My son is aiming for high CAO points. What if he doesn’t get the grades he’s hoping for?

He is right to aim high - but Leaving Cert students should keep all their options open

My son completed his CAO application last week and has aimed very high in terms of points requirements. He believes this will motivate him to study over the coming months. But I’m worried that he might fall short. Can he change his course choices if he doesn’t get the grades he’s hoping for?

First things first: your son cannot change his course choices now until May next (unless he has missed out on listing a “restricted” application course, which involves some sort of assessment or portfolio process).

From the beginning of May until July 1st, he may make any amendments as he likes to his course choices, other than adding a new restricted application course to his list.

He will have completed all his Leaving Cert exams by around June 20th and still have over a week to make any amendments to his course list.


I think that the psychology behind setting very high targets for himself is a good one, given that he has total freedom to change them after he has a chance in late June to evaluate how he feels he has done overall in his exams.

Unfortunately, determining how he may have performed in the written papers can be a very subjective process and he may not feel the need to broaden out his 10 choices at level eight, or even consider listing some level 6/7 courses.

That would be a very unwise position to take at that stage.

Once July 1st passes he cannot amend his 2023 course choices in any way prior to the CAO first round offers, which will issue in August or early September, depending on the speed at which the State Examinations Commission (SEC) can operate.

If he lists 10 very high points courses and does not secure the necessary points, he will not receive any offer in round one, or subsequent rounds.

It would be far better to cover all the possible range of exam results he might achieve when he finalises his course choice list in June.

He should, absolutely, leave his dream courses at the top of his list, and if he secures the required CAO points he will be offered the highest one for which he has the grades.

But he should also look at programmes with lower CAO points than he is currently aiming for. This may simply involve listing the exact same degree programme he is targeting, but in a college where the competition for places is less intense than the ones he is currently aiming for.

Finally, it is never any harm to reserve the tenth and final choice for a “banker” , the course that he might accept if his results don’t transpire to his expectations.