What will CAO points requirements look like in 2022?

CAO 2022: Most applicants get an outcome which enables them to successfully progress to the next stage of their educational journey

For those who are studying for the 2022 Leaving Cert, forget about the CAO for now and focus on your exams. Photograph: iStock

For those who are studying for the 2022 Leaving Cert, forget about the CAO for now and focus on your exams. Photograph: iStock

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Last year saw a significant increase in application numbers to the CAO, as almost 85,000 people sought a place in an undergraduate course in one of Ireland’s 40-plus third-level institutions.

Half of the more than 5,000 additional applicants arose from the demographic increase in numbers of students in our second-level schools, a trend which will continue for a number of years to come.

The other half came from EU-based applicants who discovered Ireland and its third-level universities, having been locked out of UK universities following Brexit, due to the imposition of international fees of £30,000-40,000 a year.

Many speculated that due to our late offer season – September – EU applicants would not accept offers. However, more than 850 did and they are the first wave of what I believe will be a growing integration of Ireland’s third-level sector into the wider continental EU education family.

This is not one-way traffic by any means. Almost 1,000 Irish students started their undergraduate degree studies in the Netherlands in 2021, a trend which has been growing strongly for almost 10 years now.

Compare the growing attractiveness of Ireland to young Europeans as the English-speaking EU country, compared to the 196 students who travelled south from Northern Ireland and the 97 who crossed the water from the UK, to start their studies here in 2021.

By next July when we see the final application numbers, will we see 90,000 applicants on the hunt for the 45,000 places on offer?

The 45,000 figure presumes an additional 2,500 places being funded on top of 2021 capacity. As in previous years, I would expect that 50,000 of the 60,000 Leaving Cert class of 2022 will seek a place through the CAO.

Add in a further 10,000-12,000 mature applicants over 23 years of age, at least 9,000 applicants from the Leaving Cert class of 2021 and a further 10,000 applicants from outside the State (2,500 Northern Ireland/UK; 7,500 other EU).

The balance of 8,000-10,000 applicants will be made up of graduates of level 5/6 further education (FE) programmes and those returning to college having dropped out of a course previously.


The biggest question students and parents will be asking is what impact will this have on the CAO points requirements in 2022?

The answer is that, as yet, nobody knows.

How many Leaving Cert graduates from the classes of 2020 and 2021, whose CAO points are appreciably higher than those of the last normal Leaving Cert class in 2019, will seek places on course they missed out on this year because of the big increase in points requirements?

How many additional places will the Minister of Further and Higher Education fund this year?

Simon Harris’s department funded on average 2,500 extra places in each of the past two years, which took some of the sting out of the surge in CAO points requirements.

But how much capacity exists within the infrastructure of our colleges to facilitate further expansion of CAO places? Some course places are easier to create than others. Programmes with laboratory or professional placements are far more difficult to create than programmes predominantly delivered through lecture and tutorial format.

Will the heightened awareness of opportunities within further education, apprenticeships and traineeships take some of the pressure off the demand for CAO places?

My gut instinct is that when all of the factors outlined above play out, CAO points requirements will drop back somewhat from 2021 levels, but not as far as those last seen in 2019.

It might be worth looking at the 2020 numbers as a rough guide to what might transpire.

For parents and students alike, the nagging fear and anxiety over CAO points requirements is a waste of energy.

For those who are studying for the 2022 Leaving Cert or those undertaking further education courses with a view to seeking college places, the best thing to do now is focus on maximising their exam performance through engagement with their teachers and studies. Screening out all the inevitable white noise around points requirements which will fill the airwaves in the months ahead is a good idea.

However, it is key that applicants pay close attention to the rules and regulations of the CAO application process, as outlined in the handbook on the cao.ie website and that they respond to any communications sent to them electronically and ensure that they act on any such communication.

And, remember, the vast majority of CAO applicants get an outcome which enables them to successfully progress to the next stage of their educational journey.