CAO 2020: Think before hitting the ‘accept’ tab for unexpected offer

By Friday evening colleges throughout the country will be processing acceptances

If you do not receive an offer of a place on your chosen course or courses, this year you can choose to sit the Leaving Cert in one or more subjects when the exams take place later in the year.

If you do not receive an offer of a place on your chosen course or courses, this year you can choose to sit the Leaving Cert in one or more subjects when the exams take place later in the year.


Most students who drop out during first year do so due to lack of interest in the course. Friday afternoon will bring the Leaving Cert and college application process to an instant conclusion for many thousands of third-level applicants.

At 2pm they will open their personal file on the Central Applications Office website to discover that they have been offered their first-preference choice.

Within seconds many will have clicked on the accept tab and printed out their evidence of acceptance.

By close of business on Friday evening, colleges throughout the country will already be processing acceptances and beginning the registration process for the incoming first-year class of 2020.

The decision as to whether to try to secure accommodation or wait to see how much actual face-to-face tuition time will be offered by colleges on programmes this year may prove to be the biggest challenge facing many students and their families in turning their academic-career aspirations into reality.

This may turn out to be a point of some tension in families. For many young people, the point of seeking a CAO college place is first and foremost to establish themselves independently from home.

For many parents the cost of paying for accommodation is seen as a painful but necessary expense. If attendance in person by students is severely restricted in the coming academic year, as WIT has already announced it will be, many parents may choose not to fund their children’s full-time accommodation away from home. After all, according to surveys conducted in previous years, one of the main reasons given by students surveyed following dropping out of their course was their inability to continue to meet the ongoing costs of accommodation.

Missed out

CAO applicants who receive an offer on Friday of a course other than their first preference should reflect very carefully before hitting the accept tab.

They need to realise that all lower preferences on their CAO record are now erased.

But no matter what they choose to do in terms of Friday’s offer, they will be automatically offered any higher preference which becomes available through a reduction in points requirement in the coming weeks.

The golden rule is to take the next few days to consider an unexpected offer of a lower preference.

Read in detail every piece of published information on the course content, assessment methodology, progression opportunities, possible employment pathways following graduation, and so on.

It is surprising that many students who abandon their course during first year say a lack of interest in the course content is their reason for dropping it.

Check out the college website or, which has every detail of all undergraduate and postgraduate programmes offered by third-level institutions as well as all further education programmes offered through education training boards.

Do not accept any offer of a course on Friday from the CAO without familiarising yourself with every detail of what you are signing yourself up to for the next three to four years.

Points requirements

Many students will be asking if the points requirements for their courses will go up or down. It is impossible to say for sure until aspiring applicants log on to their accounts on Friday afternoon.

Some will be devastated to discover that the cut-off point for offers on their dream course has increased this year beyond their own CAO points score, because of the higher results achieved by this years cohort of applicants under the new Leaving Cert grades process.

Conversely, because of a decrease of demand among applicants, others will be pleasantly surprised to discover that the points for their first choice have dropped since 2019, and they have unexpectedly received an offer.

The CAO points requirements to be published on Friday represent the Leaving Cert assessed grade score of the last person to be offered a place on that specific course this year.

If, as is evident from the overall results published on Monday last, there has been a general increase in overall performance in this year’s Leaving Cert due to the vagaries of the assessed grades process, then the person to secure the last available seat in the lecture theatre is likely to have a higher score than the equivalent person in 2019.

Sit the Leaving Cert?

If you do not receive an offer of a place on your chosen course or courses, you can choose this year to resit the Leaving Cert in one or more than one subject when the exams take place after the 16th of November.

If you secure a higher grade than your assessed grade through this process you will then be offered any CAO course you would have been entitled to a place on if you had had those CAO points today. But, unfortunately, you will have to wait until 2021 to take up your place.

If you accept an offer now and subsequently get a higher-preference course offer later in the year, having performed better in a Leaving Cert subject or subjects, you will not suffer in terms of fees paid to your existing college course. The same applies to SUSI grants, etc.