CAO 2022: Surge in applications for environment, architecture and arts

Strong demand and high grades mean points likely to be close to last year’s record-high levels

There has been a surge in college applications for environment, architecture/construction and arts/humanities courses this year.

By contrast, nursing and some health-related courses show steep decreases.

The level of supply and demand for individual college courses is a key factor in determining whether entry points go up or down in September.

Overall, the total number of Central Applications Offices (CAO) applications is 83,803, a decline of just under 1 per cent on last year.


The data was collected on July 1st, the deadline for applicants to change their course preferences.

While there are fewer mature applicants this year — a likely influence of the strong jobs market — this has been largely offset by an increase in international applications.

This combination of strong application numbers, and Minister for Education Norma Foley’s pledge that Leaving Cert grades will be no lower than last year, means CAO points are likely to be close to last year’s record-high levels.

Last year, for example, saw an increase in the use of random selection to award high-demand college places in courses such as medicine, health sciences, commerce and engineering.

Just over 40 per cent of college courses which required 550 points or more used random selection last year.

Some students who received the maximum points possible — 625 — ended up losing out on their first-choice college places in courses such as medicine last year after places were awarded by random selection

However, the Government hopes the creation of 60 new medicine places this September and about 1,000 other places in high-demand courses will ease some of the points pressure this year.

A new breakdown of CAO course preference data for July 1st, 2022, shows strong interest in environment-related courses, with first-preference applications up 40 per cent.

These include new courses in areas such as climate change, sustainability and environmental policy.

Other areas where there are significant increases in applications this year include architecture and construction (+12 per cent).

The arts is also making a comeback with an increase in humanities (+11 per cent), arts and languages (both +9 per cent). Interdisciplinary programmes combining arts and humanities have jumped dramatically (+80 per cent), but these courses are few in numbers and were chosen by a small cohort of students (less than 500).

Business and administration remains one of the most popular fields of study (+2 per cent).

Some of the biggest decreases are in the health sector, such as nursing and midwifery, down 27 per cent on last year

In the wider area of health, many areas of study are also down including physiotherapy (-10 per cent), pharmacy (-11 per cent), veterinary medicine (-4 per cent) and medicine (-2 per cent). Dentistry — including dental nursing and hygiene — has bucked the trend, however (+ 11 per cent).

Agriculture is also down significantly (-17 per cent), as are smaller areas of interest such as hygiene and occupational health services (-35 per cent).

The so-called Stem sector is a mixed bag this year. The tech sector continues to grow in popularity with information and communication technology (ICT) up 9 per cent.

Social and behavioural science is down (-7 per cent), biological and related science are unchanged, while physical science is up (+3 per cent).

Law is down this year as are welfare-related courses (both -4 per cent)

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent