Thousands due to apply for college places ahead of CAO deadline

Increased demand for places expected in courses linked to economic recovery

Tens of thousands of students are set to make last-minute college course choices ahead of Wednesday evening’s deadline for Central Applications Office (CAO) applications.

The CAO has advised anyone considering applying for undergraduate places in higher-education institutions to register ahead of its normal application deadline of 5.15pm on February 1st.

Last year, more than 75,000 college hopefuls had registered with the CAO at the close of its normal application deadline.

Careers experts say the numbers applying may climb slightly higher this year due to factors such as population growth, increasing numbers of mature applicants and policies promoting access to college among underrepresented groups.


Points increases are likely among most courses linked to rapidly-growing sectors of the economy such as construction, engineering and business.

Applications to many of these courses fell dramatically during the economic downturn. Now that these sectors are growing, there are not enough graduates to meet demand in many cases.

Change of mind

CAO communications officer Eileen Keleghan said there would be opportunities for most applicants to make changes to their course selections using its "change of mind" facility which opens in May and closes on July 1st.

There are some restrictions for restricted-category applicants, such as mature applicants, who must apply to the CAO and fill out their course choices by Wednesday evening.

“Those considering applying for a restricted course – such courses are highlighted in the CAO handbook – must list the courses on their application by February 1st at 5.15 pm.”

This is the first year that a new grading system will be applied for students, aimed at easing some of the pressure on students and making access to college fairer.

The old familiar grading system – A, B and C – is being replaced with a new system in which higher-level grades will run from H1 to H8 and ordinary grades from O1 to O8.

Instead of grades based on bands of 5 per cent (such as a B1 or B2) they will be based on bands of 10 per cent.

A guide for parents and guardians is available to download from the "information for parents" section of the CAO's website (, while information on the changes to the grading scheme is available from the "student resources" section.

Senior education figures, however, have been keen to remind students that universities are not the only route to further education and a fulfilling career.

National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals director Clive Byrne said newly-expanded apprenticeship and traineeship schemes presented equally excellent opportunities for school-leavers.

“Every year, I am acutely conscious of the pressure pupils feel to make a decision on their CAO application,” Mr Byrne said.

“I am also aware of pupils focusing on points, on choosing a course which is in vogue or one which will offer a better chance of employment after graduation. We feel compelled to tell aspiring students to listen to their heart and pick a course that they find interesting and allows them to flourish.”

He said peer pressure and muddled decision-making at the CAO stage may well explain the 6,000 students who fail to progress to their second year of university.

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