A step-by-step guide to applying for a college place this year
You need to register now to apply for college through the CAO, but you have until July 1st to make a final decision on your course preferences
Checking the CAO first round offers in August 2015. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times
January 2016: Register your application with cao.ie
Your first step is to register your intention to seek a CAO college place immediately. If you are interested in getting a place in an Irish university, institute of technology, teacher-training college or private college, offered through the CAO application process, go to cao.ie by January 20th and make an application, paying the €25 charge by credit or debit card.
All the CAO looks for from you this stage is your personal details, including name, address, phone numbers, disability/specific learning difficulty, country of birth, nationality, email address, payment details, and any post-second level (PLC) educational or other qualifications you have.
When you have done this, you will get your CAO identification number. For now, you may or may not be in a position to indicate the courses you wish to be considered for next September.
However, you have the freedom to return to your application in May or June, to list or amend your course choices, up until the July 1st final deadline for all such changes. The most comprehensive source of information on courses is on qualifax.ie.
February and March: Consider options outside the CAO
The further education sector has opportunities for students who may not get the points for a CAO course they want, but who may do very well in a post-Leaving Cert (PLC) course in their chosen discipline. If students get distinctions in all eight PLC modules, they have a good chance of a reserved place in their preferred CAO course next year. See careersportal.ie for a database of such linked programmes.
In some areas, such as nursing, there is a very small number of CAO places for such students, so many successful PLC students end up in UK nursing programmes (up to 500 Irish students annually).
PLC programmes also offer training in practical skills for employment in a trade or craft, such as hairdressing, beauty, fire and ambulance services.
Students interested in local PLC college courses need to fill out application forms from individual colleges in the next few months; further education colleges/PLCs are not in the centralised CAO system. Places are offered mostly on a first-come first-served basis and may be impossible to secure later in the year.
January and May/June: Choosing a college course
You need to apply for any course listed as “restricted” in the CAO handbook by February 1st. All other courses can be added or removed from your application list up to the final change of mind deadline on July 1st. With Ucas (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service in the UK), you have to finalise your course list by January 15th. You must also indicate which PLC courses you are applying for on your initial application to each college.
For courses in other EU countries offered through English, closing dates are on course profile pages on eunicas.ie.
Between February 5th and March 1st, any CAO applicant may change a course choice for a fee of €10. If you are a mature student or have applied for a restricted application course, or if you want to apply for one you have not yet listed and wish to correct or amend your application record, you must report any errors or changes to the CAO by March 1st (fee €10).
Otherwise, you don’t need to make course changes at this stage but can use the change-of- mind facility (from May 5th to July 1st) to make any changes, with no charge.
Before the end of May, all applicants receive a statement of application record as a final acknowledgment and to verify all information is accurate. If this does not arrive by June 1st, contact the CAO immediately.
Accompanying this statement will be a change-of-mind form, which you can use up to the closing date, 5.15pm on July 1st, 2016. You may make as many changes as you wish online or on paper.
July/August: CAO offers
In the first week of July the CAO makes more than 6,000 offers to mature applicants (over 23s) and applicants who accepted and deferred a place last year. A further 2,000-plus places will be offered to mature applicants at the beginning of August. Places in graduate medicine are offered at this stage. These offers arrive at your home address in the middle of summer, so be sure to make arrangements to deal with any offers sent to you.
Offers are also available online but you need to log on to get them and there is no email or text alert.
When the change-of-mind period closes on July 1st, sixth-year students wait for the results of their Leaving Cert on August 17th. When results are out, admissions officers inform the CAO of the number of places available on each course.
The CAO then allocates places via computer, based on the results of each qualifying student and the instructions of the admissions officers.
Colleges offer a specific number of places on each course listed with the CAO. Students are offered their highest choice on each list to which their points entitle them. If there are 100 places on offer, the 100 students with the correct entry requirements, who have the highest points, will be offered these places in round one of the offers on August 22nd.
When the CAO computer system receives the Leaving Cert results on August 17th, each candidate’s choices are examined instantly by the computer, starting with their first choice on each list and working downwards. When their points fall within the number of places offered on a particular course, the computer offers them that place and removes all lower preference courses.
The CAO may later offer a place on a course higher up your list if it becomes available.
It is imperative candidates list their choices in the order that they actually desire them, from one to 10, with one being their most desirable course, and 10 being the least desired.
Some 2,000 Irish-based students get places in the UK through Ucas each year, of whom 800 are over 23. Most places are in paramedical, biological and physical sciences, as well as art and design. Those interested in a Ucas place in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales or England should apply to ucas.com by January 15th.
Finally, given the high entry requirements for many disciplines in Ireland, students should also look at some of the 800 courses offered through English in EU universities (see eunicas.ie).These courses are in some top universities in Europe, often at very low fees, and with attainable entry requirements. Some European countries have fewer young people, so third-level education is easily available.
But failure or drop-out rates after first year are high, so after getting a place, completing the course over three to four years is another challenge.