CAO experience shows need for changes to application system

Students should be able to switch college options after release of Leaving Cert results

The initial 2015 application statistics for those seeking college places through the CAO are published today.

Reflecting the growing number presenting for the Leaving Cert each year, applications have increased by 784 for level 8 (honours degree) courses to 63,130. This upward trend will continue for at least another 10 years.

The ongoing improvement of the Irish economy is again reflected in this year’s application pattern. The recovery in construction-related programmes and in disciplines which derive their employment opportunities from this sector - eg law, architecture, engineering, business - continues apace.

This trend may reflect some short-term thinking from applicants and parents. As UCD deputy president Dr Mark Rogers says in response to this year's application statistics: "Applicants should always make their course choices based on their genuine interests and aptitudes, and not on any short-term movements in the labour market".


But the most significant aspect of this year’s figures is the number of applicants who have not as yet indicated any specific course choices. More than 8 per cent of this year’s applicants have yet to do so.

Registration process

From my experience working with Leaving Cert students in recent years, the vast majority of them are no longer regarding the February 1st initial application deadline as anything more than a registration process, with their final course choices to be finalised in June following the completion of their Leaving Cert.

This is reflected in the fact that more than 40,000 applicants use the CAO’s Change of Mind option between May and June each year.

Thanks to the move towards an online application process, students can make amendments to their CAO application at any time, or from any location in the world, up to 5.15pm on July 1st.

Given the mass exodus of Leaving Cert students to European beach resorts in the last 10 days of June each year, it could be a matter of concern that some students may be making their final choices during this time without the support and advice of parents and guidance counsellors.

It would seem to make eminent sense to allow applicants make amendments to their applications in the 24-48 hours following the publication of the results in mid-August each year to take account of their actual Leaving Cert performance.

It could lead to a major decrease in the current drop-out rates for courses, as students would be able to match their final choices to their actual Leaving Cert exam performance. The CAO has indicated that there would be no administrative difficulty in making such a facility available to applicants, but that many guidance counsellors are opposed to the move, as it would involve students making changes to their course choices without adequate professional advice and support.

This belief on the part of some of my colleagues is a reflection of a bygone era when students completed a paper application in the presence of their guidance counsellor in January and posted it off to the CAO office in Galway.

Given that students are far more likely to have access to guidance counsellors in late August when schools are about to re-open, than in the dying days of June when they are now making life-shaping choices, does it not seem logical to facilitate a final amendment to course choices at that time?

Brian Mooney is a guidance counsellor and Irish Times education analyst