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It’s fair to say the morning I received my leaving cert results was close to, if not, the worst day of my life. Along with the usual anxiety that everyone experiences that morning, my day got progressively worse once I opened the envelope to find that I had earned just 210 points. This was nowhere close to what I needed for my dream course. Creative Digital Media in Tallaght IT, which at the time was looking for applicants with at least another 100+ points. I had never been an exceptional student but I thought I’d done better than this. It felt like the world was crashing down around me and for a few minutes I existed in that insular void, panicking and clutching the results close to me so nobody could see them. After a few minutes of standing frozen like this, the initial shock wore off. Then I started to look for a way out.

As I walked past my celebrating peers, I felt like I could fall to pieces at any moment. A few of my friends waved at me to come over and they asked how I had done. All I could manage was “fine…good!” and a weak smile. I hadn’t wanted it to be like this. I’d wanted to escape out some side or back door and leave all this behind but it was summer and the only way out was to walk past my classmates. I just wanted to get home and disappear for a short time. I got into my mam’s car and my face finally collapsed in tears. My mam told me that we would figure this all out and that in a few weeks, the results wouldn’t matter. I didn’t believe her at the time but I now realise this was the single best piece of advice I received in the days that followed.

Four weeks later, I was on a FETAC Level 5 course in Dun Laoghaire College of Further Education. I had chosen the course because it had a link with the course I wanted in Tallaght. If I did well on the course, I could use the course points instead of my Leaving Cert to apply through the CAO and be with a chance of still doing what I wanted. This ended up being one of the best decisions I’d ever make. Rather than going back and resitting the Leaving Cert, I could get a year’s experience in the field I was interested in and not have to go through the hellish experience of that final year again. Anyone who’s sat those exams and dealt with the stress of sixth year can attest that it isn’t the kind of experience you want to go through twice! Long story short, I did incredibly well through the FETAC course and secured a place in Tallaght IT. I had four fantastic years of studying there and all it had taken was reassessing my situation and taking a slightly longer route to get what I wanted.

So, why am I telling you this? It’s because this is the kind of thing that your guidance counsellor isn’t going to. Despite the progress that has been made in the 8 or so years since I finished school, our education system still remains focused on getting as many students as possible to college through traditional channels. There can be a great shame associated with not getting into college through the most traditional route and this in turn makes students feel that if they don’t succeed via this route, that they’ve somehow failed. I’m here to tell you that’s nonsense. Yes, while most people are going to get college places through their Leaving Cert points, there are other options. You can do a 1 or 2-year FETAC course to gain extra experience or build a portfolio. Take your time and decide if a particular course is what you want to pursue. Most importantly, if this is something you feel you could benefit from, talk to your school’s career counsellor and explore the options available to you. Remember that the choice is up to you and that although your choices seem limited, it doesn’t have to come down to what’s on that piece of paper on results day.

Alex x