Does my son qualify for reduced CAO points under any access programmes?

There are two main programmes available. If applying, now is the time to get your records in order

My eldest sits the Leaving Cert next June. At a recent information evening, his guidance counsellor spoke about reduced-points access schemes as a way of improving a student’s chances of securing their preferred CAO course. I didn’t want to embarrass my son, who has dyslexia, by asking about them. What are the benefits of applying?

CAO points requirements are always a worry for students – and parents. It is possible to gain entry to higher education courses on reduced CAO points under the Higher Education Access Route (Hear) for students from socially disadvantaged areas, and the Disability Access Route to Education (Dare).

Both schemes are for Leaving Cert students under 23 years of age. To qualify for either scheme you must first apply to the CAO (; applications opened two weeks ago.

First, you should read pages 21-23 of the online 2024 CAO Handbook at if you feel either scheme applies to your son. The next step is to proceed to the website where you will find comprehensive details regarding both.


If your son applies, he must tick the appropriate Hear or Dare box on his online application by February 1st at 5pm. He will then have one month until March 1st to submit his application online, with supporting documentation posted to the CAO by March 15th, 2024.

Dare is designed for students whose disabilities have had a negative impact on their second-level education. The applicant and their school complete an “educational impact statement”, which details how their disability has impacted their education, along with evidence of the disability.

Hear is aimed at boosting the number of students whose socioeconomic background means they are underrepresented in higher education. There are six criteria used: income, medical cards, means-tested social welfare payments, socio-economic group, school and home address. You don’t need to match all six; there are different combinations for eligibility.

While the criteria for eligibility for the routes are different, they both operate in a similar way.

Each participating college and university has a reserved number of places to offer eligible Hear/Dare applicants at lower Leaving Cert points. For such applicants who require a reduced points offer, offers are made based on a sliding scale of those closest to the CAO points cut-off to those furthest away from it for their chosen course.

The reduction in points can vary every year and differs college by college and depends on a number of factors: the overall number of places on the course, the number of reserved Dare places on the course and the number of Hear/Dare eligible applicants competing for these reserved places.

Remember: an applicant, like all other applicants applying to college, needs to meet the minimum entry requirements before being considered for a Hear/Dare reduced points offer.

Your son’s school should be able to provide support in completing applications to either programme.