Ask Brian: Can my son in Northern Ireland apply through the CAO system?

NI residents may apply – though how these rights will be affected by Brexit is unclear

My son will sit his A Levels in Northern Ireland next summer. He plans to apply to UK universities, but would also like to make an application to Irish colleges – such as Trinity, UCD and NUI Galway – and European ones. Is he eligible to make a CAO application online?

Answer: I've addressed parents and teachers in schools across Northern Ireland about the CAO application process. Even though I was less than an hour's drive from Dundalk, I might as well have been in Albania, for all that my audience of teachers knew about the CAO system – the focus of many schools in the North is exclusively on the UK's Ucas system.

Given there is no full-time professional guidance counselling service in the Northern Ireland school system, and that teachers advising students are doing so alongside a full subject-teaching timetable, it is not surprising that many have little knowledge of options outside Ucas.

As a resident of Northern Ireland, your son is perfectly entitled to log onto the CAO website ( before January 20th and pay a fee of €30 to register his interest in competing for a place on up to 20 CAO courses, 10 at honours degree level (level 8) and a further 10 at higher cert or ordinary degree levels (levels 6 and 7).


As your son will be applying based on GCE/GCSE exams to be taken this year, he must provide key details such as the exam board, centre number, candidate number, subject(s) and level in the spaces provided in the online CAO process.

For any GCE/GCSE exams which he has already completed, and for which a certificate has been issued, he must post A4 photocopies (certified by a school stamp) to the CAO. These will form part of his eligibility for consideration for entry to courses. His CAO application number should be written on the front of these certificates.

If he is presenting previous years’ GCE/GCSE examinations, he must tick the box provided on the application form.

Following receipt of his A Level results next August, certificates or statements of results must be issued by the exam boards (containing the exam board logo). Documents produced by his school will not be sufficient.

For more information on qualifications and assessments for GCE applicants, visit the ‘applicant scoring’ page in the ‘student resources’ section of

As to your question about European options, university programmes taught through English in continental EU universities are available on

Your son’s rights to access any of these courses on the same terms and conditions as any EU citizen are currently beyond question. As an Irish or UK passport holder living in Northern Ireland, how those rights will be affected by the outcome of Brexit is unclear.