Many applicants use the initial CAO application in January as a holding exercise but it will soon be time to submit a definitive list of options.
Now that the written Leaving Cert examination process is upon us, it is time to review your course choices – and get them right. Here’s some advice on how to handle the Central Applications Office (CAO) process.
Q. Why is now a good time to reassess my CAO options?
When you made your initial CAO application you were probably focused on preparations for your mocks, or post-Leaving Cert (PLC) programme. Your mind is now free of those pressures, and you have just more than a month to finalise your list of course choices.
Many applicants use the initial CAO application in January as a holding exercise, to secure access to a college place in September. It will soon be time for you to submit a definitive list of options. Ask yourself which course or courses will build on your 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?
You need to be aware of the courses on offer. The online CAO handbook for 2023-24 was finalised in the summer of 2022. It contains a list of courses and detailed information on the various stages of the application process.
Since then, colleges will have withdrawn, amended or added some courses. The CAO website, cao.ie, has an up-to-date list of these amendments. To examine the current list of courses on offer through the CAO, including programme details, check qualifax.ie.
A drop-down menu classifies every course under the following headings: administration and business; agriculture and horticulture; architecture; art and design; arts and social science; built environment; dentistry; education; engineering and technology; human medicine; law; nursing; other healthcare; pharmacy; physiotherapy; science; applied science; and veterinary medicine.
Explore your options within these classifications.
No matter what CAO points you secure following the written exams process taking place over the next month or so, or through your PLC award, there are courses on offer from colleges at higher certificate and both ordinary and honours degree levels, to suit your circumstances.
Q. I know where to find course information; what next?
Most students have been through this process with their school guidance counsellor over the past two years.
If you are still uncertain, follow these steps:
2. Reread the results of other interest inventory or differential aptitude tests you undertook in the past two or three years. They may point in the direction of one or more of the 17 course groupings listed.
3. Look at your results over the past few years, including the results of your Junior Certificate. Are you performing above your average in one or more subjects? These may be the ones to pursue on an undergraduate course.
4. Reflect on any work experience in transition year or the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme to see whether it enthused or discouraged your interest in an occupation or career path.
5. Reflect on the subjects you have studied for the past two years. Which ones did you enjoy studying most? The answers to all these questions may help you narrow your course choices down to a relatively small number of options.
Q. Where can I find career-specific information?
One of the most helpful resources for exploring career options is the Careers Portal website (careersportal.ie). This site also has an “interest inventory” which will help match your courses to areas you are interested in.
The interest inventory results may well open your mind to possibilities you hadn’t considered. Many of us have preconceived notions, which are often inaccurate, of what is involved with particular occupations. If you are interested in listening to people talk about what a particular job really entails, the site has more than 100 employees of major Irish employers talking about the realities of their day-to-day work. Having access to a site where employers are promoting opportunities in their companies or industry is of benefit to those interested in the labour market, whether school-leavers looking down the line or adult CAO applicants considering a career change.
Remember, cao.ie features links to all colleges offering places, as well as the online application system to register the change-of-mind option.
Q. Must all applicants get involved in the change-of-mind process?
Yes, all applicants need to review their application before the CAO deadline of 5pm on July 1st.
Q. What if I am happy with the choices I made in January?
If you’re comfortable with your initial choice of courses and their order, all you need to do is check your list against the latest published list of courses on offer from the CAO.
Ensure that all your courses are still on offer and that there are no new ones that you might like to consider. Make sure you still meet all the subject, levels and entry requirements. If you are uncertain about these, go to the subject-choice module on the Qualifax website, where the entry requirements for all courses are outlined.
If, for example, you have informed your school that you wish to drop from higher to ordinary level maths, you may have forgotten that a grade H4 at higher level is a minimum requirement for some choices. If some courses are no longer open to you, remove them now from your CAO course list.
After reviewing your choices, if you are happy with your application, you need take no further action. You do not need to communicate in any way with the CAO.