You’ve done the research, figured out the discipline in which you want to study, which college you want to go to, and you’ve even chosen specific courses. Job done? Not quite. The hardest work is over, but standing between you and your new life is the small matter of points requirements and course offers from the Central Applications Office (CAO).
The CAO is in charge of administering the application and selection process for most higher certificates (Level 6) and undergraduate courses (level 7 and Level 8) in Ireland. CAO applications demand careful thought and time. Course selection and order of preference is extremely important and failure to comply with the instructions may result in delays and financial penalties. Applications can be downloaded from the CAO website (www.cao.ie), and submitted online or via post. Also available on the website is the CAO Handbook, which has detailed instructions about applying and should be read before beginning the process.
The deadline for initial application is early February each year. For most courses late applications are allowed and accepted until May 1 but are subject to additional fees. Applicants can change their mind about their chosen courses and/or their order of preference for free up to July 1. However, there are restricted application courses and restricted categories of applicants, which may include mature students, for whom late applications and changes are not allowed and for whom the initial deadline in February is firm. It may be a good idea to check with the course and education institution for specifics.
Entrance to courses are based on meeting the minimum requirements and the points each student has accumulated in their best six subjects from the Leaving Certificate. As demand for specific courses increase, so too do the points requirement. For mature students, the application process is not so cut and dry and while the application is still directed through the CAO, the individual institutions examine the application.
Applicants can apply for up to ten courses of study. The courses must be listed in order of study preference and should be based on genuine career aspirations rather than on assumed results. If you are applying to a course that usually requires very high points, e.g. Medicine, place that course high in the order of preference.
Once an applicant is offered a place they are then automatically removed from consideration in any course lower in their order of preferences, but are still in the running for the courses higher in their order. So if you are offered your third choice (a Bachelor of Science in Life Sciences), you are then automatically removed from the choices numbered four to ten. However you are still eligible, if positions become available (usually through refusals or withdrawals), in your first (Medicine) or second (Nursing) choice.
The CAO application process has fueled anxiety for as long as it’s been around, but it doesn’t need to. All that is required is attention to detail and thoughtful introspection. Make sure to read the CAO Handbook as well as researching the courses and colleges you are applying to. Do not guess, assume or listen to rumours, and if you are in doubt about your application, contact the CAO directly or visit their Frequently Asked Question section of their website. And finally try to choose your courses in order of preference based on genuine interest and career aspirations.