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HomeFarming News'The Leaving Certificate is not the be-all and end-all'
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‘The Leaving Certificate is not the be-all and end-all’

19-year-old Joanne Hanifin is proof that everything happens for a reason. In this article, she reflects on her journey to date, from her desire to become a vet, her mother’s cancer diagnosis, her venture to Poland to study veterinary and her intentions to begin her Animal Science studies in UCD in September. 

I have had a keen interest in agriculture and farming from a young age. I consider myself very lucky to be living in county Kerry – native to the Kerry cow. I was immersed in the countryside having the opportunity to visit my uncle’s farm every day after school.

Before calving cameras existed, I vividly remember slipping on my wellingtons and blue overalls at the age of five eagerly looking through the shed door at a cow calving.

I would run with the holy water and bottle of iodine in hand christening the calf with my nan and spraying the calf’s navel with iodine.

I would look forward to heating up colostrum and bottle feeding the new-born calves. My years on the dairy farm created my path to pursuing a career with animals.

The Leaving Certificate:

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During my senior cycle in Presentation Secondary School Milltown, I studied biology and agricultural science. These were my favourite subjects.

After completing work experience at my local vets, Mid-Kerry Veterinary Centre, as a part of the LCVP Link Modules subject, I decided veterinary was what I wanted to do.

Having veterinary medicine number one on my CAO, I was hoping to attend University College Dublin in September 2018; however, I knew I had to have a back-up plan in place.

After receiving my results, I was offered a place in the animal science course in UCD. I deferred my course as I was only seventeen at the time. I considered repeating my Leaving Certificate at a grinds school, but I couldn’t face the stress and anxiety associated with the Leaving Certificate again.

I guess I am trying to highlight that the Leaving Certificate is not the be-all and end-all. It is not the first and definitely not the last major exam you will do in your life.

It is important to realise there are many different doorways and paths to enter whatever course you desire. Although I was gutted, I did not get the required points for veterinary medicine in UCD, I would not change the turn my college path has taken.


In September 2018, instead of heading off to university like most of my friends, I enrolled in a PLC in Kerry College of Further Education. At first, I thought I would do a PLC in education, as teaching was always in the back of my mind.

The career guidance counsellor advised me to do the PLC in applied science to brush-up on my chemistry and gain practical and hands-on experience in a laboratory environment.

I can honestly say it was the best nine months I ever spent. It is very different from second-level – You are not spoon-fed as it is up to you to do your own assignments and it helps develop vital skills for third-level such as critical thinking, self-motivation and self-learning.

I feel there is a certain stigma around PLCs – They are not just a last resort if you do not get your required points. They are a stepping-stone towards college and definitely enhance a student’s academic and organisational skills.


During my PLC, I completed a work experience module. During the first few weeks of spring, I went on-call with my local vets. During this time, I decided to apply to study abroad in Wroclaw University of Environmental and Life Sciences.

Studying veterinary medicine abroad was always something I considered, so, I applied through Medical Poland. I flew over to the university campus and completed an interview and oral exam in both biology and chemistry. Unfortunately, my mom was battling cancer during this time.

I attended the college in September 2019; however, I found the transition from Ireland to Poland quite difficult. It is way different to university life at home.

There are no clubs or societies or student union. I decided to defer my veterinary medicine course and come home to Ireland as I felt I rushed into this opportunity too quickly. I also was concerned about my mom’s health and wanted to be at home to support her.

Many students in Warsaw had undergraduate degrees in agriculture, zoology or biomedical science. I felt it was not the right time for me. I feel much more comfortable studying veterinary medicine as a graduate student. It is never too late.

In my opinion, it is a very demanding course which requires dedication and to an extent, a certain level of maturity.

I have many friends studying veterinary medicine in both Poland and Budapest – Most of them are graduate students and would not change having an undergraduate degree under their belt as they are academically more experienced and have better coping mechanism when it comes to exam stress.

Animal science

Looking back, I am very happy with my decision to return home. I am going to take up my deferral of animal science in UCD this September and begin my studies.

I am very excited to start the course. It is a broad course and offers so many career opportunities in the agricultural sector. The first year is basic science with an introduction to animal science. The second and third-year becomes more animal-based with modules in anatomy, physiology, nutrition and breeding.

In third year, there is a professional work experience module where students have the opportunity to gain practical experience and see various farming techniques either at home in Ireland or abroad. This five-month placement is the highlight of the course, in my opinion, due to the opportunity to travel abroad e.g. to America or New Zealand. 


I still have a career in veterinary medicine in the back of my mind. I hope to study veterinary medicine as a graduate student in the future.

I am happy with my decisions so far. I may also look into a career in agriculture in consultancy, nutrition or education. The sector has many opportunities as it is growing at a rapid pace.

I didn’t realise there are so many careers related to large animals outside of veterinary medicine. I would advise students to research as many courses as possible and not be afraid to take the scenic route.

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