Your CAO offer and how to respond to it

Moment of truth for thousands of applicants as first college offers are issued

Applicants can accept only one offer and the date and time next week by which it will lapse is clearly printed on the offer notice. Photograph: iStock

Applicants can accept only one offer and the date and time next week by which it will lapse is clearly printed on the offer notice. Photograph: iStock


The day the Central Applications Office round-one offers are issued marks the culmination of a process which began in November 2020 when the first of 84,817 applicants registered their aspiration to secure a place on one of more than a thousand courses on offer at Ireland’s third-level institutions.

For others – applicants over 23 years of age who applied under the mature applicants process, graduates of post-Leaving Cert (PLC) programmes, those who secured deferrals of their acceptance last year, and a number of other categories – offers of places and 8,243 acceptances have already been made and processed over the past six weeks through the CAO offices in Galway.

For the 16,000 applicants who sat the Leaving Cert in previous years and the 48,104 who received their Leaving Cert grades last Friday and applied to the CAO in the hope of securing a place on their dream college course, today is the moment of truth.

My Application login

Each applicant has their own unique access password to enable them to log on to the ‘My Application’ section of the CAO website where they can view their offer or offers.

Applicants may receive an offer from both their level eight honours degree list and their level six/seven higher cert/ordinary degree one. Applicants can accept only one offer and the date and time next week by which it will lapse is clearly printed on the offer notice.

If an applicant receives an offer of their first choice of either list, then this is the only offer from that list they will receive. If they receive an offer of a lower preference they may, depending on the number of acceptances received by colleges through the CAO website, receive an offer of a higher course choice at any stage up to as late as mid-October, as places not already taken up will be reoffered to those next in line, based on their CAO points score.

It remains to be seen how many course offers will be accepted in the coming days, and how many will seek to postpone their entry into third level until 2022.

Only a small fraction of less than 5 per cent of places on offer today will be re-offered after this round.

Therefore, the offer you receive today may be the last one you receive, so consider it carefully in the days ahead prior to the reply date of next Monday, September 13th, at 3pm, before you decide to accept or ignore it.


If you wish to seek a deferral of your offer of a place, you do not accept your offer. Instead, you must email the admissions office of the appropriate college immediately.

You must give your name as it appears on your CAO application, quote your CAO application number and the course code of the offer you wish to defer, and set out the reason or reasons for the request.

Applicants must mark “Deferred entry” clearly in the subject line of the email. You can also check the website of the relevant college to see if they have a deferral policy available online that you can refer to.

The email must arrive in the admissions office of the institution at least two days before the reply date shown on the offer notice and the college will communicate their decision to you directly.

If the deferral is not granted, you may then accept the offer for the current year, providing you accept the offer by the reply date.

Note: you must send all communications about deferrals to the appropriate admissions office and not to CAO.

Taking up a deferral

In order to take up a deferred place you must reapply through CAO in the succeeding year and pay the appropriate application fee. You must complete the application form in full and follow all of the instructions carefully. When filling out your application form you must place the deferred course as your first and only preference. You should indicate your deferral by ticking the ‘deferred applicant’ indicator box in the ‘course choices’ section on your application.

It is important to read the letter granting you the deferred place for further instructions. You will breach the conditions of your deferred place if you enter more than the single deferred course code on your application. In that event, you will forfeit the guaranteed place and enter the competition for places in the normal way. When reapplying in the succeeding year you must complete an application fully. In other words, you must include again any personal information and documentation, etc, which you provided with the original application (unless instructed otherwise by the institution offering the place).

Challenge for the class of 2021

The majority of those receiving offers today were members of the Leaving Cert class of 2021, who had only a short period after Easter this year to consider their CAO choices. The focus was very much on submitting work to be assessed by their teachers for grading purposes and receiving final face-to-face tuition for the written Leaving Cert exams in June.

Given this pressure on students in that last term, it may not be surprising if opportunities for face-to-face consideration of their final CAO course choices with their guidance counsellor was limited.

Therefore, some applicants receiving an offer today may be looking at a course for which they may not have had the opportunity to fully explore before they listed it at the end of June.

There is a well-known phrase “Decide in haste and repent in leisure” which comes to mind when one considers applicants considering a course they are not totally familiar with.

The temptation is to accept it immediately as they may not receive another offer. Such an action is foolhardy in the extreme.

There is nothing worse than the gradual realisation as the winter sets in that you are quickly losing interest in the content of your course, and you begin to disengage from your lectures, tutorials, practicals, etc.

You will not be able to sustain participation in a three- to four-year degree programme if you do not engage and enjoy its content.

If you are not familiar with every aspect of the course you have been offered today, now is the time to inform yourself.

Do some research in the coming days

The website has full details on all courses as does the prospectus of the college available on their own website.

If you have any questions directly relating to the course or any other aspect of the college from which you have received today’s offer, use the coming days to contact them directly and bring yourself up to speed before you press that Accept button on your CAO offer.

Students who lose interest in their course and withdraw after a few weeks have passed face the prospect of paying both the €3,000 registration fee and the Higher Education Authority subvention of €8,000-plus in the first year of any new course they may register for in the coming years.

Therefore, make sure that this course offered to you today is in tune with your interests and aptitudes and that having examined its course content over the full duration of the lecture content, you are happy to proceed.

For the vast majority of applicants that will indeed be the case and they can proceed to the next stage of their life journey with excitement, if not a little anxiety in this very changed world we now live in.