I did the LC, went to uni…and then went back and did the Leaving Cert

The country is currently in the midst of exam-itis, with its young people worrying about passing state tests, the elderly lighting candles with a vehement fervour, and those of us in the middle casting our minds back to the time when we did what could arguably be considered the most difficult, stressful exams some of us will ever take. 

When I underwent the trauma of my first Leaving Cert back in 2011, I went into it with a very laissez-faire attitude. 

This was because I had applied to art college, and had already gotten in based on my portfolio of work alone. 

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So, feeling like the smug little brat, I was aged 17 (barely, I turned 17 two months before the Leaving Cert loomed) and I coasted through, doing the bare minimum for subjects I hated like Maths and Economics, and throwing myself lavishly upon the subjects I loved, like Art, English and History. 

It's safe to say that by the time my results rolled around by the end of that summer, those were the only three subjects I had done anything close to well in, but feeling safe in the knowledge that my life as an amazing artist was about to unfold before me, I didn't think much of my 300 point score. 

I honestly wasn't too bothered. It was only later hearing the high flying marks that had been awarded to my friends did I feel slightly sub par. Comparison truly is the thief of joy. 

There was also an awkward moment on our result night out, when one of the girls – laughing because some had asked her how she got on – said 'I did grand, at least I didn't get, like, 300 points or something.' 

An unnatural hush fell upon the group as we sat outside in the fading Leaving Cert weather sunshine, as everyone knew how I had scored in the great, defining points system. 

She realised her indiscretion immediately and apologised, red-faced and completely mortified over her slip of the tongue, but it definitely stuck with me.

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I pottered off to art college that coming September, moved out of home, and finally committed myself to doing art full time – something I had always wanted to do.

It was only when I finally got to art college, after years of dreaming about it, that I realised, while I love conceptualising creative ideas and expressing myself through art, the discipline and technical ability required for fine art simply wasn't something I had in my arsenal of talents. 

I had always written a fashion blog and loved fashion photography, so I threw myself into those areas of creativity when I realised that painting and sculpture were just too hands-on for my skill set. 

I came to the end of my first year and finished up at art college, knowing I wouldn't be returning again. I scraped FETAC accolade in Art and Design and met my ultimate existential crisis: What now? 

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I was barely 18, living with my complete dosser and fellow artist of a boyfriend, and knew that I wanted to continue my education, but just not in the field I had always thought.

So, I looked to what had always been my close second-to-favourite subject, English, for guidance. I had always loved writing, it was the one thing that came so naturally to me, but I never felt that it was a viable career path for me because I had always been so caught up in following my dreams of doing art. 

Unfortunately, the points I had secured in the Leaving Cert were coming back to haunt me, as no university would accept me for an English degree with 300 points – that's just a fact. 

So, I made one of the most defining and life-changing decisions I have probably ever made, and after a full year of independently going to college, I decided to return to my old secondary school and repeat the Leaving Cert. 

As my friends were venturing into their second year of university study, I was dusting off the plaid skirt of our old school uniform and making the far too familiar journey to our secondary school – something I never thought I would do ever again. 

Repeating was difficult. The first morning I walked into that assembly and looked into the sea of unfamiliar faces made of students, who had been two years below me in school, I was met with ones of confusion as people wondered 'why the hell is she back here?' It was sufficiently weird.

But, I knew I was back for a very specific reason, and I felt that the time was right for me to apply myself in a way I never had before. 

It was gruelling getting back into the swing of secondary school-style studying; memorising reams of information and pages of facts, and after the freedom of a full year of college, dashing to class at the ring of a bell and adjusting to wearing a uniform again was tough. 

Seeing my best friends from school enjoying their second year of college and trying to play catch up was also horrible. It was like I had two lives, in one I was myself, keeping up with nights out with my friends and trying to adult while in the other I was a bag of nerves, studying at any spare minute while clutching a copy of Less Stress More Success in each hand. 

Luckily, people were nice, the class of fellow repeats, who had been in the year below me before, were hugely supportive of each other as we swotted away in our study room, and I had definitely matured in my year away from home, and knew that I had to sacrifice this year to these exams in order to create the life I saw for myself in the future.

I hadn't fully appreciated this the first time around, so by the time my second Leaving Cert arrived, I actually felt the white-hot heat of pressure that I had missed out on previously. 

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The exams happened, I barely remember them now almost six years later, but I passed everything with somewhat flying colours, and at the end of that summer I was accepted into Dublin City University to study Journalism on a scholarship. 

I loved every second of my three years at DCU, so much so that I then went on to do a fourth in the form of a Masters Degree in Public Relations and Strategic Communications to compliment by Bachelors degree. 

Journalism was the right choice for me, and obviously it worked out because you're reading this article right now. 

One thing that really stuck with me about my LC experience is that putting pressure on a 16 or 17-year-old to decide what they want to pursue as their ultimate career is madness, and it's no wonder I thought art was for me when the only experience I had of it was my four hours a week in school. 

I spent a long time scared shitless that I would make another misstep, and follow the wrong path, but it's a risk you have to take.  

When it comes to deciding what you want to do in college, make sure you choose something that you know will make you happy, and that you know you have the capacity for. 

Seek out internships, talk to your school about getting work experience, and try your hand at as many things as possible until you find the thing that fits. 

If I hadn't been so single-minded and stubborn to pursue art and had opened my eyes a little to the possibilities that came from the other subjects I enjoyed, I might have gotten to where I am quite a lot faster. 

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