CAO helpdesk: Taking all the advice and guidance into account

A higher than usual volume of queries from Leaving Cert students expected today by Irish Times Results Helpdesk

Brian Howard and Deirdre Garrett will operate The Irish Times Results and CAO helpdesk from midday on September 7th.

Brian Howard and Deirdre Garrett will operate The Irish Times Results and CAO helpdesk from midday on September 7th.


Questions relating to exam results and CAO points allocations usually feature prominently among those addressed by guidance counsellors manning The Irish Times’ free online helpdesk every year.

But who would have guessed this time last year that the summer and early autumn of 2020 would also see them interpreting the impact a pandemic might have on students as they prepare for the next stage of their education.

The disruption caused by Covid-19 has been significant and is likely to result in a few more surprises this year.

Expert guidance counsellors Brian Howard and Deirdre Garrett will be on-hand on this coming week to answer queries readers may have about the likely fallout on the Leaving Cert results and the CAO.

“In relation to the results it is going to be a strange time for students collecting results not having sat exams,” says Howard, who is a former national secretary of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors.

The 2020 allocation of CAO points is likely to be affected to some degree and this could generate queries around appeals and further rounds of college offers.

“In relation to CAO, there will be the usual questions about whether points will be up or down in general or for specific courses.

“Not only is the introduction of distance and hybrid learning likely to result in some students opting to change their course options in order to study closer to home but many are also expected to apply to defer for a year.

“There is talk of many students considering deferring college places this year so there will be questions about how to defer courses, will colleges allow all deferral requests, what effect this may have on points for this year’s students and next year’s,” he says.

“If a student is seriously thinking of deferring a place, I would recommend they make contact with their prospective college admissions office sooner rather than later to find out what deferral protocols they have in place.”

Thanks in part to the possible impact of grade inflation, this year’s points allocation may well be very different to the points needed to access courses in 2019 and some courses that might have previously been ruled out by some students may yet be in contention this year.

“I think the main thing is for applicants to have sat down and looked at the possible courses they may very well be offered through the CAO prior to the offers,” says Howard.

Prospective students should prepare the groundwork around the course they have in mind. This includes looking at course content, college location, accommodation options, deferrals, and anything that may help them to decide if they should they accept the course, defer or indeed consider sitting Leaving Cert papers in November to achieve higher points for the next time around.

“This bit of groundwork might make the decisions they have to make a little easier and less stressful during the offer season.

“There will be plenty of help available this year, to help students make these decisions, both in their own schools, in the colleges and in other locations such as Susi, SEC, etc.

He points out that decisions should be made in a calm, informed and well thought-out way, taking into account all the advice and guidance that has been given.