Everything you need to know about the CAO process in 2019

Thousands of prospective students who applied for third-level courses will receive offers this week

Once the CAO knows the number of places for every course on offer, it enters that data into its computer ssstem to determine what offers will be made to you online at 2pm on Thursday, August 15th.  Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Once the CAO knows the number of places for every course on offer, it enters that data into its computer ssstem to determine what offers will be made to you online at 2pm on Thursday, August 15th. Photograph: Cyril Byrne


Bear in mind that this is not an exact science. Points for all programmes increase and decrease annually as the demand among applicants and the number of places offered by each college changes from year to year.

For most applicants, success or otherwise in being offered a specific course will be decided when the admission officers representing all the colleges meet in the CAO offices in Galway.

They will know exactly how many places on each course are already accounted for through other entry routes (outlined below) and how many places they can now offer to the main body of applicants.

Once the CAO knows the number of places for every course on offer, it enters that data into its computer system to determine what offers will be made to you online at 2pm on Thursday, August 15th.

Until then, neither CAO officials nor college admissions officers know the points required to secure the last available places on offer in this round. These will be published in table-form in The Irish Times on Friday, August 16th, in the First Round Offers education supplement.

If there are more applicants with the same points than there are remaining places on offer, the CAO computer will generate a random number for each of these applicants; those holding the highest numbers numerically will be offered the available places. When this occurs, an asterisk (*) appears beside the printed points score in the published charts.

Round One offers

At 2pm on Thursday, the CAO will place all offers live on cao.ie. Each applicant has an individual CAO application number enabling them to access their own CAO file. You will have a week to accept a place. Students must print off a receipt of their acceptance before ending their online session with CAO.

Deferring a place

If you wish to defer an offer of a place, you do not accept your offer. Instead, you must email or write to the admissions office of the appropriate college immediately. You must 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 the reason(s) for the request.

Applicants must mark “DEFERRED ENTRY” clearly on the envelope or in the subject line of the email. You can also check the website of the relevant college to see if they have a deferral policy available online that you can refer to.

The letter or email must arrive in the admissions office of the institution at least two days before the reply date shown on the offer notice.

The college will communicate their decision to you directly. If the deferral is not granted, you may then accept the offer for the current year, providing you accept the offer by the reply date. You must send all communications about deferrals to the appropriate admissions office and not to CAO.

Taking up a deferral

To take up a deferred place you must:

1. Re-apply through CAO in the succeeding year and pay the appropriate application fee. You must complete the application form in full and follow all of the instructions carefully.

2. Place the deferred course as your first and only preference on the application form. Indicate your deferral by ticking the Deferred Applicant indicator box in the Course Choices section on your application.

It is important to read the letter granting you the deferred place for further instructions. You will breach the conditions of your deferred place if you enter more than the single deferred course code on your application.

In that event, you will forfeit the guaranteed place and enter the competition for places in the normal way. When reapplying in the succeeding year, you must complete an application fully. In other words, you must include again any personal information and documentation you provided with the original application (unless instructed otherwise by the institution offering the place).

If I am offered one of my higher choices on my course list?

If you choose to accept the new offer, any registration fees you paid to the first college will simply be transferred to the second one.

Vacant places offered to all potential applicants?

What if you change your mind and want a place on a course you have not applied for? This can only happen if vacancies for the course are advertised on cao.ie. This happens if the original list of qualified applicants to the CAO is exhausted, or if a college has offered a new course since July 1st. Always check you meet the minimum entry requirements before you place any course with vacant places on your existing list of choices.

Result appeals and college offers

The State Examinations Commission will automatically notify the CAO in mid-September in the event of a successful appeal of any of your results.

You will then be contacted regarding any new offer for a course that this upgrade may entitle you to.

This year, upgrades happen one week after courses start, to ensure students can start their course immediately and will not have to wait another year as they had to do previously.

If you want to accept a new place but do not want to start this year, you can accept the place as a deferred entry for next year.

For deferred-entry students, the most important point to remember is that they must apply to the CAO again by February 1st, 2020.

They should place the deferred course as their only choice on the application form in 2020, in order to take up the original place offer.

Other entry routes

Some places on the courses you are interested in may have already been allocated. In the past six weeks, the CAO offered places and received acceptances from more than 8,000 of this year’s CAO applicants. These include mature applicants (aged over 23), those who deferred a place in 2018 and reapplied for it this year, and those who sought a place on the basis of a QQI award through a PLC programme taken during the past academic year.

Those with awards other than the Irish Leaving Cert, mainly school-leavers who have taken Northern Ireland or UK-based A-levels, and other EU end-of-school exams will also have been offered places.

Colleges now also offer a growing number of places to applicants from outside the EU at full fees to generate additional funding for courses.

Hear and Dare

Some students will receive an offer of a college place on lower points than those published on Thursday. This is because the CAO has been instructed to offer a place by a specific college based on a successful Disability Access Route to Education (Dare) or Higher Education Access Route (Hear) application, or on the basis of a scholarship programme, often in a designated sport.