Every year when answering queries from students and parents on CAO I hear the same thing…. “I know this is a silly question but….” My answer is simple – there is no such thing as a silly question when it comes to CAO. Understanding how the CAO process works is essential and your decision about what courses to include are very important, so always double check if you are unsure or unclear about something. Better to do that than to regret it later. Last week I covered the main deadlines, this week focuses on questions sent in by students and parents.



How do I register for CAO?

Log on to www.cao.ie and click on Apply. It will ask you first to input your personal and contact details along with the category of applicant you are. Once you create a password and submit payment you receive your CAO number which means you are registered. It is advisable to go through the Demo Version of the CAO form first which is available on their website in the ‘Student Resources’ section.

Do I have to have my courses in by January 20?

No, this early deadline is to avail of the discounted application fee of €30. After this deadline the cost is €45. Once you have registered you have until February 1 to add and change your courses. This online ‘Change of Course Choices’ facility is free, but it closes on February 1 at 5.15pm.


How many courses must I include?

You have the option of filling in 20 courses in total – 10 choices on Level 8 (Honours Bachelor Degrees) and 10 on Level 7/6 (Ordinary Bachelor Degrees/Higher Certificates) and it is advisable to fill as many as you can to give yourself the best chance of being offered a place on a course you like. It is essential though that you research carefully all the courses you are going to include. Often students are careful about their first couple of choices but don’t research the courses that are further down the list well enough. Don’t make this mistake. Every course you put down should be one that you are genuinely interested in and willing to do so consider all options carefully.


The courses I am interested in are all Level 8, do I have to fill up options on Level 7/6?

You don’t have to but it is a really good idea to do so. By filling up both lists you give yourself a strong chance of being offered two courses. Both lists operate separately so it is much better to be getting two offers instead of one.


Do I put the courses down in order of last year’s points or in order of preference?

In order of preference! This is the golden rule of the CAO and a very common mistake made by students every year. Always put down your courses in order of preference, not in the order of the points from the previous year. Points for courses change each year and you will not know the points for 2021 until the day that the Round 1 offers are issued by CAO, which is usually a couple of days after the Leaving Cert results come out. Also, you don’t know what points you are going to get until those results come out and it will be too late to make changes to your CAO application at that stage.


Can I make changes after the February 1 deadline?

Yes, but there are restrictions. The online ‘Change of Mind’ facility, which is free reopens, on May 5 and from then students can make whatever changes they want to course choices with some restrictions, up to July 1 at 5.15pm which is the absolute deadline – no changes can be made after that! What you need to watch out for are courses which are marked as ‘restricted’ in the CAO handbook. There aren’t a lot of them but these courses will require some other form of assessment apart from Leaving Cert subjects and points such as an aptitude test or a portfolio. Such assessments are carried out between February and April hence the need to have them included before February 1 deadline. Other than those courses you will have the freedom to make whatever changes you want up to the Change of Mind deadline on July 1 at 5.15pm.


I don’t know if I want to go to college, should I fill up the CAO form anyway?

That is completely up to you. There are plenty of other pathways that students take such as post-Leaving Cert courses, apprenticeships, traineeships and direct entry courses (which will be covered in future articles). At this stage of the year most students want to keep as many options open as possible in which case they register for CAO just to keep the option open. You may decide to go a different route but if there is a chance you may be interested in taking up a place in an institute of technology or a university in 2021, it’s a good idea to register at this stage rather than regret it later on.