, even for fifteen minutes ~ what is there to lose?


So that the recipient doesn’t feel snowed under by paper, place a clear heading on the page describing the contents that follow, for example, "Examination Results and Awards Attained", having listed those achievements, add a new Section on the page, such as "Volunteer and Community Work".  Have your information honed to the shortest possible version.  List briefly extra work / study / training you undertook to make you a good candidate, and use two sides of each sheet.  Do not ramble, do not repeat.


Include, with clear headings, details of all your relevant experiences, and other matters, as outlined variously above. Try very hard to keep this information pithy and brief.  Use only what you need to use that you know is relevant.  Include a copy only of your Letters of References and contact details for Referees.


Please see my Post, 'A Student's Curricumum Vitae' for ideas on what to put in your updated CV and on keeping your CV as short as possible.


A potential student who has not given up on his or her hopes, and shows he or she is willing to try whatever is required to follow those hopes, is treated with respect by colleges and universities.


It is always worth having a go.


It is always worth asking for help.


Someone, Somewhere, may know

the Very Thing for You.



Always try to stay positive,

even when it's hard!

It is good for your mental and physical health,

and really shines through.




Everyone has an Opinion!

Photograph of painting by Dublin artist, Neil Douglas, neildouglas09@gmail. Courtesy of the Artist.




Listen to Those Who Know You Well and are Clear Thinkers

 Do Not Get

Distracted by Extraneous Opinions



Students frequently get unsolicited, well-intentioned, advice and / or encouragement to concentrate on specific subjects, as the adviser may see a career path he or she thinks would suit a given Student's abilities.  Indeed, a Student can be inundated with advice on which subjects to choose, and at what level, for State and other examinations.



This is usually well meant, but unless an 'adviser' knows you well ~ strengths and weaknesses, knows your ambitions, and has seen your efforts to reach your goal, a polite 'thank you for your interest' is sufficient.  You will have enough ideas and options and prospects whirling around in your mind, to give room to unsolicited advice.



This advice can sometimes lead to confusion, and to a loss of clarity or confidence on the part of a Student.  He or she may have thought the agonizing was over, choices had been made after a great deal of consideration and, then, yet another perspective is offered.



DO LISTEN to advice offered by people who either know you very well, or understand your abilities well.  However, do not get stressed over a passing comment from a well-meaning someone, especially once you have already made your decisions.


IT SOMETIMES happens that adults will unknowingly transfer their unfulfilled dreams of an educational opportunity onto a young person.  They may then envisage the Student fulfilling his or her dreams vicariously. 

Be kind, but do not get caught up in someone else's lost dreams.


Best of Luck!

Regards, Iseult

Iseult Catherine O'Brien



If you see any errors, typographical or factual, or if you disagree with any of my ideas, I should be very glad to hear from you.



Also, please see my Linkedin site ~


Please see my website, "Education Matters"  for ideas, experiences, and views on all matters Education.




I am an elected Member of The Tutors' Association.


Thanks to Dublin artist, Neil Douglas, at, for kindly letting me use copies of his vivid, vibrant, paintings. 



All shades of opinion are very welcome, please let me know what you think.

Thank You!





If I quote a person, group, organisation, or establishment, I do my very best to source the material quoted, and to attribute it properly.  If I cannot satisfy myself I have found the author or speaker who voiced a quote, I resist using it, no matter how tasty a bite!  If I refer in passing to views expressed by others, I attribute the views even if they have not been given verbatim in the text.



I work on a basis of goodwill and good intentions.  I shall make errors, being human, and when I do, I apologise now, and should always welcome a correction, which I would insert in the relevant Post prominently, in clear unambiguous text and type, repeating the apology. That's is the best I can do!