Now is the time to explore all your options

No matter what points you achieve, there will be a course to suit you

If you have not already done so over the past year, spend the next week or so looking at the options within the classifications listed on Qualifax. It’s worth taking time to make the right choice. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

If you have not already done so over the past year, spend the next week or so looking at the options within the classifications listed on Qualifax. It’s worth taking time to make the right choice. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

Tue, Jun 18, 2013, 08:21

Q Why is now a good time to reassess my CAO options?

A When you made your initial CAO application you were probably buried in preparations for your Leaving Cert, or Post-Leaving Cert (PLC) programme. Now the examination is drawing to a close, your mind is freer of those pressures and anxieties. You now have nearly two weeks to finalise your list of course choices.

Q How do I go about listing the most suitable courses in the correct order?

A Many applicants use their initial application in January as a holding exercise, simply to secure their route to a college place in September. Now that you have to submit a definitive list of options, you must ask yourself which course or courses will build on your strengths, interests and aptitudes and enhance your capacity to enter the labour market at the end of third-level.

Q How should I go about making these choices?

A You need to be aware of the courses on offer. The CAO handbook for the 2013-2014 academic year was printed in the summer of 2012 and is based on the information provided at that time by the colleges.

Since then many courses have been withdrawn, amended or added by the colleges who offer courses through the CAO. The CAO website,, has an up-to-date list of these amendments.

To examine the current list of courses on offer through the CAO, including details of each programme, go to You will find a drop-down menu which classifies every course under the following headings: administration/ business, agriculture/horticulture, architecture, art/design, arts/ social science, built environment, dentistry, education, engineering/technology, human medicine, law, nursing, other healthcare, pharmacy, physiotherapy, science, applied science, and veterinary medicine.

Spend the next week or so exploring your options within these classifications. No matter what points you achieve in your Leaving Certificate on August 14th, or through your PLC course, there are courses on offer from colleges at higher certificate, ordinary and honours degree levels, which will suit your circumstances.

Q Now that I know where to find information on all the courses, how do I apply it to myself?

A Most of you will have been through this process with your school guidance counsellor over the past year. If you are still uncertain, follow these steps:

– Take the interest inventory on and and see if they highlight any areas of particular interest to you.
– Re-read the results of other interest inventory or differential aptitude tests you undertook in the past two to three years. They may point in the direction of one or more of the 17 course groupings outlined above.
– Look at your results in your school subjects over the past few years, including the results of your Junior Certificate.

Are you performing above your average in one or more specific subjects? These subjects may be the ones to pursue in an undergraduate course.
– Reflect on any work experience you undertook as part of Transition Year or Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme and ask yourself whether it enthused or discouraged your interest in a particular occupation or career path.
– Reflect on the subjects you have just taken in your Leaving Certificate or other examinations. Which ones did you enjoy studying most? Which ones did you most enjoy writing about in the exam hall over the past two weeks?

The answers to these questions may help you to narrow your course choices down to a relatively small number of options.

Q Where can I find career-specific information that might help me to finalise my choices?

A One of the most helpful resources for anyone exploring career options is the Careers Portal website, This site also has an interest inventory, which will help match your courses to areas of interest to you, and may well open your mind to possibilities you hadn’t considered. Many of us have preconceived notions, which are often inaccurate, of what particular occupations involve.

If you are interested in listening to people talking about what a particular occupation or job really entails, the site has more than 100 employees of major Irish employers talking about the realities of their day-to-day jobs.

Given that unemployment is currently above 13 per cent, having access to a site where employers are actively promoting opportunities in their companies or industry is of enormous benefit to those interested in the labour market, whether school leavers looking forward a number of years, or adult CAO applicants considering a career change.

Remember also that the CAO website,, features links to all of the colleges offering places, as well as the online application system, to enable applicants to register their change of mind option.

Q Do all applicants need to get involved in this change of mind process?

A Yes, all applicants need to review their application, prior to the CAO deadline which is July 1st at 5.15pm.

Q What if I am happy with the choices I made in January?

A For those comfortable with their initial choice of courses and the order in which they are listed, all you need to do is check the list of courses you have applied for against the latest published list of courses on offer from the CAO.

Ensure all your courses are still on offer and that there are no new ones that you might like to consider.

Also make sure that you still meet all the subject, and level of subject, entry requirements.

If you are uncertain what these requirements are, go to the subject choice module on the Qualifax website where the entry requirements for all courses are outlined.

If, for example, you have dropped from higher to ordinary level maths in recent months, you may have forgotten that grade C at higher level is a minimum requirement for some of your initial CAO choices. If some of these choices are no longer open to you, remove them now from your list of choices.

If, having reviewed your choices, you are happy with your current application, you need take no further action. You do not need to communicate in any way with the CAO.

Q I applied for the five Level Eight medical degree programmes and took my HPAT assessment test in February. Do I need to do anything else?

A You will get the result of your HPAT on Monday, June 24th, after the Leaving Cert is over. This assessment is marked out of 300.

Your performance in the Leaving Certificate, up to a maximum of 550 points plus one extra point for every five you score over and above 550, up to the maximum CAO score of 625, will be added to your HPAT score, to give a maximum possible score of 865 points.

The applicants with the highest combined points, applying to each of the five colleges offering medical degrees, will secure the places.

I would advise anyone who has used up their first five Level Eight choices to list undergraduate medical degrees, to use options six through to 10 to list five alternate degree programmes, which you may be prepared to consider if you do not succeed in securing a place in medicine.

Last year, more than 1,000 applicants to the CAO, with points scores in excess of 500, failed to secure any offer of a place because they failed to list any course which required less than 500 points.

Remember any graduate with a 2:1 or better in a Level Eight degree can apply for a post-graduate medical place. This may be an alternate route into medicine if you fail to secure a place this year.

Q What if I want to change my order of preference, or add new course choices to my existing CAO application?

A If you used the original application as a holding exercise, that’s perfectly understandable. Many students in the middle of sixth year are unclear about what they really want to study in college. Now that the time to make your final choices has arrived, bear in mind you are not selecting the occupation in which you will work for the rest of your life. You are simply selecting areas of academic study which you would enjoy studying over the next one to three or four years.

Remember, 50 per cent of all undergraduates take a postgraduate course immediately following their undergrad study, to start the first step on their career ladder. Now is not the time to contemplate what that step, which may be up to five to six years away, will be. Leave this question until your final year in college, when your options will be clearer.

Q Should I use the online change-of-mind option at or return any changes I want to make by post?

A You should use the online option. This will ensure you only apply for courses that are on offer, as the online system will not accept a discontinued course or a wrong course code.

Remember also that if you wish to make any adjustment to either or both your lists, you must resubmit the entire list in the order you now want.

If you were to list only the extra course or courses you may wish to add, your original choices would disappear from your application.

Finally, if you wish to make changes to your application, or if you didn’t list any course on your application in January and are listing some courses for the first time, do it days before the July 1st deadline.

Q I have not applied to the CAO but am considering applying for a college place. Is it too late?

A It is too late to submit an application to the CAO, as the final deadline was May 1st, 2013 for those seeking a first-year undergraduate place for the first time. If you are a registered college student and have failed, or wish to change your course, you have until July 22nd to apply to the CAO.

For second-level or PLC students who have not yet applied for a CAO place this year, once the colleges know how many applicants have applied for each course after the July 1st deadline, they will seek applications for such available or vacant places as continue to exist, which will then be listed on the CAO website. Any applicant, including new applicants, can register any such courses on their existing or new CAO application. Simply go to

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