CAO 2024: Applications up for high-points courses such as veterinary science, dentistry and pharmacy

Fewer applications for environment and computing/technology and medicine this year, despite job strong opportunities

College applications for high points courses such as veterinary science, dentistry and pharmacy are up this year, new figures show.

By contrast, interest in agriculture, the environment and computing/technology and medicine is down, despite job strong opportunities in many of these sectors.

The figures are contained in Central Application Office (CAO) 2024 application data which was recorded on March 1st last.

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


Overall, almost 77,000 applications have been received by CAO, a slight decrease (-1.4 per cent) on last year.

Applications from Northern Ireland have continued to slide (-10 per cent) to just over 1,000, despite efforts by universities to make it easier for students in North to go to college in the South by ensuring A-levels results translate more fairly to CAO points.

British applications, however, are up (+8 per cent) to just over 1,000, while EU applicants are up slightly (+1 per cent) with just over 5,600 applications.

A breakdown of applications for honours degree (level eight) courses shows health remains among the most popular areas of study (63,000), followed by business and administration (almost 53,000), arts (41,900), engineering (23,500), information and communication technologies (22,900), biology and sciences (22,800), education (21,500) and law (17,000).

Examining year-on-year applications trends, courses which are significantly more popular in 2024 include dentistry (+21 per cent), veterinary science (+12 per cent), pharmacy (+ 8 per cent) food science, manufacturing and processing (+7 per cent), physiotherapy (+5 per cent) and biological and related sciences (+4 per cent).

Course areas with significantly fewer applications this year include agriculture (-21 per cent), occupational health/ health and safety (-21 per cent), environment (-17 per cent) natural science with maths and statistics (-14 per cent), journalism and information (-13 per cent) and secondary education (-10 per cent).

There are mixed trends in the health sector. Medicine (-4 per cent) and nursing (-4 per cent), for example, are down, raising the likelihood of CAO points reductions. Physiotherapy, meanwhile, is up (+5 per cent).

Interest in education overall is down (-4 per cent) this year, athough there are more applications for primary teaching (+2 per cent) and a dropoff at second level (-10 per cent).

Law, meanwhile, is down slightly (-3 per cent), while business and administration courses are similar to last year (+1 per cent).

Some universities, meanwhile, have disclosed year-on-year application trends for their individual courses.

At Trinity College Dublin, for example, some of the biggest increases were in courses such as history (+20 per cent), music education (+39 per cent), deaf studies (+42%), ancient and medieval history and culture (+89 per cent), chemistry (+43 per cent), engineering with management (+21 per cent), computer science and a language (+27 per cent), dental science (+29 per cent), children’s nursing (+82 per cent).

There were also increased applications for joint honours law (+11 per cent), joint honours political science (+8 per cent) and joint honours social policy (+16 per cent).

Applications for medicine at Trinity dropped by 5 per cent for the second year in a row.

At UCD, a total of 21 out of 40 courses recorded increases in first preferences. Some of the biggest year-on-year increases were business and law (+ 51 per cent), engineering (+14 per cent), economics and finance (+22 per cent), children’s and general nursing (+16 per cent), psychology (+16 per cent), eadiography (+ 18 per cent), health and performance science (+17 per cent).

Among the UCD courses where demand is down significantly include city planning and environmental policy (- 40 per cent) and criminology with psychology - 37 per cent).

At Maynooth University, applications are up significantly for pharmaceutical and biomedical chemistry (+70 per cent), education — primary teaching/Froebel (+52 per cent), psychology (+45 per cent), accounting and finance (+36 per cent), computer science (+27 per cent), BSc biotechnology (+21 per cent) and BSc biological and geographical sciences (+20 per cent).

It has also reported strong demand for new programmes including its BSc sports science and health programme and BSc food science and nutrition.

CAO data is subject to change when late applications are taken into account and when the CAO’s “change of mind” facility closes on July 1st.

College applicants will be able to change their course choices, in most cases, until July 1st once a “change of mind” facility opens online on May 7th.

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