Increase in CAO applications for science and environment courses

Figures reflect interest among young people in climate change and sustainability

Thousands of school-leavers are choosing careers in science and the environment this year, according to the latest Central Applications Office (CAO) application trends.

These figures back-up reports of a surge in interest among Leaving Cert students in careers linked to tackling climate change and promoting sustainability.

By contrast, applications for arts, humanities and journalism show a continued fall this year. Despite this fall-off, arts courses still remain among the most popular at third level.

In all, a total of almost 73,000 applications were received by CAO by the closing date on February 1st, a similar figure to last year.


Among the areas of study which received significant increases include physical sciences and secondary teaching (10 per cent), environment, law, dentistry, physiotherapy, architecture and construction (8 per cent) and engineering (6 per cent).

The category of “transport services” recorded the single biggest increase in percentage terms – 89 per cent – but this is based on a very small number of overall applicants.

Applicants were similar year-on-year in areas such as medicine, business, primary teaching, social sciences, biological sciences, veterinary, health and welfare.

The biggest decreases were recorded in journalism and information (-14 per cent), manufacturing and processing (-10 per cent), personal services (-8 per cent ), humanities (-6 per cent), arts, languages, agriculture and ICT (all -5 per cent).

All these figures relate to first-preferenced applications for honours degree (level eight) courses.

Course changes

The figures are subject to change when late applications are taken into account and when CAO’s “change of mind” facility closes on July 1st.

Communications officer for CAO, Eileen Keleghan, said most applicants will be able change their course choices from May 5th onwards. In addition, late applications are also being accepted up to May 1st.

Among international applications, the proportion of British applicants has fallen again this year (-6 per cent), though applications from Northern Ireland were up slightly (4 per cent).

EU applicants have held steady this year, while non-EU applicants have increased again (up 7 per cent).

This year, the proportion of mature applicants aged 23 or more is down by 7 per cent, reflecting job opportunities in the economy.

Numbers applying through special disability access routes are up (4 per cent), while those applying through access routes for disadvantaged students is down slightly (-1.5 per cent).

Overall, applications for honours degree courses (level eight) were down slightly (-1.5 per cent), as were ordinary degree/advanced certificate courses (level six/seven).

The areas of interest at ordinary degree and advanced certificate courses broadly reflected trends in honours degree courses.

For example, some of the biggest increases were in courses linked to the environment.

However, there were sharp drops in areas such as journalism and information (-66 per cent), social sciences (-39 per cent) and education (-18 per cent).

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent