CAO 2023: Applications for technological universities rise while numbers dip for some leading institutions

Interest in nursing and medicine courses falls while technology, law, business and engineering grow in popularity

The number of college applications for nursing and medicine courses has declined this year as Covid-era interest in health-related courses continues to wane.

By contrast, areas where there are plenty of job growth – such as technology, law, business and engineering – have grown in popularity this year.

The extent to which CAO entry points will rise or fall for individual courses will depend on the supply and demand of places across individual institutions and the grades achieved by candidates.

Following a number of years of grade inflation, Leaving Cert results on aggregate are likely to fall incrementally this year as part of what officials describe as a “glide path” towards more normal patterns of results.


In all, more than 78,000 applications have been received by Central Applications Office (CAO), an almost identical figure to last year.

Applications from the North (-13 per cent) and Britain (-3 per cent) have continued to slide, while applications are up from the EU and outside the EU (+17 per cent).

There are also signs that college applicants are applying to newly created technological universities in greater numbers than ever before, according to informed sources.

Many new technological universities have recorded a bump in application numbers, while some traditional universities say their numbers are down slightly.

A detailed breakdown of the applications for this year show that many courses in the health area such as medicine (-11 per cent) and nursing (-10 per cent) are down this year. Pharmacy (+10 per cent) and physiotherapy (1 per cent) have bucked the negative trend, however.

Among the biggest decreases was in veterinary medicine (-20 per cent), an area that has commanded very high entry points in recent years.

Languages (-10 per cent) and the environment (-15 per cent) also recorded significant decreases, while social sciences (-7 per cent) and biological and related sciences (-4 per cent) were also down.

Some of the biggest growth was in areas such as agriculture (+18 per cent), law, architecture (both +6 per cent), business (+4 per cent), engineering and journalism (both +4 per cent).

A breakdown of application routes shows there is a decrease in mature students (-10 per cent) this year and an increase in students applying under the access route for those with disabilities (+13 per cent).

A spokeswoman for the CAO said all figures are subject to change when late applications are taken into account. Students may also change their course selections until July 1st.

Some 7,000-plus CAO applicants have not yet indicated any course choice at this time.

Eileen Keleghan of the CAO said: “The majority of CAO applicants will be permitted to use the change of mind facility when it opens on May 5th to add, remove or reorder course choices, which will result in changes to the figures released today.”

At UCD, where overall applications are down by 0.5 per cent, Prof Barbara Dooley, acting deputy president and registrar, said overall figures are returning to more normal levels after the upheaval of Covid.

“In terms of student choice, there is no doubt that after the surge over the past two years, demand for the human health sector has fallen and every one of our healthcare degrees are down on 2022 first preferences, across medicine, radiography, physiotherapy and nursing,” she said.

The subjects with the greatest increases in first preferences at UCD are architecture agricultural science, commerce, science and computer science, all up by between 13-20 per cent.

At Trinity College Dublin, where overall applications are down by almost 4 per cent, courses in the arts remain popular with sharp increases in early and modern Irish (+60 per cent), history of art and architecture (+45 per cent) and music (+21 per cent).

It recorded decreases for most of its business courses, while first preferences are also down for medicine and dental science.

Maynooth University, where overall applications are up 2 per cent, said its arts degree remains the most popular in the country, while several programmes have seen sharp increases in first preferences including business and languages (+37 per cent), law (+27 per cent), social science (+26 pe cent) and science (+12 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