CAO offers: Wait is over for thousands of third-level applicants

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

One of the benefits of the hybrid learning model adopted by colleges and universities over the past year and a half is that it is adaptable. Photograph: iStock

One of the benefits of the hybrid learning model adopted by colleges and universities over the past year and a half is that it is adaptable. Photograph: iStock


Following two years of disrupted learning due to the Covid-19 pandemic, tens of thousands of college applicants will today view their college offers on the Central Applications Office (CAO) website to find what steps lie ahead for them.

Many applicants will quickly respond to confirm their place on their choice of full-time undergraduate courses while others may still need more time to weigh up their options.

Whatever their choice, the resilience this Leaving Cert class displayed while navigating the past two years in secondary school will certainly stand to them.

While the coming year’s third-level student experience will be different from previous years, the hope is that increased vaccination rates and continued observance of public health advice will make on-campus learning a more meaningful experience than it has been for some time.

One of the benefits of the hybrid learning model adopted by colleges and universities over the past year and a half is that it is adaptable. In the time that has elapsed since the pivot to online learning, our third-level institutions have had the time to learn and to tweak their systems, if necessary, to enhance how they deliver their various courses.

It goes without saying that college is about more than academia. It is about developing 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 forget 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 receive 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. Round One acceptances must be submitted by 3pm on September 13th.

2. Other options

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. Round Two offers will be made available online on September 20th from 10am and acceptances must be submitted by 3pm just two days later, on September 22nd.

3. Other routes

In the event you don'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. 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. Get to know your new surrounds

If you accept a place in college, you should visit the campus to get a feel for it. Have a good walk around and get to know the layout of the buildings. The coronavirus pandemic has transformed higher education and its impact is likely to be with us for some time yet. College life might be somewhat different from previous years as institutions adapt to facilitate social distancing measures. However, plenty 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.

As vaccine take-up increases, lectures should be increasingly delivered in-person with attendance in smaller groups for face-to-face sessions, tutorials and lab work. While the new student experience is likely to be somewhat different, students will expect that the integrity of academic programmes will not be compromised by the transition to a hybrid model.

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. Try to arrange accommodation early

The hunt for student accommodation has always been one of the more challenging aspects of the start of the academic year. With most colleges holding lectures partly online, there should be less of a need to be on campus as often as before. 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.

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 are offered but wish to postpone it for a year before immersing yourself in college life, you will need to act straight away. Contact the admissions office of the university or college in question. 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. There is no guarantee that an application for deferral will be granted.

7. 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 and ask our guidance counsellors about your options. Our guidance counsellors will be available from noon until 8pm to help with your queries.

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