If you are interested in securing a place through the CAO system for a course in an Irish university, institute of technology, teacher-training college or private college this year, now is the time to act.
Your first step, if you have not already done so, is to register your intention to seek a CAO college place. Go to the CAO's website (cao.ie) by January 20th and make an application. It will cost €25, by credit or debit card. After January 20th the price rises to €40 (until February 1st).
Don’t worry unduly about your final course choices at this stage – you don’t have to know what course you want to study yet.
While you may indicate the courses you wish to be considered for next September, you have the freedom to return to your application in May or June 2017 to list or amend your course choices up until the July 1st final deadline.
The exceptions to this rule are courses listed as “restricted” in the CAO handbook. If you wish to be considered for any of them, you need to list those on your application record by February 1st.
These courses include: mature application for nursing for those who are 23 years of age or over on January 1st, 2017; the five undergraduate medical degrees which entail a Hpat assessment in late February; art and design programmes, along with all music and drama/theatre studies degree programmes. The full list of all such programmes is in the CAO handbook.
Between February 5th and March 1st, any CAO applicant may add/change a restricted course choice for a fee of €10.
If you are a mature student or if you 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 to the CAO by March 1st (fee €10).
If you are not in these categories, you do not need to correct any course errors at this stage.
Make your final choices in June
All applicants may use the change-of-mind facility between May 5th and July 1st to make any changes, at no charge.
Before the end of May, all applicants will be sent a statement of application record as a final acknowledgment and to verify that all information has been recorded accurately.
If it does not arrive by June 1st, contact the CAO immediately. Accompanying this statement will be a change-of-mind option, which you can exercise up to the closing date, 5.15pm on July 1st.
Further education options
Even though most of the focus for college is on the CAO system, there are alternative career paths. The further education (FE) sector has opportunities for students who may not secure the points they want through the CAO, but who may do very well in a post- Leaving Cert (PLC) course in the area they want to study.
If students get distinctions in all eight modules of a PLC programme, they have a good chance of securing a reserved place in their preferred CAO course for 2018.
In some areas, such as nursing, there are unfortunately very few CAO places for such students. Until now, many successful PLC students ended up in British nursing programmes. Up to 500 Irish students chose this option annually to qualify as nurses, where their tuition fees were paid by the NHS. The NHS ceased funding such nursing and other para medical programmes from 2016 onwards. Any students opting to take such a course in England in September 2017 will face annual fees of £9,000 (€10,374).
PLC programmes also offer opportunities to gain practical skills for employment in a trade or craft, such as hairdressing, beauty, and the fire and ambulance services. Students interested in a course offered through local PLC colleges should fill out an application form from the college in the next few weeks.
Places are offered on a first-come, first-served basis in most cases and may be impossible to secure later in the year.
After the Leaving Cert results come out, many CAO applicants may be faced with the choice of either taking a very low-points course, which they may not have applied for initially but is offered in September through the CAO vacant places system, or taking a PLC course in a local college in an area of genuine interest.
Pride may tempt such applicants to accept the CAO course, and be seen to go to third level. Common sense might indicate that spending a year consolidating their learning, before progressing on to the CAO, might be the wiser decision in many cases in the long term.
Monday: Personal statement in application crucial for mature students.