Some students who achieved maximum points not offered preferred courses

Government signed off on system which left students with a 100 per cent score without a place on their first-choice programme.

As with 2020, the Leaving Cert class of 2021 had the benefit of knowing their teachers would be making an assessment of what grades they might achieve on their best performance, and graded them accordingly.

The State Examinations Commission report on the assessed grade process last week showed the teachers were very generous in their assessments. Almost three-quarters (74 per cent) were higher than the normal pattern of grades before the pandemic.

The level of downwards adjustment was set at 17 per cent by the Minister for Education and this left 52.5 per cent graded higher than the student in question achieved in the written papers they took in June.

Last year some 700-800 students secured more than 600 CAO points. That number has grown to 2,500-3,000 in 2021, as reflected in the CAO points required for many courses in 2021.


The consequence of that very positive outcome is reflected in the CAO offers which applicants received at 2pm yesterday. The CAO issued offers to 55,221 CAO applicants.

Some 50 per cent (24,758) who applied for level-eight courses secured their first preference, while 79 per cent (39,063) of those who applied managed to secure one of their top three preferences.

Of those who applied for level six/seven courses, 89 per cent (29,364) secured their first-preference course, while 98 per cent (32,314) managed to secure one of their top three preferences.

Applicants who do not receive an offer may wish to check the ‘Available places’ facility which reopens on CAO website on Wednesday at noon.

For more information on the CAO offer and acceptance process or the available places facility, applicants should visit or consult the CAO handbook.

Points barrier

It was only in 2019 that the first CAO course (economics and finance in UCD) broke the 600 points requirement barrier. This requirement grew to seven programmes in 2020 reflecting the 10 per cent grade inflation at higher-level papers as reported by the chairperson of the CAO, Prof Pól Ó Dochartaigh.

According to Prof Ó Dochartaigh, there has been a further 7 per cent growth in the grades awarded at higher level in 2021 which has seen the number of courses requiring in excess of 600 CAO points jump to 20 programmes in 2021.

Astonishing as it may seem, there are four programmes, dentistry in both Trinity and UCC, management science and information systems in Trinity, and economics and finance in UCD which require the maximum score possible of 625.

Unbelievably, there are dozens of applicants this year who have achieved the maximum score possible of 625 CAO points and have not been offered a place on a programme – because there are more students holding the maximum points possible than there are places available.

A spokesperson for one of the universities in question indicated that there were just far too many students on the maximum points score to simply expand the places slightly.

This situation is a major embarrassment to the Government, which signed off on an assessed-grade system which left students with a 100 per cent score without a place on their first-choice programme.

So, what are the programmes which drew the attention of the highest-achieving students in 2021?

Medical and paramedical programmes top this list in all universities.

Medicine, which combines with the results of the Hpat, saw points requirements grow across all five undergraduate universities.

Occupational therapy in NUI Galway and UCC, human nutrition and dietetics in TUD, physiotherapy in UCD and UL, human health and disease in Trinity, biomedical science in NUI Galway and UCD, pharmacy in RCSI and Trinity; and dentistry in Trinity and UCC all required more than 600 CAO points to secure an offer in 2021.

Business subjects

Apart from the medical and paramedical programmes, the balance of the programmes that require 600+ points are in business subjects: economics and finance and actuarial science in UCD; management science and information systems in Trinity; global business in DCU in both Canada and the US; and global business in Trinity.

The remaining two programmes in this elite list are psychology and law and French in Trinity,

Apart from the programmes which broke the 600 points barrier, CAO points requirements have grown across all disciplines, leaving many applicants with a lower-preference offer than they might have expected on the basis of their Leaving Cert result received last Friday.

With the huge surge in CAO points requirements across the board, it is hard to differentiate between what is popular this year but some trends are clear.

As a result of Covid-19 courses from medicine to nursing have increased in popularity, as have degrees in journalism, possibly because of the prominence of mainstream media over the past two years.

Applicants have until next Monday to decide whether to accept this programme or step back and reflect on their options.

Brian Mooney

Brian Mooney

Brian Mooney is a guidance counsellor and education columnist. He contributes education articles to The Irish Times