CAO countdown: How to make your final choices

Still confused? There’s no need to panic. You can finalise your choices up until July 1st

Properly researched, everyone can find the course or career path which suits them. Photograph: Getty Images

Properly researched, everyone can find the course or career path which suits them. Photograph: Getty Images


By now the vast majority of this year’s CAO applicants have paid €25 to register. The fee increases to €40 from 5.15pm until the February 1st close-of-application deadline.

If you sat your Leaving Cert prior to 2017 and are applying this year, you will almost certainly have identified your area of study by now. If you are sitting the Leaving Cert this year, you may still be wondering how to pick the right course. How to pick that course?

Your head may now be full of information gleaned over the past two years on interest inventories, subject preferences in school, subject entry requirements, and points requirements. Over the next 10 days you will need to try to refine all that data down to a list of up to 10 honours degree programmes (level eight) or ordinary degree/higher cert courses (level six and seven).

Identifying the top two or three programmes is not easy, given all the factors you have to consider. You need to have researched all aspects of the courses, colleges, locations of institutions, ease of transport access and cost of accommodation before you put any course on your CAO application.

Financial considerations are key. Can you, for example, afford to live away from home? What expenses are you likely to incur?

Remember, this decision commits you for the next three to four years and will shape your life in ways you might never imagine. If you are still at school, continue to meet with your guidance counsellor. As a counsellor, I find it frustrating when a student presents themselves at my office without undertaking basic research. Remember, everybody interested in progressing on to third level this year has an 18-year life story to explore. Do it before you seek professional help in making those final course choices.

July 1st option

If you are still uncertain what you want to study in college, do not get too stressed as you have until July 1st to make your final course choices. The exception to this rule relates to those aged over 23 on January 1st last, whose applications will be assessed not on their Leaving Cert points score, but on their life experience. It also applies to courses which are listed as “restricted” in the CAO handbook. In these cases, you have to make your mind up in the next 10 days.

Colleges who receive applications from these candidates will assess them over the coming months using other methods such as portfolio presentations, musical and artistic performances, and Hpat assessment tests for undergraduate medical entry. Watch out for correspondence from the relevant colleges inviting you to attend assessments.

Final thoughts

Properly researched, everyone can find the course or career path which suits them. If you still feel lost, there is no need to become stressed as there is always a suitable option available. It’s simply a question of identifying it.

Seek advice where appropriate from a guidance counsellor in school or via adult education support services through your Education Training Board. You can also contact me at:

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