CAO: College applicants banking on strength of Irish economy

Recovery in property has driven demand for places in architecture and construction

College applicants this year are expressing more confidence in the strength of the Irish economy and in its potential to provide high-quality employment opportunities.

Over 80,000 applicants are seeking a college place, of whom 71,597 have listed at least one level 8 honours degree course and 45,393 a level 7/6 ordinary degree or higher cert programme.

The recovery in the property market in both the commercial and residential sectors has driven increased demand for places on architecture, quantity surveying, construction management programmes and all other built environment programmes.

This confidence in property is further reflected in an increase in application numbers for law, where conveyancing transactions are the bedrock of many legal firms’ income stream.


Given the uncertainty of Brexit as its relates to Irish agricultural and food exports to the UK, it is interesting that the numbers of applications for honours degree programmes in agriculture/horticulture are up by over 20 per cent this year.

In the areas of medical and paramedical courses, the picture is quite mixed. Human medicine first- choice application numbers are up by 17 to 2,937. This is a decrease on the 3,273 applicants who listed this discipline as their first choice in January last, and is a reflection of the availability to students of their Hpat scores in the last week of June prior to them making their final CAO choices.

Nursing degree places

The numbers of first-choice applicants to nursing is down 325 this year to 5,620, which would on its own have led to a drop in points this year. Minister for Health Simon Harris has now restored most of the nursing degree places cut during the economic crisis, ensuring 1,800 offers this years. These additional places will be good news for applicants as points will drop further as these places are filled.

In contrast to the decrease in nursing application numbers, the demand for places in all paramedical courses are up again this year, as are dentistry and dental nursing at level 6/7. As raised recently by nursing union representatives, even though all these medical-related courses are now honours degree programmes, there is a significant initial salary scale difference between nursing and occupations such as radiography, occupational therapy, optometry, physiotherapy etc. The higher salary scales and the more conducive working environment may be drawing applicants away from nursing towards the paramedical programmes.

University representatives have been expressing growing concern of late at the emphasis by both Government and industry on STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) programmes, where has resulted in a drop in applications for liberal arts programmes over recent years. This has led to a significant drop in points requirement to around 300 for arts in some colleges.

Education programmes

Colleges will be heartened to see that this trend has stopped in 2017, with applications to arts/social science up marginally, while those for science, engineering/technology are down by relatively small numbers.

There has been a small decrease in the numbers seeking places in education programmes at both primary and post-primary level. This will be good news for applicants seeking to secure the 465/470 points required for primary school degree programmes.

The falloff in application numbers for undergraduate teaching may be a reflection of the additional year added to most programmes and to the now two-year post-graduate masters programmes (PME), where applications are down dramatically in 2017. It may also reflect applicant’s unhappiness with the reduced salary scales newly-qualified teachers are now getting.

The ultimate indication of applicants’ confidence can be seen in the 12,750 who have listed a business programme as their first choice, up marginally from 12,547 in 2016. For all these applicants the success or otherwise of their quest will be revealed on August 21st, although some mature and further education students will receive offers a few weeks earlier on August 4th.