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Applying for college

Darragh is in sixth year working towards his Leaving Certificate. He wrote a blog post for us, back in October and now at CAO time he tells us about his choices for college.

The Central Applications Office (CAO) form has become ever more important this year with talk of the return of the points race as the highest number of applicants ever are expected this year.

Mixed emotions

The term CAO stirs up a mixture of emotions for me; excitement about college, worry about the leaving cert and a lot of confusion.

Different process

In some ways our college application system is a lot easier than other countries’. In the US, you have to apply to individual colleges, each with their own application form, including numerous essays, with an application fee of $50-80. In the UK, through UCAS, students can apply for only five courses, and have to write one essay.


Even though the CAO process is one form there can be a lot of confusion about how it works. There are some important facts everyone needs to know before they fill out their CAO form:

  1. If you are offered a course all of your other preference will not be offered to you. If you get your first choice this is the only choice you will be offered.
  2. Put your chosen courses in order of preference. If you really want to do science put it first even if you don’t think you’ll get the points. If you do get the points and it’s fifth on your list and are then offered anything above it you can say goodbye to the lab-coats and test tubes.
  3. Pay attention to which courses are restricted e.g. medicine, music, drama, etc. These need to be on the form before 1 February to facilitate interviews, aptitude tests etc.

First choice

At the moment I only have one course down – economics and maths in Trinity – but that’s OK as I’ve registered and I can change my mind up until 1 July. I’m pretty certain this will stay as my first choice so I just have to figure out what’s going to follow it.

Register now

School is very stressful at the moment (stay tuned for a mocks related blog!) and really this CAO business is the last thing on my mind. I suggest that you register for it now and put in one or two courses you are sure about.

You can put in a late application until 1 May and then a change a submission up until 1 July. Use your free time, like mid-term or Easter, to think about where you are headed and fill the form out then.

Think about what you want

Remember that the CAO is not the be-all and end-all that it is made out to be. It will only affect the next four years of your life!

The most important thing to consider when filling out the form is yourself. Think about what you want to do not about what you think you’ll get the points for.

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