CAO Countdown: Mature applicants can also apply for courses

Success for older students can hinge on quality of your application

Up to 80,000 people will seek a third-level place through the CAO this year. Most of those will succeed or fail in securing a college offer based on the points they secure in their Leaving Cert exam.

However, a sizeable number of applicants – about 12,000 – are more than 23 years old and are classified by the CAO as mature applicants. Their applications will be judged on factors other than their performance in the Leaving Cert, which in some cases they will not have sat.

In the case of these mature applicants, their success will depend largely on the quality of the personal statement included in their application, and the interviews they may be invited to attend following the February 1st application deadline.

These applicants, who must have been aged 23 on or before January 1st, must apply for a college place through the CAO.


There are a number of colleges that do not require application through CAO for mature applicants (see page 7 of the CAO handbook).

If you are thinking of applying as a mature student, you need to consider the kind of information colleges want in assessing your application.

This includes your highest academic qualification to date, any studies you are engaged in, post-secondary education, second-level education, any non-certified courses you may have taken, your employment or voluntary work history to date, any references you hold, your hobbies/interests and, most importantly, why you are interested in taking the course.

After completing the application online, you must then post supporting documentation to the CAO in Galway by the end of the first week in February.

This will include evidence of any qualifications that you outlined in your application as well as any supplementary information required and documentation required by each of the institutions to which you are applying. Details are available from

If English is not your first language, you must provide evidence of competency in the language.

It’s worth noting that mature applicants to nursing/midwifery or primary teaching are not required to complete mature applicant sections (1 to 11), unless they are also applying to other course codes and wish to be considered on the grounds of mature years for those courses.

Mature students who successfully apply for nursing/midwifery through the CAO will be eligible to sit an assessment test in April.

As well as making their CAO application before 1st February at 5.15 pm,  applicants will need to register with and submit an online application form between the 2nd and 22nd of Februrary this year in order to sit the assessment which is carried out by the Public Appointments Service on behalf of the Nursing and Midwifery Board (NMBI). (See page 11 of the CAO Handbook)

You must be successful in the assessment test before being considered for on an offer for your chosen nursing degree course.

For applicants to graduate medicine, you must hold a minimum 2.1 (second class honours, grade one) in your honours bachelor degree. The degree can be in any discipline.

Applicants will be ranked based on their Gamsat (Graduate Medical Schools Admissions Test) results. These take place in March at test centres in Cork, Dublin and Limerick and results need to be sent to the CAO before the July cut-off date.

Admissions pathway

While mature applicants simply complete the online CAO application process for most courses, there are many variations of this rule in colleges across the country (check online for more details:

Four of our seven universities – UCD, UL, NUIG and UCC – have introduced a mature students’ admissions pathway for some faculties. It is an assessment tool they use for mature applicants who select courses offered at these colleges.

The test consists of written English and multiple-choice modules. All applicants are required to sit the written English module. Applicants will also be allocated to a multiple-choice module, depending on their university preference and course type. All modules provide measures of competencies considered important for success in third level study.

The purpose of this approach is to assess an applicant’s ability to understand and analyse material and to think critically about issues. Specific curriculum knowledge is not required.

To register for these tests, visit the MSAP Ireland website ( ), which has details about test fees, dates and other information. Of course, these applicants must also apply through the CAO as well as MSAP.

Information sources
For all applicants, including adults, it is important to research courses thoroughly before making applications to any college. There are lots of sources online (such as and Many colleges also hold information events in the form of open days before the CAO deadline of February 1st each year. These are usually listed on the qualifax website.

Access and foundation courses also exist in many colleges. These aim to prepare people who are applying to higher education. You will need to check with the college to which you are considering applying to see if an access or foundation course is suitable.

During March and April, mature applicants may be called for an interview as part of a college’s assessment process of an application. Candidates typically find out if they have been successful in the first week of July.