CAO: College applications for high-points courses surge

Students flock towards higher-education courses with strong job prospects

College applications for high-points courses such as law, veterinary medicine, dentistry and physiotherapy are up significantly this year, as students flock towards areas of study with strong job prospects.

By contrast, the number of students applying for courses in areas such as arts, humanities and languages are down again this year.

Overall, a total of just over 77,800 students have applied for a college course through the CAO this year.

More than half adjusted their course choices during May and June, a period when it was announced that Leaving Cert exams were being replaced with calculated grades.


Among the biggest year-on-year percentage increases in applications for honours degree courses were for physiotherapy (+25 per cent), dentistry (+17 per cent), veterinary medicine, law (+16 per cent).

There were also increases in courses linked to the environment (+8 per cent), architecture (+8 per cent), secondary education (+7 per cent), medicine. pharmacy and engineering (+ 6 per cent).

Some of the biggest decreases in applications were for humanities (-9 per cent), arts (-7 per cent), agriculture (-5 per cent), and art and design (-3 per cent).

Rising unemployment and uncertainty surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic may be attracting students towards courses with stronger employment prospects this year, according to some careers guidance experts.

"Once again, we're seeing that prospect of a solid job at the end of a course is a key driver, as opposed to exploring an area of education in arts and humanities," said Irish Times career guidance columnist Brian Mooney.

The surge in applications for high-points courses may also be a sign that some students feel they have a better chance of securing more CAO points under the new calculated grades process, he said.

UCD said its applications broadly matched national trends, with significant increases in physiotherapy, psychology (both +25 per cent) and  commerce (+23 per cent).

Its biggest reductions were in applications for arts and humanities and international languages.

Similarly, Maynooth University said its biggest increases in applications were for  business (+21 per cent), psychology (+20 per cent), law (+9 per cent) and biological and  biomedical sciences (+5 per cent). 

Both universities said they have benefitted from an overall increases in applications this year, with UCD stating that it has recorded the highest number of first-preferances, while Maynooth said its applications numbers are the highest on record.

There is still no firm date for when Leaving Cert students are set to receive their results and CAO offers, though decision-makers are aiming to release them as close as to the traditional mid-August date as possible.

Mature, deferred and access applicants are due to receive “round A” offers on July 18th, while graduate-entry medicine applicants and applicants from further-education courses are due to receive “round 0” offers on August 8th.

Latest CAO data shows that the vast majority of applications this year were for honours degree or level-eight courses (71,332), while half of applicants listed an ordinary degree course.

More than half of applicants - 44,437 - changed their course preferences during the “change of mind” window between May and July 1st, a 7 per cent increase on the same period last year.

In percentage terms, the highest increases in applications were for transport services (+89 per cent), though this category is one of the smallest and leads to dramatic swings in percentage.

Similarly, the biggest decrease was in “interdisciplinary programmes and qualifications involving arts and humanities” (-23 per cent), though this also involves very small numbers.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent