CAO first round: so you have a course offer – what now?

Weighing the options: there are three possible scenarios when you log into your CAO file

Education editor Carl O'Brien gives his tips on how to approach the CAO.


Wherever you are in the world, when you log into your CAO file this morning, you will have the option of accepting one of the two possible offers made to you on the screen in front of you.

Securing it is simplicity itself and will take less than a minute. All you need is internet access and the password you created when you first opened your CAO account.

If you have any initial difficulty accessing your offer online, don’t panic, as there are up to 45,000 other applicants trying to do the same thing. The CAO website may be congested for short periods today, so log on again after a few minutes. You have until Monday, August 29th, at 5.15pm to accept your first-round offer of a college place.

There are three possible scenarios when you log into your personal CAO file. First, you may be offered a single course on either your level-eight honours degree or your level-seven or -six ordinary degree/higher certificate list of course choices.

Second, you may be offered a programme from both CAO course lists.

Or, finally, you may unfortunately not be offered any college place today and may have to consider an alternative to a course within the CAO system this year.

Scenarios one and three are relatively straightforward. In the first scenario, you have a week to accept your offer. If you have not accepted it by next Monday, the offer lapses and cannot be retrieved. In the third scenario, you simply have not had any offer from the CAO in this round.

Where you receive two offers – on your level-eight higher degree list and your level-seven or -six list – the position is a little more complex. You can only accept one course, so you have to choose between the two offers. It might seem obvious that you would automatically accept the level-eight course, but that may not always be the right decision.

You may have a course at the top of your level-eight list of preferences for which you don’t have enough points. There are many level-seven and -six courses in the same disciplines as level-eight degrees, and if you secure at least 60 per cent at the end of year two of your level-seven or -six course, you could transfer to the beginning of year two of the equivalent course at level eight.

If you find yourself with such an option this morning, I would strongly advise you to consider opting for the offered level-seven or -six course rather than accept a level-eight course lower down on your list of preferences, which may not be a course you have a genuine interest in studying.

And remember: whichever course you accept today, or over the next few days, will have no effect on your entitlement to accept an offer of a course higher up on either of your two lists if it becomes available to you in a later round.

I’m unfamiliar with the course I’ve been offered. Should I accept it?

Thousands of students every year who accept courses at both publicly funded and private colleges either drop out or fail their first-year exams. If that happens next year, and then you reapply for another course, you will be charged the full course fee (on average €4,000) which the State pays to the college on your behalf this year.

This applies even if the course is in a private college. The Government’s justification for this policy on private college fees is that your parents are entitled to tax relief at 20 per cent on such fees over and above the €3,000 the State charges every student (other than those in receipt of a grant) to register for their course.

The full course fee will be in addition to the annual registration charge, which in the current year is €3,000. Therefore, accepting a course you later abandon is a very expensive mistake to make. Reflect carefully on what you have been offered today before you decide what to do.

I’m happy with my CAO offer, but I would like to defer my acceptance for a year. If you want to defer your place, you must immediately contact the admissions office of the college making the offer and request permission to postpone until next year, outlining your reason for seeking a deferral. You do not need to contact the CAO at this stage, as the college will do that on your behalf. The college will most likely allow you to defer.

However, you must remember to reapply to the CAO next year, listing just that one course in your application. If you list other courses as well as your deferred place, you are then back in open competition with next year’s applicants, with the chance that, if the points for the course you have just been offered increase in 2017 beyond your points score, you will not be offered a place.

I have the published points for the course I want, but have not received an offer, because of random selection. What can I do now? You may choose to accept the course you have been offered and hope the college will attempt in round-two offers to clear all those on random selection. There is no way of knowing how many candidates are on the same points as you waiting to see if any places become available. Random selection is outlined in the CAO handbook, at

I got more points than I needed for my first-preference course, but I didn’t get an offer today. Every course has minimum entry requirements, known as matriculation, which are available at If you have the minimum points published in today’s Irish Times but did not get an offer from the CAO, you are probably lacking one of the basic entry requirements for that course.

You may have a D1 in a particular subject, where the course requires a C3. You could get a place on this course by repeating the subject in the 2017 Leaving Cert and hopefully meeting the minimum requirement you lack. You may carry this year’s points forward and reapply for the course in 2017. Remember, your result in next year’s Leaving Cert in the subject you repeat cannot be added to increase your points score, as you can only present the points from one sitting of the Leaving.

If you failed a higher-level subject this year or in a previous year for which a basic pass was an entry requirement, you may not need to repeat that subject in 2017. Students of higher-level papers who secured 30-40 per cent in 2016, and thus failed the subject and secured no CAO points, will have that result reclassified as a H7 in 2017. They will therefore be deemed to have passed the subject for third-level entry requirement purposes and will be awarded 37 CAO points under the new points structure being introduced for 2017 entrants. This reclassification of previous years’ Leaving Cert results will apply to all previous students of the Leaving Cert examinations.

The implementation of the new Leaving Cert grading and CAO points structure in 2017 will completely change the points totals required for every course on offer.

I do not wish to accept the CAO offer I have just received. You need take no further action. Your name will remain on the waiting list for any course(s) higher up your order of preference than your current offer. But be aware that there is no certainty you will receive a further offer.

Where can I get information on accommodation at or near the course I have been offered today? Colleges have student accommodation services operated either by the college authorities or the students’ union, or by both in the case of large colleges. Many students who got an offer this morning are already on the way to the college to look for some place to live for the year, as quality accommodation is snapped up very quickly.

Do I have to pay a fee when returning my CAO acceptance? No payment is required when accepting a CAO offer. The college sends out bills for registration, and so on, separately. Fee inquiries should go to the fees office of the relevant college, not the CAO. Students have to pay these charges when registering, unless they are eligible for a grant, in which case the Higher Education Authority pays them to the college on your behalf.

I have been offered a place on a course, but can’t afford to accept it unless I qualify for a grant. When can I find out if I qualify? The maintenance grant is the main source of financial help for students in full-time post-Leaving Cert courses (PLCs) and full-time higher education undergraduate courses offered through the CAO. Eligible students in most colleges in Ireland, as well as eligible Irish students in many colleges in Northern Ireland, the UK and other EU states, can be supported.

Student Universal Support Ireland (Susi) now processes all applications on behalf of the Department of Education and Skills, and has been accepting applications from prospective students since April. If you have not yet applied for a grant, you can do so immediately on, but your application will be dealt with after those who applied earlier.

Some 115,000 grant applications are expected this year from eligible prospective students. For an online application you’ll need your CAO number, PPS numbers for you, your parent(s) or legal guardian(s), and gross income details for 2015 for yourself and for your household’s relevant members. Determine if you are a student dependant (under 23), a mature student dependant (over 23 but living with parents on January 1st, 2016), or an independent mature student (over 23) who can prove independent living prior to October 1st, 2015.

Susi’s online tracker system enables students to check their application’s progress. The early application date, the release of data by the CAO directly to Susi, and communication between Susi and the Department of Social Protection, is aimed to ensure students receive grant payments from September 2016.