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10 tips on filling out your CAO Application

Everything you need to know for this year's CAO

Written by SpunOut | View this authors Twitter page and posted in education

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The CAO and college places can be a major source of stress for Leaving Cert students. This year, students are likely to be feeling the pressure even more with the significant increase in CAO applicants, and the resulting impact on college places. Worry no longer, we’ve enlisted Patricia McGrath, Principal of successful secondary school, Hewitt College to put together 10 top tips for revisiting your CAO Application… and getting the course you want.

Do your research!

Double-check the entry requirements for every course you are interested in. Some will require specific grades in specified subjects. It’s fairly common knowledge that a HC3 in Irish is required for entry to all Primary Teaching courses, but there are other subjects with requirements that are not as obvious. Students of Speech & Language Therapy in UCC for example will require a HC1 grade in a language other than English. You should also be aware that requirements can vary for the same course in different colleges – for example, Pharmacy requires HC3 Chemistry in UCC, whereas the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland accepts HB3 in any lab science or Maths. Don't waste valuable spaces by adding in courses that you aren't eligible for and always check colleges’ course requirements on

Two pairs of eyes are better than one!

Before you submit your final choices during the Change of Mind period, sit down with someone to check and cross-check your application.

Complete all 20 Course Choices

Each candidate has the option of choosing 10 Level-8 Honours degree courses and 10 Level-6 and 7 choices (higher certificate courses or ordinary degree courses).

Filling in all 20 is a great safety net. Also, many colleges offering Level 7 courses also have the option to continue your studies for an added year and graduate with a Level 8 degree.

Reach for the Stars!

Focus on preference over points. Your first choice must be what you really want to do, not what you feel you're likely to be offered. The CAO can't offer you a place that you don't have on your form. Remember, when you are offered a course, all lower preference courses are DELETED from your application. You will then only be offered courses that you have a higher preference for, should they become available in later rounds.

Have a Safety Net

Make sure you include a couple of ‘fallback’ course options, should your exams, for whatever reason, not go as well as expected.

Question Each Course

Do you know what you're getting into? Make sure you check the list of modules and a sample timetable for courses that you're considering. If you require a structured working week, perhaps a course such as Law, which often has just 10-12 scheduled hours a week, isn't the right choice for you.

Take a moment and see can you answer these questions for every course on your list. Have you read the prospectus? Do you know where the course leads? Do you know what subjects you would be studying? Have you downloaded a sample timetable for your course?

Keep records safe

Ensure your CAO number, Leaving Certificate number, PPSN and any relevant passwords are to hand. Keep your CAO password safe.

Carefully consider each choice

Too often, students carefully consider their first few choices, but halfway down the list, lose interest. They start to add in random choices, thinking that they’ll never be offered those options. It might seem amusing to add something like Nanoscience to your application, but at best, it’s a wasted option, and at worst, a reality. Every year, students take a year out or repeat the Leaving Certificate for this reason.

You can change your mind

Don’t forget the Change of Mind facility is open from Thursday, May 5th until Friday July 1st and many students do re-think their course choices. It’s reported that 50% are expected to use the ‘change of mind’ when they have some breathing space after the examinations.

And don’t forget the available places facility

The CAO’s Available Places facility opens from mid August and lists places that remain unfilled in certain courses after all first-round offers have been made and there is no-one left on the waiting list for them. This is often a source of solace for applicants who have missed deadlines.

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Published April 4th, 2016
Last updated May 16th, 2018
Tags leaving cert cao
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