CAO First Round Offers: Wait is over for thousands of applicants

Steps you can take ahead of the next stage of your education

If you are accepting a place in college, you should visit the campus to get a feel for itsteps to take as you prepare for the next stage of your education

A long and difficult year has finally come to a close. Almost 80,000 applicants were able to view their college offers from 2pm on the Central Applications Office (CAO) website yesterday, almost a month later than would normally be the case.

One positive that stands out from the last six months is the resilience the 2020  Leaving Cert class displayed while navigating their last year in secondary school. The sudden pivot to remote and distant learning, the postponement of exams, the introduction of calculated grades and, most recently, worries about grade inflation and college points, cannot have been easy for any of them.

This year’s third-level student experience will also be substantially different to previous years. A crucial difference is that colleges and universities have had more time than schools had to develop their own blended or hybrid approach to the delivery of education. It is also worth considering that the class of 2020 has gained some of the experience and tools required to quickly adapt to this mode of learning.

Of course college is about more than academia. It is about acquiring transversal skills: it is where you meet new people, explore your interests, engage in activism, and join sports clubs or societies.


The following are some steps you might take as you prepare for the next stage of your education.

1. Don’t miss the deadline

You should have read the CAO Handbook by now and taken note of the important deadlines and restrictions that may apply to you or your course. If you received the offer you had hoped for, you have reviewed your options and are happy to accept your allocated course, then the process is straightforward. If you accept your offer, you will receive an acknowledgement email, and you can check that your acceptance has been recorded on the 'My Application' facility. Note: Round One acceptances must be submitted by 3pm on 16th September.

2. Other choices

The choices you listed on your CAO form should approximate your interests and accepting a lower-preference course now will not prevent you from receiving an offer of a course higher up on your list in a later round. If you don't accept an offer, however, you run the risk of not receiving any other offers in later rounds.  Note: Round Two offers will be made available online on 23rd September from 10am and acceptances must be submitted by 12pm just two days later, on September 25th.

3. Other options

Perhaps you didn't get any of the choices you listed on your CAO application form or have had a very late change of mind. There are plenty of other routes that you can take. Some 30,000 places are filled annually in further education colleges throughout the country. These have been added to this year as part of the Government response to the need for additional places. Apprenticeships offer an opportunity to earn while you learn, while many further education courses provide high-level tuition and on-the-job experience, with plenty offering an alternative route to attaining a degree in college. Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) is the national agency responsible for qualifications and quality assurance in further education and training and higher education. Details of courses on offer are available through QQI's website.

4. Familiarise yourself with the campus

If you are taking a place in college, you should visit the campus to get a feel for it. The coronavirus pandemic has transformed higher education and its impact is likely to be with us for some time yet. College life will be different to previous years as institutions adapt to facilitate social distancing measures. A lot of work has gone into ensuring that students have the best possible experience and third-level institutions have invested heavily in developing online and remote teaching programmes. In most cases, lectures will be delivered remotely while students will attend campus in smaller groups for face-to-face sessions, tutorials and lab work. While the new student experience is likely to be substantially different, students will expect that the integrity of academic programmes will not be compromised by the transition to online. Communication will be key and will probably require more of an effort from students and lecturers alike but don’t worry, you will have plenty of opportunities to meet new people, join college societies and participate in college life. Most institutions will provide tours and induction days. Find out about these and attend if possible.

5. Consider accommodation options

The hunt for student accommodation has always been one of the more challenging aspects of the start of the academic year. This year, it should be somewhat different. With most colleges holding lectures partly or fully online there should be less of a need to be present on campus as often. The absence of international students should also ease pressure on what was an overheated market. Colleges will try to group days where students are expected to be present in order to avoid undue travel costs. If you need somewhere to live, your first port of call should be the college. Your college and students' union should also have a list of reasonably priced rooms and digs. Privately-run student residences are also an option but can be expensive. Be sure to check your lease: some private accommodation can exceed the student academic year. Note: All property providers have to be registered so ask to see the property service provider's licence and note the licence number before checking it against the Register of Licensed Property Services Providers.

6. Defer for a year

If you are happy with the course you were offered but wish to postpone it for a year before immersing yourself in college life, then you will need to act straight away. Contact the admissions office of the university or college in question straight away. Give your name as it appears on your CAO application, quote your CAO application number and the course code of the offer you wish to defer, and set out why you wish to do so. Note: there is no guarantee that an application for deferral will be granted this year due to an anticipated coronavirus-related spike in applications.

6. Don’t panic

No matter what you want to do at this juncture, there are plenty of options available for you to choose from. If you are unsure, log in to The Irish Times' CAO helpdesk today or over the weekend and ask our guidance counsellors about your options. The helpdesk will operate at from midday until 8pm on Friday, from 10am until 7pm on Saturday and from 10am until 1pm on Sunday to answer any questions students or their parents might have about the college applications.

Éanna Ó Caollaí

Éanna Ó Caollaí

Iriseoir agus Eagarthóir Gaeilge An Irish Times. Éanna Ó Caollaí is The Irish Times' Irish Language Editor, editor of The Irish Times Student Hub, and Education Supplements editor.