Getting to college: ‘Further education was my stepping stone, but I didn’t expect how much I would enjoy it’

Jacob Haskins didn’t have enough points to secure his first CAO choice so he took an alternative route to UCD

“I decided in fifth year that I wanted to study science in UCD.

“That was the year that Covid-19 hit and schools closed. Learning went online from March to June and I struggled to follow along with it because I liked in-person learning.

“In sixth year, everyone was in the same boat, but I could see that the CAO points for science had increased from around 500 before Covid and to 520 the year before I did the exams.

“I was hopeful. I thought I might not manage 520 but that points might fall in later CAO rounds, and I knew I could get 500.


“We had the choice, for each of the exams, of sitting the paper or going for calculated grades. A lot of my teachers liked me and my test scores were good.

“But I was disappointed with what my teachers decided to give me, or perhaps it was marked down by other examiners in an effort to standardise grades. I sat two subjects and got two H2s.

“I got my biology paper rechecked as, at 84 per cent, I was only 6 per cent away from a H1 which would have upped my points. I thought I had found those extra marks, but I didn’t get the upgrade. I understand that about one in five subjects are upgraded on rechecks, but I wasn’t one of them.

“Ultimately, I just hadn’t expected how much points would soar in the year I did my Leaving Cert. There was no hope, on any recount, that I could get science at UCD. I held out hope for a later CAO round, but you have to accept your level eight offer because, otherwise, it is considered you have declined a CAO offer and you won’t get a higher choice down the line.

“So I accepted a course in DNA and forensic analysis, a level eight course in TU Dublin. But I was gutted; I wanted UCD so much. My heart wasn’t in the TUD course.

“A relative told me about the Bray Institute of Further Education, and how I could do pre-university science there. I found out that, if you get enough distinctions, you stand a chance of being accepted into UCD science. I knew I could potentially do the course in BIFE but still miss out on random selection. But I had to try.

“Further education was my stepping stone, but I didn’t expect how much I would enjoy it. There were only 12 of us in the course, and with a small group like this, it is so much easier to help and support each other. We had a great personal relationship with the lecturers, who were always friendly and open to questions. And the social side was fun too.

“I knew there were so few places reserved for further education students, and there were many like me who wanted to get in by the same route.

“I got eight distinctions – only seven were needed – and was so pleased that I had done all I could. But I lost out on random selection. I was 20 years old and already a year behind my friends. I couldn’t take another gamble, so I found myself back where I started: DNA and forensic analysis in TU Dublin.

“I made great friends there, and the course was interesting, but I knew it was not what I wanted. I was a little heartbroken.

“I held out hope that I might get a place in round two. It came and went.

“I held out hope that I might get a place in round three. That, too, came and went.

“I gave up hope. I figured I needed to find a way to settle into TU Dublin and make the best of this course. Perhaps I could transfer to a different science course after the first year, or there would be some other way forward for me. I forgot about the CAO.

“About a month had passed from round one offers when, totally unexpectedly, I got a fourth round offer of science in UCD. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t even know there was a round four. I immediately switched to UCD.

“It did take a little more time to settle in, as I had missed the first month, and missed out on Freshers’ Week. It was a scary first semester, but I did well in my first year exams and feel I am on the right track, even if the route was circuitous.

“Actually, the PLC gave me a distinct advantage. The course in BIFE was like a mini introduction to first year, as we learned how to research, reference, work with groups and write in a more academic style. I feel I gained a lot of maturity, as well as friends for life.

“I’m really glad to see that more spaces are being reserved for PLC students to go to college and that new routes are opening up for people who might not otherwise get to college.”