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Leaving Cert: I’m in a panic. Is February 1st really the deadline for CAO applications?

Applicants for the majority of courses on offer still have five months to make a final course selection

My son still has no idea what he wants to do after he finishes his Leaving Cert in June. He has applied to the CAO and attended a few open days and spoken to his guidance counsellors on numerous occasions. As the CAO deadline of February 1st approaches, I’m worried that he’ll panic and choose a course that’s wrong for him. Have you any last-minute advice?

This can be a very stressful time for many current Leaving Cert students and their parents as tomorrow’s 5pm deadline approaches for the submission of course choices at both level eight and six/seven, but there is no need to panic.

For those considering the minority of “restricted” courses which have an assessment process in addition to their exam results, February 1st is a deadline of sorts. But, even then, any applicant can add a restricted course to their February 1st list at any stage in the next month for a further fee of €10.

For applicants considering the vast majority of courses on offer through the CAO which are not marked as restricted in the online handbook, the effective deadline is still five months away.


The vast majority of current year Leaving Cert students who apply to the CAO by tomorrow’s deadline will amend their course list at least once, if not more often, during the two-month window in May/June when they are free to do so at no additional cost.

Returning to your son’s dilemma, there is no rule which predetermines that he must immediately feel the urge to study for a third-level degree programme this September.

Many school-leavers may worry that just because most of their peers seem inclined to go directly from school to third level, there is something wrong with them.

Peer acceptance and approval are very important in the lives of your average 18-19 year old, so this isn’t a surprise.

Might I suggest a line of thinking which may help? The best situation for him is to have the widest range of choices open on the day he receives his Leaving Cert results in August.

This may involve offers from the CAO, from Post-Leaving Cert (PLC) course providers, and a possible apprenticeship option from the 60-plus on offer through Solas. Also, a job may give him time and space to spend a year reflecting on his long-term career plans. Or maybe a gap year engaged in volunteering is something he might be interested in.

So, what are the real deadlines to keep these options on the table for September 2023?

For the CAO it is July 1st in most cases; for PLCs, it is any time up to mid-June when colleges close for the summer) although some course places may become available in late August); for apprenticeships, there is no deadline as employers register students with Solas on an ongoing basis. Similarly, with employment or volunteering options. So there is plenty of time.