As is often the case in Ireland, it all depends on which school you are in. You may be lucky enough to be in a school that has more than one careers advisor and allows more than enough time for each student to consider their options.
But that’s relatively rare. Not everyone will have the same amount of time with their guidance counselor, and even in the best-resourced schools, the guidance counselor will still have a limited amount of time to devote to each student.
Trish Harrington is School Counselor at St Patrick’s Cathedral Grammar School, Dublin 8.
“Being a careers counselor is about so much more than just careers,” she says. “We look at our students holistically. We care about their personal, social and academic well-being. We deal with transitions from primary to secondary school and from secondary to secondary school. We help with study skills, choice of studies and career entry.”
Cuts made in the allocation of counseling hours over a decade ago are slowly working their way out of the system, but the discretion given to school management means the allocation of counseling hours will be different at each school. That is, each class should have an assignment.
“I’m lucky with the allocation at my school,” says Harrington. “In general, however, the senior cycle receives many of the counseling hours allotted. Personally, I do a needs analysis at the end of each year to see where the needs will be for the coming year. But most sixth-year students will get a spot with the guidance counselor sometime in October. This can take an hour or 40 minutes. So it’s important to be as prepared as possible when your slot comes up.”
The majority of schools now offer a transition year program and in some schools it is compulsory. Many schools with a TY program have developed a career class in which students have group sessions on topic choice and may have completed psychometric tests to build their career profile.
Then, in the fifth year, the focus shifts to open houses, effective questioning, looking at alternative avenues such as continuing education, post-leaving cert courses, apprenticeships and internships. This is further fleshed out in the sixth year through career appointments and career courses, says Harrington.
The psychometric tests can help students identify and narrow down their interests. One of the most well-known for guidance practitioners is the Cambridge profile test, which assesses skills and interests in a variety of fields. If you did them in the transition year, it’s easy to forget the insights they gave you, so don’t be afraid to do them again in the fifth or sixth year. Interest assessments can also be found on Qualifax.ie and CareersPortal.ie.
While every school will be different and every student will have different experiences – particularly depending on whether or not they have completed the transition year – each careers advisor is there to help.
Harrington, along with college advisor Betty McLaughlin of Mullingar, Co. Westmeath, says it’s important for every student to use this time and make an appointment.
“An effective counseling program should make students feel in control of their own paths,” says Harrington. “It is important that they make good use of this time and go to the appointment having researched as much as possible about the courses that interest them. I challenge them to look at all paths, including levels six through eight, and understand that a level six or seven course can lead to a level eight.”
McLaughlin says she encourages students to focus on their interests, including their favorite subjects at school.
“Some courses require certain subjects, such as E.g. chemistry for a veterinary degree or higher mathematics for some engineering majors,” she advises.
With that in mind, it’s also worth looking at the requirements of the course: it might sound very interesting, but if they’re not that interested in math or science, for example, but the course makes heavy use of those components, it might not be the right one Be Fit (However, keep in mind that while many courses contain a math or statistical element that you may not have expected, many colleges have math centers to help students master this potentially more challenging element of the course).
Harrington uses a profile sheet that takes into account student achievement, work experience, summer jobs and programs, and their interests.
“In this lesson, we use a collaborative approach to generate ideas and help students clarify their options and build their confidence,” she says. “The student is responsible for the process, but the guidance counselor can help the student build their knowledge.
“We are looking at patterns in their school life, what studying a particular course entails each year and what modules and accreditations will be available. And ultimately, it’s about helping students stay motivated and get the support they may need, including with stress, mental health, or finances. We are trained to be here for all of this, so use us.”
Panel: What to explore with your careers advisor
- Soundboard: Sometimes just having someone to share ideas with helps the most—and this is especially useful when that person is a trained careers counselor. Talk to them about which courses interest you. Why? What modules do they have and will you like them? Do you really care or is that what your parents expect you to do?
- Do your research: You should have done some research before speaking to your guidance counselor, perhaps through YouTube or Ted videos, or by browsing online courses. The YouTube videos you watch can also be a guide to what you find interesting.
- Apprenticeships: The number of apprenticeships has grown significantly in recent years, moving beyond traditional trades such as plumbers, car mechanics and bricklayers to newer options such as tree care, auctioning, bioengineering, finance, ICT, insurance, recruitment , sales and more . Unlike college courses, which come with high fees, apprenticeships pay for the learner. They range from level six through level eight (advanced degree) and now even go up to level ten (PhD), and many of them include some time on campus to give students the chance to have that all-important “college experience”. .
- PLC and Internships: The Post-Leaving Cert course can be a qualification in its own right or a bridge to college. Traineeships, on the other hand, prepare students for specific roles in companies that need to fill specific roles.
- Practical: How do you get into college? where will you live Are you eligible for a study grant? Do you qualify for the Higher Education Access Route (HEAR) for students from disadvantaged backgrounds? Or maybe you meet the criteria for the Disability Access Route to Education (DARE) program?
- It’s up to you: your confidant cannot make the decision for you – and they shouldn’t either. Beware of guidance counselors who you feel are pushing you into an area you’re just not that interested in (they are few and far between, and most have the experience and sanity to do so). After all, as you attend careers courses, complete proficiency tests, attend open houses and engage in interviews, your careers adviser’s job is to empower you to make an informed and confident decision for yourself.
Panel: A four-point plan for career guidance
Roisin O’Donohoe, vice president of the Institute of Guidance Counselors and careers adviser at Belvedere College, a fee-paying school in Dublin, says the careers guidance at her school focuses on four main aspects.
1. Know yourself: Pay attention to what motivates you: Is it money or creativity? What are you interested in. Use the free resources on CareersPortal.ie to find out.
2. Discover your possibilities: Your careers guidance teacher is a useful resource, as is the Higher Options conference, college open days and websites such as Qualifax.ie, Apprenticeship.ie and FetchCourses.ie, as well as individual college and college websites.
3. Focus: In sixth year, O’Donohue sits down with the students and asks what they want to achieve. This is followed by a personal consultation with a look at academic performance, a study plan and a list of options
4. Action: Submit applications for CAO, UCAS, Eunicas, Hear or Dare. Check eligibility for the Susi grant.
- Roisin O’Donohoe is a graduate of the MSc in Career Guidance from DCU