SOURCE: The Irish Times (edited)

Sixth year is a stressful time for all so here is some advice on how to apply for universities, ITs and other institutes of further education through the CAO (Central Applications Office)


Q How should I go about making these choices?

A You need to be aware of the courses on offer. The CAO handbook for 2016-2017 was printed in summer 2015 and is based on information from the colleges which operate through the CAO system. Since then, many courses have been withdrawn, amended or added by the colleges. The CAO website,, has an up-to-date list of these amendments. To examine the current list of courses on offer through the CAO, including programme details, check

A drop-down menu classifies every course under these headings: administration/business; agriculture/horticulture; architecture; art/design; arts/social science; built environment; dentistry; education; engineering/technology; human medicine; law; nursing; other healthcare; pharmacy; physiotherapy; science; applied science; and veterinary medicine.

Explore your options within these classifications. There are also guides to different career areas in the following pages of this supplement which will be useful. No matter what points you get in your Leaving Cert or through your PLC course, there are courses on offer from colleges at higher certificate, ordinary and honours degree levels, to suit your circumstances.

Q I know where to find information on all the courses; how do I apply it to myself?

A Most students have been through this process with their school guidance counsellor over the past year. If you are still uncertain, follow these steps:

Take the interest inventory on and and see if they highlight any areas of particular interest to you.

Re-read the results of other interest inventory or differential aptitude tests you undertook in the past two to three years. They may point in the direction of one or more of the 17 course groupings listed.

Look at your results over the past few years, including the results of your Junior Cert. Are you performing above your average in one or more subjects? These subjects may be the ones to pursue in an undergraduate course.

Reflect on any work experience in transition year or the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme to see whether it enthused or discouraged your interest in a particular occupation or career path.

Reflect on the subjects you have just taken in your Leaving Cert or other examinations. Which ones did you enjoy studying most? Which ones did you most enjoy writing about in the exam hall over the past two weeks?

The answers to all of the above questions may help you to narrow your course choices down to a relatively small number of options.

Q Where can I find career-specific information to help me to finalise my choices?

A One of the most helpful resources for exploring career options is the Careers Portal site, . This site also has an interest inventory, which will help match your courses to areas you are interested in. The interest inventory results may well open your mind to possibilities you hadn’t considered. Many of us have preconceived notions, which are often inaccurate, of what particular occupations involve.

If you are interested in listening to people talking about what a particular job really entails, the site has more than 100 employees of major Irish employers talking about the realities of their day-to-day work. With unemployment currently at just under 10 per cent, access to a site where employers are promoting opportunities in their companies or industry is of benefit to those interested in the labour market, whether school leavers looking down the line, or adult CAO applicants considering a career change.

Remember, features links to all colleges offering places, as well as the online application system to register the change-of-mind option.

Q What if I am happy with the choices I made in January?

A For those comfortable with their initial choice of courses and their order, all you need to do is check your list against the latest published list of courses on offer from the CAO. Ensure all your courses are still on offer and that there are no new ones you might like to consider. Make sure you still meet all the subject, and level of subject, entry requirements. If you are uncertain about these, go to the subject choice module on the Qualifax website, where the entry requirements for all courses are outlined.

If, for example, you dropped from higher to ordinary level maths recently, you may have forgotten a grade C at higher level is a minimum requirement for some choices. If some courses are no longer open to you, remove them now from your list. After reviewing your choices, if you are happy with your application, you need take no further action. You do not need to communicate in any way with the CAO.

Q I applied for the five level 8 medical degree programmes and took my HPat assessment test in March. Do I need to do anything else?

A You will get the result of your HPat the week after the Leaving Cert is over. This assessment is marked out of 300. Your performance in the Leaving Cert, up to a maximum of 550 points plus one extra point for every five you score over 550 – up to the maximum CAO score of 625 – will be added to your HPat score, to give a possible maximum score of 865 points.

Applicants with the highest combined points will secure a place at one of the five colleges offering medical degrees. I would advise anyone who has used up their first five level 8 choices to list undergraduate medical degrees, to use options six to 10 to list five other degree programmes, which you may consider if you do not get a place in medicine.

Every year, more than 1,000 applicants to the CAO, with points scores over 500, don’t get any offer of a place because they didn’t list any course with less than 500 points. Remember, any graduate with a 2:1 or better in a level 8 degree can apply for a postgraduate medical place. This may be an alternative route into medicine if you fail to secure a place this year.

Q What if I want to change my order of preference, or add new course choices to my existing CAO application?

A Many students in the middle of sixth year are unclear about what they want to study in college and use the January application as a holding exercise.

This is the time to make your final choices, but bear in mind you are not selecting an occupation for the rest of your life. You are just choosing areas of academic study you would enjoy over the next three or four years.

Remember, half of all undergraduates take a postgrad course immediately following their undergrad study, to start the first step on their career ladder. Now, however, is not the time to contemplate that step, which may be five or six years away.


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