Will CAO points rise even higher this year?

Ask Brian: 2021 may be the most competitive yet in the competition for third-level places

In some courses, up to 15 per cent of the places available in 2021 are already allocated to  2020 Leaving Cert students. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

In some courses, up to 15 per cent of the places available in 2021 are already allocated to 2020 Leaving Cert students. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

I’m told there are record numbers of CAO applicants this year. What effect is this likely to have on CAO points requirements for third-level courses in 2021?

The success or otherwise of applicants in securing a place in college in one of their top choices is determined by a number of factors such as the grades achieved by this year’s students, the number of places on individual courses and the demand for these places.

Firstly, more than 80 per cent of this year’s Leaving Cert group have already applied to the CAO for a place. In last week’s column, I explained why grades may end up far higher than many anticipate. This is on the basis that candidates will be awarded the highest grade of either their accredited grades or their written exams.

Secondly, the Irish University Association has recently raised serious questions over the capacity of the third-level system to facilitate the creation of additional places in key areas where demand is highest, no matter how much money Minister Simon Harris manages to secure. Last year thousands of extra places were added at the last minute; it may be more difficult to do that this year.

Furthermore, about 600 of the most coveted places have already been secured by CAO applicants who took the delayed written Leaving Cert exams late last year after securing higher grades than their September 2020 calculated grades. In some courses, up to 15 per cent of the places available in 2021 are already allocated to these 2020 Leaving Cert students.

The third element in determining whether CAO points will rise is the number of applicants and the profile of their grades. We know CAO application numbers are up more than 5,000 in 2021 – a record high – and are likely to continue rising over the coming years for demographic reasons.

It’s worth breaking down this year’s applicants. More than 80 per cent of this year’s Leaving Cert cohort have applied. They are joined by more than 12,000 others under 23 years of age who sat the Leaving Cert in the past few years and are seeking a place in 2021. In addition, there are several thousand Northern Ireland (NI) and UK applicants, who are entitled to study here under the common travel area regulations.

On top of that there are more than 4,400 applicants from other EU countries, whose numbers have ballooned by 140 per cent this year due to Brexit.

If you combine all these factors, it looks like this year will be the most competitive year to date in the competition for CAO courses. It is impossible to say by how much points will rise across individual courses, but there is no doubt that there is upward pressure generally. A final word of advice: sit your written papers to boost your chances of getting the highest grades and consider alternative options – such as further education and training – outside the CAO process.

Email queries to askbrian@irishtimes.com