Leaving Cert 2020: How the CAO determines points allocations

CAO points requirements are determined by a combination of factors


Students receiving the results of their Leaving Certificate this morning through the calculated grades process will probably jump to an instant assumption of their success or failure based on their perception of whether they have secured sufficient CAO points to secure one of their selected course choices.

There is a widely held assumption that CAO points are determined by colleges in advance and remain relatively constant over the years.

This of course is not the case, as CAO points requirements are determined by the number of places on offer in a course and the points scores of those students seeking places on the specific programme.

The CAO points score of the last person to secure a place on the course becomes the published points for the current year. This number does not become fixed for weeks from now as many students secure additional offers in September as placed offered in the 1st round of CAO offers in the coming days are not taken up.

Given all the uncertainty surrounding this years results and how courses across all colleges will be delivered in a Covid19 world in the coming academic year, it would be foolhardy  to take as read now that the CAO points score of the last student through the door in 2019, may in any way be similar to the score of the last similar student this year.

So many novel and unique factors may come into play in the weeks ahead. We do not know how many students will simply walk away from the CAO process in 2020, due to the radically different nature of the undergraduate experience on offer. “Normal People” it certainly will not be.

Many students hoping to secure their place and defer entry until 2021 through the normal deferral process are likely to be disappointed, as the system is designed for about five hundred students across the entire system annually and will not be offered to large numbers of applicants this year.

For colleges to do so would severely limit the number of places available to the class of 2021 in twelve months’ time, which they will not do.

The role of the international student numbers, although not large overall at undergraduate level, is highly significant in a number of disciplines, medicine being the most important. The presence or otherwise of these students in Ireland in this academic year, may affect CAO points requirement in some courses.

Apart from the results of the assessed graded released by the Department of Education today, other factors will determine how many places on each course are still available on the open CAO competitive process.

Many places on the programmes you may be interested in have already been allocated. In the past number of weeks. The CAO have already offered places and received acceptances from more than 8,000 of this year’s CAO applicants.

These include applicants aged over 23, those who deferred a place in 2019 and reapplied for it this year, and those who sought a place on the basis of a QQI award through a PLC programme taken during the past academic year.

Also being offered places are those with awards other than the Leaving Cert, mainly school-leavers who have taken Northern Ireland or UK-based A-levels, and other EU end-of-school exams.

How many places will be taken up by non-EU applicants is still an unknown. If colleges can entice the international student market of applicants from outside the EU paying full fees which generates substantial additional funding, to accept places this year, they will do everything to accommodate them. Some colleges are offering special flights directly to Ireland from their home country.

CAO First Round

Some students will get an offer of a college place on lower points than those which will be published by the CAO on 1st round offer day. This is because the CAO has been instructed to offer a place by a specific college based on a successful Disability Access Route to Education (Dare) or Higher Education Access Route (Hear) application, or on the basis of a scholarship programme, often in a designated sport.

For all other applicants, their success or otherwise in getting an offer on a specific course will be decided when the admission officers representing all the colleges instruct the CAO offices in Galway how to proceed in relation to each specific course code.

They will know exactly how many places on each course are already spoken for through the processes above, and how many more to offer to the remaining applicants.

Once the CAO knows the number of places for every course on offer, it enters that data into its computer system to determine what offers will be made to students online.

Until then, neither CAO officials nor college admissions officers know the points required to secure the last available place on offer in this round.

Tables of the points scores of the last person to secure an offer of a place through the mainstream application process, excluding all of the exceptions outlined above on each course this year will be published in The Irish Times in the CAO First Round Offers education supplement in the coming days.

If there are more applicants with the same points than there are remaining places on offer, the CAO computer will generate a random number for each of these applicants; those holding the highest numbers numerically will be offered the available places. When this occurs, an asterisk (*) appears beside the printed points score in the published charts.

Given the uncertainty surrounding how applicants are currently viewing the prospect of studying online from home for a substantial portion of their programme in 2020-2021, nobody knows how many places offered in the 1st round will result in registrations in the weeks ahead. If significant numbers walk away and do not accept the place offered to them substantially more places than normal may be reoffered at lower CAO points requirements in the coming weeks. The days and weeks ahead may still have many surprises in store.