CAO countdown: Last-minute tips before the college application

Looming deadline for discounted online registration expires on Monday at 5.15pm

Today (Monday) at 5.15pm marks closure of the Central Applications Office (CAO) discounted online applications process, while the normal closing date for applications is February 1st.

This is just to register with the CAO; there’ still plenty of time to select a course. In fact, you can alter your choices until July 1st in most cases.

However, some programmes require earlier applications. For example, people applying for “restricted application” courses (which include early assessments such as interviews or portfolio assessment) must list any such course on their CAO application by February 1st.

Following these assessments, applicants will learn if they are approved for consideration for a place on each programme. Marks are awarded in many cases, which are added to an applicant’s CAO points score in August, to determine offers of places.

Hpat test

There are also key dates you need to remember if applying to any of the five Irish undergraduate medical schools.

In addition to registering with the CAO, you need to register with Hpat Ireland – Health Professions Admission Test – by January 20th at 5.15pm to avail of its €140 fee. (Otherwise you risk paying a late registration fee, €210, until February 1st, with an exceptional late fee of €245 until February 3rd). These Hpat tests take place in centres countrywide on Saturday, February 22nd .

In addition, mature applicants for nursing, as well as making their CAO application before February 1st at 5.15pm, must sit a separate assessment test.

To do this you need to register with and submit the relevant online application form between February 3rd and 21st at 3pm. The test is carried out by the Public Appointments Service on behalf of the Nursing and Midwifery Board (see the CAO handbook online for more).

Broaden your horizons

Remember the CAO application process is just one of many opportunities on offer.

For the current Leaving Cert class of 2020, the nightmare scenario in mid-August is to find yourself with no satisfactory offer from the CAO and with no other options in place. Now is the time to ensure that does not happen.

For example, let's say you're a student based in Tuam, Co Galway, and are considering applying for a place in accounting at NUI Galway, which required 486 points in 2019.

You would be wise to look at an excellent degree in accounting offered in GMIT Castlebar which required 253 points last year.

Also, consider applying for the two-year highly regarded accounting technician apprenticeship which is a two-year level-six course. (see for more details).

It involves spending one day a week in college and the remainder of the working week in an accounting firm. Significantly, you are paid for the duration of the apprenticeship and it also provides a route to study through other professional bodies such as Chartered Accountants Ireland.

You might consider a general business degree instead, or apply for a one-year FET (further education and trainnig) level-five accounting course, available from your local Education and Training Board college).

The key is to keep your options open: if you do, you can be almost certain of progressing into a career of your choice.

Think outside the box

Finally, given the high entry requirements for many programmes, any student seeking a place on a high-demand course should look at the opportunities to study in a European university. Up to 1,000 programmes are taught exclusively through English.

I spoke recently to three Irish students who are studying physiotherapy in two Dutch universities, where there are more than 20 Irish students in both their class group.

Admission requires two H4s and four passes in the Leaving Cert. Fees are lower that in Ireland, with the highest charge being €2,143 per year in the Netherlands. Living costs are between €400-€500 per month. Information on all EU programmes is available online (

Whatever option you choose, one thing is true: if you have the drive to succeed, the determination to knuckle down and the ability through hard work, there is no reason for any aspiring student not to chart a pathway towards that goal over the coming year.