My daughter has to register with the CAO but doesn’t know what to study

No need to panic - there is plenty of time to decide exactly what you want to do

Supporting your child through the Leaving Cert and college applications process can be a daunting task. Photograph: iStock

Supporting your child through the Leaving Cert and college applications process can be a daunting task. Photograph: iStock


My eldest daughter is due to sit the Leaving Cert this year. She’s been told she must register with the CAO soon but keeps changing her mind about her first choice course. I’m worried that she will rush to make a poor choice. Supporting your first-born through the Leaving Cert and college applications process is a daunting task for all parents, and one that you may feel unprepared for.

There are a few things that you can do now to ease the process and avoid conflict in your home.

We all learn through experience and sometimes children can have very misguided perceptions of the nature of both educational opportunities and the occupations and roles that flow from them.

Parents can sometimes be guilty of the same faults, when it comes to their ambitions for their children.

At this stage in January the most important task for your child, is the obvious one: go online to and complete the initial CAO application process.

Provided this is completed by 20th January at 5.15 pm, this will cost you €30. It increases to €45 after that date up to 1st February.

This step will register your daughter with the CAO. From February 1st, she may choose to list a number of course options which she is considering.

There is no need to panic. The cut-off date to apply for the vast majority of courses is July 1st next, when the application process closes for this year’s Leaving Cert cohort.

She can amend her course choice list as many times as she wishes in May and June (so long as she don’t attempt to introduce a new “restricted” course with an earlier deadline - the CAO handbook lists them all).

Now that the paperwork is out of the way, the question which she must address is how to choose the right course for her?

There are some key considerations . What points score is she likely to achieve? What subjects is she studying? Will she be commuting to a third level college? Or will she be able to afford to pay for accommodation?

Individual courses have minimum subject requirements which means they may be included or excluded from her choices, depending on what she is studying. This information is available on

I would particularly recommend using the website’s “advanced search” facility to explore what courses are on offer throughout the country.

Your daughter should also engage with her school guidance counsellor on available options. The further education sector, for instance, offers a range of options.

Finally, as a parent, you should be a listening ear, but don’t attempt to give too much unsolicited advice, as your average 18 or 19-year-old tends to react negatively to that.

Don’t fight unnecessary battles now. Remember, it’s only the final course list which is submitted at the end of June that matters.