Applying to the CAO

By Carmel Shannon

For Leaving Certificate students all over the country CAO season is now under way with the opening of the online application facility on November 5.

While many students will know exactly what they want to do at this stage and it will just be a matter of filling out their application form, others thy are still unsure. In fact every year students struggle with trying to figure out what the next step is for them after they finish school. There are so many different options available to students now, and the main thing is not to panic, take your time and do your research.

According to a study carried out in 2018 by the Higher Education Authority one in six third level students (almost 6,000 per year ) do not get beyond first year in college.

The most common reasons why students drop out of college in first year is because they picked a course based on the course name without doing any further research into what is actually involved in the course, or because they wanted to go where their friends were going and once they realised what the course entailed they left. This usually happens before Christmas and can have a devastating effect on the young person, not to mention the financial implications for parents.

It is also important to research a course in each college you intend to apply for. Do not assume that because it has the same name you will be studying the same thing, as this is often not the case and courses do vary from college to college.

Do not rule out courses based on someone else’s experience, just because a course did not suit someone else does not mean that it is not the right course for you.

Remember that CAO points are based purely on supply and demand, for this reason courses in cities and larger towns which are always more popular with students can be much higher. Students should consider colleges in smaller towns as often the points for courses on offer there can be lower and costs associated with accommodation etc can also be significantly less.

Where can students go to access information on courses

There are lots of really good resources out there for sourcing information. Students can get information on the college websites and college prospectus. Every year they are sent to your school and if you ask your guidance counsellor he/she should be able to provide you with them. College open days and career fairs are also an excellent way to access information and get talking to representatives from third level institutions. The Careers Portal website and also provide extensive information to students on individual courses, minimum entry requirements, and a calendar of events to notify students of upcoming college open days, career exhibitions, and deadlines. The CAO handbook and website are also a good source of information, and students and indeed parents should read through the handbook carefully before filling out the CAO Application form.

Filling out the CAO

Students fill out their CAO application form online and should do this before January 20 to avail of the discounted rate of €30; after this time until the normal closing date of February 1 2020 it will cost €45. Students can now register with the CAO without adding any courses at this point if they wish to do so.

The CAO application is, in effect, like two applications in one, with the option to apply for up to 10 courses on the Level 6/7 side of the application and up to 10 courses on the Level 8 side.

Students should always put the course they want the most as number one regardless of points. It is also a good idea for students to have courses filled out on their Level 6/7 side, however some students can be reluctant to fill this side of the application form. These courses can actually be a great option and may help you to obtain a place on your preferred course as the points for entry into Level 6/7 courses are lower than Level 8 courses. Students can still progress through Level 6 /7 courses on to Level 8 honours degree courses if they wish to do so and can still complete their Level 8 honours degree in the same amount of time which is generally four years. Therefore, the Level 6 and 7 options are an excellent backup plan for students if they do not get the points to obtain a place directly onto their preferred Level 8 course.

Key dates to remember for CAO applications

November 5: CAO online application opens.

January 20: Discounted fee of €30 closes.

February 1: Normal closing date for application closes. The fee to apply between January 20 and February 1 is €45.

March 1: Closing date for amending course choices. This facility opens again on May 5 2020. It is free of charge to make changes to your application from this date until July 1.

March 1 is also the closing date for final completion of online HEAR/DARE forms.

March 15 is the deadline for HEAR/DARE supporting documentation to arrive at CAO office in Galway.

Carmel Shannon, career consultant,, email [email protected].


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