You have a course offer but what now?

Weighing the options: there are three possible scenarios when you log into your CAO file

Wherever you are in the world, when you log into your CAO file this morning, you will have the option of accepting one of the two possible offers presented on the screen in front of you.

Securing the college place on offer is simplicity itself and will take less than a minute. All you need is internet access, and the password you created when you first opened your CAO account back in January.

If you have any initial difficulty accessing your offer online, don’t panic, as there are up to 45,000 other applicants trying to do the same thing. The CAO website may be congested for short periods today, so log on again after a few minutes. You have until Monday, August 28th, at 5.15pm to accept your first-round offer of a college place.

There are three possible scenarios when you log into your personal CAO file. First, you may be offered a single course on either your level-eight honour’s degree or your level-seven or -six ordinary degree/higher certificate list of course choices.


Second, you may be offered a programme from both CAO course lists.

Or, finally, you may unfortunately not be offered any college place today, and may have to consider an alternative to a course within the CAO system this year.

Scenarios one and three are relatively straightforward.

In the first scenario, you have a week to accept your offer. If you have not accepted it by next Monday, the offer lapses and cannot be retrieved. In the third scenario, you simply have not had any offer from the CAO in this round.

Where you receive two offers – on your level-eight higher degree list and your level-seven or -six list – the position is a little more complex. You can only accept one course, so you must choose between the two offers. It might seem obvious that you would automatically accept the level-eight course, but that may not always be the right decision, as many level 6/7 two-year courses give you the option of progressing onto year two of your high preference level 8 course for which you do not have the points today. What is the better option, accepting a level 8 course which does not really engage your interest, or spending one extra year securing your desired level 8 degree, by progressing through the level 6/7 route?

Whichever course you accept today, or over the next few days, will have no effect on your entitlement to accept an offer of a course higher up on either of your two lists if it becomes available to you in a later round. The CAO will make you an offer of a place even if it becomes available in mid-October. It will be totally up to you to stay with the course you first accepted or to switch to the new course offered.

I’m unfamiliar with the course I’ve been offered. Should I accept it?

If you are unfamiliar with the course or college you have been offered, do not accept it until you have fully explored it on Look at the career progression the course offers and, if you can, visit the college before you accept the place. If you find the course may not sustain your interest for its duration, have the courage to let it pass, because to accept it may lead to you dropping out or failing exams.

Thousands of students every year who accept courses at both publicly funded and private colleges either drop out or fail their first-year exams. If that happens next year, and then you reapply for another course, you will be charged the full course fee (on average €4,000) which the State pays to the college on your behalf this year.

This applies even if the course is in a private college. The Government’s justification for this policy on private college fees is that your parents are entitled to tax relief at 20 per cent on such fees over and above the €3,000 the State charges every student (other than those in receipt of a grant) to register for their course.

The full course fee will be in addition to the annual registration charge, which in the current year is €3,000. Therefore, accepting a course you later abandon is a very expensive mistake to make. Reflect carefully on what you have been offered today before you decide what to do.

I’m happy with my CAO offer, but I would like to defer my acceptance for a year.

If you want to defer your place, you must immediately contact the admissions office of the college making the offer and request permission to postpone until next year, outlining your reason for seeking a deferral. You do not need to contact the CAO at this stage, as the college will do that on your behalf. The college will most likely allow you to defer.

However, you must remember to reapply to the CAO next year, listing just that one course in your application. If you list other courses as well as your deferred place, you are then back in open competition with next year’s applicants, with the chance that, if the points for the course you have just been offered increase in 2018 beyond your points score, you will not be offered a place.

I have the published points for the course I want, but have not received an offer because of random selection. What can I do now?

You may choose to accept the course you have been offered and hope the college will attempt in round-two offers to clear all those on random selection. There is no way of knowing how many candidates are on the same points as you waiting to see if any places become available. Random selection is outlined in the CAO handbook, at

I got more points than I needed for my first-preference course, but I didn’t get an offer today.

Every course has minimum entry requirements, known as matriculation, which are available at If you have the minimum points published in today's Irish Times but did not get an offer from the CAO, you are probably lacking one of the basic entry requirements for that course.

You may have a H6 in a particular subject, where the course requires you to have secured a H5.

You could get a place on this course by repeating the subject in question in the 2018 Leaving Cert and hopefully meeting the minimum requirement you lack. You may carry this year’s points forward and reapply for the course in 2018. Remember, your result in next year’s Leaving Cert in the subject you repeat cannot be added to increase your points score, as you can only present the points from one sitting of the Leaving.

New Leaving Cert grading and CAO points system.

The current 2017 round of CAO offers today is the first in which a percentage score on a higher-level paper of 30-39, both secures a H7 grade and 37 CAO points, and is deemed to meet the pass requirement, where a college requires a student to have passed that specific subject as an entry requirement for a specific course, or for every course in that institution.

Students of previous years’ higher-level papers who secured a grade E of 25-39 per cent and thus failed the subject and secured no CAO points, if they apply for a CAO place from this year onwards will have that result reclassified as a H7 in the 2017-18 academic year.

They will therefore be deemed to have passed the subject for third-level entry requirement purposes and will be awarded 34 CAO points, under the new points structure being introduced for this year’s entrants. This reclassification of previous years’ Leaving Cert results will apply to all previous students of the Leaving Cert examinations.

The implementation of the new Leaving Cert grading and CAO points structure has changed the points totals required for every course on offer today.

I do not wish to accept the CAO offer I have just received.

You need take no further action. Your name will remain on the waiting list for any course(s) higher up your order of preference than your current offer. But be aware that there is no certainty you will receive a further offer.

Where can I get information on accommodation at or near the course I have been offered today?

Colleges have student accommodation services operated either by the college authorities or the students’ union, or by both in the case of large colleges. Many students who got an offer this morning are already on the way to the college to look for some place to live for the year, as quality accommodation is snapped up very quickly.

Do I have to pay a fee when returning my CAO acceptance?

No payment is required when accepting a CAO offer. The college sends out bills for registration, and so on, separately. Fee inquiries should go to the fees office of the relevant college, not the CAO. Students have to pay these charges when registering, unless they are eligible for a grant, in which case the Higher Education Authority pays them to the college on your behalf.

I have been offered a place on a course, but can’t afford to accept it unless I qualify for a grant. When can I find out if I qualify?

The maintenance grant is the main source of financial help for students in full-time post-Leaving Cert courses (PLCs) and full-time higher education undergraduate courses offered through the CAO.

Eligible students in most colleges in Ireland, as well as eligible Irish students in many colleges in Northern Ireland, the UK and other EU states, can be supported.

Student Universal Support Ireland (Susi) now processes all applications on behalf of the Department of Education and Skills, and has been accepting applications from prospective students since April 3rd. If you have not yet applied for a grant, you can do so immediately on, but your application will be dealt with after those who applied earlier.

Some 105,000 grant applications are expected this year from students. For an online application, you’ll need your CAO number, PPS numbers for you, your parent(s) or legal guardian(s), and gross income details for 2016 for yourself and for your household’s relevant members.

Determine if you are a student dependent (under 23 on January 1st, 2017), a mature student dependent (over 23 on January 1st, 2017 but living with parents in October, 2016) or an independent student (over 23 on January 1st, 2017) who can prove independent living prior to October, 2016.

Susi's online tracker system enables students to check their application's progress. The early application date, the release of data by the CAO directly to Susi and communication between Susi and the Department of Social Protection is aimed to ensure students receive grant payments from September 2017.

Brian Mooney

Brian Mooney

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