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Tips to help you fill in CAO and UCAS forms

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

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Applying for college is an exciting experience, but sometimes it can be hard to decide what to study and where you want to go.

CAO and UCAS are two systems that Irish students can use to apply to go to college. You can apply for full time courses including degrees, diplomas and certificates in the Ireland and the UK.

The CAO is the system for applying to Irish courses, and UCAS is the system for applying to courses in the UK.

Applying to CAO and UCAS

  • You can apply for CAO and UCAS online by visiting their websites, and you may have the option of a paper application too. Make sure to get hold of the free handbooks that explain how to fill in the forms, which you should be able to get at schools, colleges and careers offices, or visit the websites to make sure you have all the information you need.
  • When filling in CAO and UCAS make sure to put the course you really want to do as first choice, NOT what you think you'll have the results for. Make sure to put down as many course choices as you can, don't limit yourself to just two or three!
  • Fill out the CAO and UCAS form in plenty of time. Don't forget there is a ‘change of mind’ form that you can use if you decide you want to apply for different courses. You should be able to get information about amending course choices on the CAO and UCAS websites. It is also possible to put off an offer for a year.
  • Practice filling in the CAO and UCAS forms. When applying online, double check everything and get someone to look over the application before you finalise it. You could also fill out the paper application, make a photocopy of each one and get a teacher to check that everything is filled in properly before you post them off. The CAO has a demo application you can use to practice.
  • Make sure you get the UCAS and CAO forms in on time. UCAS usually has early deadlines, so do your research and apply early. Click here for a list of important CAO dates you'll need to know.
  • The more research you do, the better. It will help you feel confident in your choices, and you'll be prepared when you arrive for your first day of your college course!
  • Ask the careers teacher or guidance counsellor at your school to help you. Spend time in the careers office researching the best options and deciding what you really want to do.

Deciding what to apply for:

  • Look at lots of college brochures and get an idea of what courses interest you. If your school doesn't have prospectuses, ask them to order some or phone the college yourself and ask to be sent one. 
  • Make sure to check the basic entry requirements for the courses you're interested in. This info will be in the prospectus. For example, many Irish universities require that you have results in Irish and English as well as the necessary points.
  • Consider what you want to study AND where you'll be happy living. If you want a taste of city life then check out Dublin, Belfast, Galway, Limerick, Cork, Derry and UK universities. If you're more comfortable living somewhere smaller look at what's on offer in places like the University of Ulster at Coleraine or Sligo I.T.
  • Once you have an idea of what you're interested in, call the colleges and ask if there's someone you can talk to about the courses on offer.
  • If possible, visit the universities or colleges you plan to apply for. Most universities have open days, which give you an opportunity to visit the college. There is usually a tour of the facilities and information about everything the university has to offer.
  • You can usually download the university or college prospectus from the university website.

So what happens when this is all done, exams are over, and you're waiting to hear back? Read about CAO offers here.

For more information on the CAO, visit

For more information on UCAS visit

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Published January 8th, 2014
Last updated January 11th, 2018
Tags education college university
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