Passion! Not Points!


In our Zoom for Thought on January 12th, 2021, UCD Discovery Director Professor Patricia Maguire spoke to Brian Mooney, guidance counsellor, educational columnist for The Irish Times and end-of-career guidance counsellor at Standard Life about  “Passion! Not Points!” In case you missed it, here are our Top Takeaway Thoughts. 


Morning Motivation

Brian describes school as “like being on a railway track” with very little freedom in terms of subject choices. But in college “you have to be driven by the dynamic of your course”. What sorts of courses and lectures would students be motivated to attend on a wet, miserable January morning instead of staying in bed? Because a three- or four-year course is “not going to sustain itself unless you are passionate about what it is you are studying”. 


Finding Your Passion

Finding your passion is “not easy”. It is all about self-exploration. Guidance counsellors help students hone in on their strengths and interests. “Maybe something within your hobbies? Within your peer group who are you? Are you the leader? Are you the organiser? Are you the shoulder that everybody comes to cry on if something goes wrong? Where do you fit in and have always fitted in among your friends? What’s that telling you about yourself?” Brian describes this process as a jigsaw puzzle with the picture slowly emerging. Despite the pressure they are under he encourages each student to “have the courage to believe in yourself and to explore within yourself who you are - and find those passions”.


One Step at a Time

Picking a course for your CAO is not like “going in and picking up a product off a supermarket shelf”. Instead it is “simply the decision as of this moment as to what you would enjoy studying in college next year, and hopefully for the next three to four years”. Completing that course will then “change who you are, re-orientate you and give you a whole new perspective on life. And that brings you to the next decision, which then changes you more”.


Points System

The points system came about when free education meant Ireland had more students than college places. “The point system is about capacity,” says Brian.  “Ultimately, we're now in a situation where because of bottlenecks in the system we have very high points requirements but that's not a reflection on you. It's not a criticism of you if you get 350 points. It's not a failure.” 


Alternatives to Points

If you don’t get the points for the course you want, there are other routes to getting there, such as spending a year doing a Further Education or PLC course in that field before re-applying for that university course. “There are always options in every faculty,” says Brian. Another option is studying abroad through English. “A growing number of Irish students are going to European universities that, because of their demographics and low birth rates, have no points requirements whatsoever. They just have the minimum entry requirements of matriculation. And that has gone from nothing to substantial numbers in the last number of years.”


Future of the Leaving Certificate

Brian believes the Leaving Cert is “evolving very nicely”. He compliments the orals and aurals in languages. Also more recent additions such as the computer science curriculum and innovations like pre-submitting project work in subjects like history and politics.  “I think it is a wonderful exam, and it's fair. And if we didn't have the shortage of places nobody would be complaining.”


All About The Money?

An audience member asked if Brian ever feels the pragmatic need to advise students that their passion might not provide a financially lucrative career.  He responded: “What I would say to you is that in life, when you come through your door at the end of your working day, if you feel frustrated and you've got a pain in your chest - and I've spoken to people in that situation - your home life and your family life are going to be pretty miserable. At the end of the day, no matter who you are inside, you need to express that because you're only going to get one chance to live. And ultimately the financial return is likely to be as good as it can possibly be if you are being the essence of who you are. So don't waste the life that you have - go for what you truly feel is you. You will never regret it, I assure you.”


This article was brought to you by UCD Institute for Discovery - fuelling interdisciplinary collaboration.