How to apply to the CAO for a college place in 2014?

Step-by-step guide outlines the important deadlines of the application process and explains some of the pitfalls


Virtually all applications to the Central Applications Office (CAO) for a first year undergraduate place in an Irish third-level higher education institution, are now made online at The first step is to register your intention to apply immediately, with an online application (including details such as disability/specific learning difficulty, country of birth, payment details, post-second level qualifications), paying €25 .

Then you choose which courses to apply for, a process you don’t have to complete (other than restricted courses) until July 1st, 10 days after the Leaving Cert finishes.

After the initial registration you get a CAO identification number, allowing you to return to your application anytime, to list or amend course choices until the initial closing date, February 1st.

A tiny minority make a paper application, where you get a statement of course choices and CAO application number, and your course choices on file, by post by February 15th. If this statement doesn’t arrive, contact the CAO or you could be excluded from some choices. Those applying online won’t get a statement of choices by post.

You have until March 1st to change a course choice, for a €10 fee. Mature students, or restricted application course applicants, can also correct or amend applications or report errors at, by March 1st, with a fee of €10. If you aren’t in the categories above, you don’t need to correct any course errors at this stage. You can use the change of mind facility (May 1st-July 1st) to make changes, with no fee.

Every applicant gets a statement of application record in May 2014 by post, as a final acknowledgment and to verify accurate information. Again, if it doesn’t arrive by June 1st, contact the CAO. Use the change of mind form up to closing date – 5.15pm, July 1st, 2014, to make as many changes as you wish online or by paper.

The first 6,000 offers, for mature and deferred entry applicants, start around July 4th on the CAO website, and must be accepted within a week or they will lapse.

A further 2,000-plus places are offered to mature applicants in the first week of August, and places in graduate medicine are also offered then. These offers arrive in the summer , so if necessary, make arrangements to deal with any offers.

What are the key mistakes applicants make each year?
Failure to fully read the rules and regulations of the process, detailed in the CAO handbook.
Leaving applying to the last minute. One applicant did this in 2013, starting an online application at 5.14pm on the closing date. How daft is that?

Failure to research the content and entry requirement of the courses they list.

Failure to allow for a lower points score in their Leaving Cert results in choosing courses. Over 1,000 students with over 500 points each year receive no offer.

Failure to respond to correspondence from the CAO. A typical excuse, “I had too much going on in my life to bother opening the envelope.”

Failure to apply for the course they actually want because they underestimate how well they may do in the Leaving.

Failure of Dare (disability access route to education) applicants to return all required documentation from medical consultants by April 1st.

Failure of Hear (higher education access route) applicants to return evidence of family income by the April 1st.

Failure of early round applicants to respond to offers in July and early August due to unattended post during holidays, and the absence of media coverage of these rounds of CAO offers. If you are on holidays you can respond online.

Failure to use all 20 choices on offer. Some candidates make no course choices from level six/seven, though many of these courses have progression routes into the level eight courses, which the student may list, but not get enough points for an offer.

Applying to a college or course because that is where friends are going. Focus instead on choosing the right course for you, you will make new friends quickly.

The biggest failure is to believe that going to college in the year following your Leaving Cert is a given. Sometimes a year out to reflect on what you want to do, or taking a one year post leaving certificate course might be a far better choice.

What’s the point? Determining factors
How are the points for each CAO course determined?
Once the final list of applicants for each course offered through the CAO is finalised at 5.15 pm on July 1st, a full list is drawn up for each course. This list may grow by adding current undergraduate students who drop out and apply for a new course, up to July 22nd .

When the Leaving Cert results are released on Wednesday, August 13th, the grades for each student who has applied for a college place are entered into his/her CAO record. Each list of course applicants is re-ordered with the student with 625 points at the top of the list. On August 15th, admissions officers from all the colleges inform the CAO of the exact number of places to offer for each course. The CAO computer then allocates places, based on the results translated into CAO points of each qualifying applicant and on the instructions of the admissions officers of the number of places.

All applicants who have applied for these courses are offered their highest choice on both their level eight higher degree and level six/seven higher certificate/ordinary degree list, to which their points entitle them too. If you restrict your application to a few high points courses and you don’t fall above the cut-off point on any of them, you will not receive an offer at this stage. Applicants will be offered a course choice higher up their list if it becomes available following non acceptance of offers by other candidates. It is therefore imperative that candidates list their choices in the order they actually desire them, from one to 10, with one being their most desirable course.

Will the points requirement for most courses increase this year?
Nobody knows what the points requirement for any particular course will be this year or any year . Until after July 1st, close of applications, the number of applicants for any course is unknown. Furthermore, until after the Leaving Cert results , the quality of this year’s results and consequential CAO points score are also unknown. The combination of the number of applicants for each course and the quality of their Leaving results determines the points requirements for that course. Colleges have no role whatsoever in setting points for courses.

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