Why Not Getting My First Choice Was The Best Thing That Ever Happened

This is a bit of a long one so go get some coffee before you read it.

It has almost been a week since the CAO offers arrived and I will still bet that there are many, many students out there panicking about what they received. Life feels like it’s pointless, you feel as though you’ll never get where you want to be now in life with your third or fourth choice, you’re a failure, there’s no point even accepting the offer, just give up.

Yeah, you’ll go through that. And it’s normal. We have been brought up through a school system that places such an abnormal emphasis on the Leaving Cert and the points race that there is very little head space left for rationalisation. My experience with the Leaving Cert, results, and with that Monday, is less than positive. In fact, it was soul wrecking. That period from February 2012 when the Mock exams started to August 20th was probably the spring/summer from hell (and I wish I were exaggerating).

February was when my obsessive compulsive disorder manifested around something that wasn’t my exams (note: my OCD did not centre around cleaning or checking lights and ovens. It was something more internal than that however I’ve overcome it since then and it doesn’t affect me anymore. Yes, it is beatable.) So whilst I was focused on that, my exams kind of took a step to the side. I was often too anxious or depressed to study, I would come home from school everyday with my mind preoccupied on other things, things I deemed more important than my study, and gradually, I began to lose an interest. And as I lost interest, the more panicked I became, until it turned into this vicious cycle that I never believed I’d come out of. My only hope was that, once the exams were over, I would be okay.

Things over the summer period got worse. I was on holidays with my family and I was idle. I naturally get a little stressed out on holidays anyway but this was exasperated by my panic that, despite the exams ending, I was still sick to my stomach every day. On July 1st, less than an hour before the CAO was due to close, we speeded to a McDonald’s in Carcassonne so that I could add a course to application. History and Politics. I wasn’t even aware that was a course offered. That’s how out of it I was.

I had days during that summer where I wanted nothing more than to not exist. To crawl out of the hole I believed I had dug myself into. And the only thing that kept me going was the fact I’d be studying the course I had wanted to do since I first got into secondary school, History and English.

So you can imagine how I felt on results day, when I knew I didn’t reach the point threshold. I was five short than the year before and the points were set to rise thanks to the 25 extra points that doing honours maths gave you. I spent the whole day in my bed. I didn’t want to do anything. We didn’t even celebrate.

Monday came and my fears were confirmed. No offer for History and English. Instead, I had been offered History and Politics, and I was somewhat consoled but not delighted. What I believed was ‘hard work’ hadn’t brought me any of the courses I had wanted, whether it be Drama or English related. I wasn’t even doing a course related to journalism, another love of mine. I was doing a course that I had already judged to be boring.

But, as I did my course and went through university, I came to this realisation.

Your points don’t reflect your intelligence. In fact, if I had received the points I did any other year, I would have got my first choice. Further, History and Politics rose so much this year, I wouldn’t have even qualified it. The courses essentially swapped. So it wasn’t that I wasn’t intelligent enough to study English with History, I was just a result of a poor system. I wrote a few tweets earlier in the year whilst in the midst of my finals, ranting about this. Essentially, Irish society dictates to us that there is only one road to success and happiness and it is, ‘leaving cert to undergrad to work’. But what a lot of us fail to realise that it is just one of thousands of different paths. We are conditioned to think that if we stray from the above path, we are doomed to fail. This is in no way the case.

I realised this simply by just doing. I got involved, albeit not until I hit third year, and I began to develop skills and learn lessons that the Leaving Cert and my college course could never teach me. Lessons that I would have learned regardless of what points I got and what course I took. And it is these things that are slowly but surely nudging me through my young adult life. The abilities to deal with people, lead a team, deal with things in a professional manner are the ones that are helping me through this traditionary period, not the study of the Vikings in Britain or Inter-state relationships during the Cold War period. The latter two are interesting but useless in a proactive setting. The things you learn on a course give you a worldly view, yes, but it is the things we pursue outside of the classroom that give us the knowledge on how to get on in it.

So if you didn’t get your first choice, or even your second or third, or you’ve decided to take the year out and do something else, then let me be the first to tell you that it is absolutely fine. Go forge that new path. A degree might help but at the end of the day, it is the skills that you learn along the way that will get you to where you want to be.

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