Higher Options career talks: applying to the CAO

All you need to know about deadlines, putting courses in the right order and changing your mind

The Central Applications Office (CAO) processes applications to undergraduate courses for colleges and universities, issues course offers to students and records their acceptance.

However, there are some crucial steps you need to be aware of to ensure your application is processed correctly.

1. First of all, be aware of deadlines

Closing dates and times are strict, so it’s key to take action in time. there could always be issues with internet connection, devices used to apply and so on. As an incentive to apply earlier, early applicants get a discount on their application fee.


2. Apply

Applications can be filled at cao.ie/apply, where students are required to insert personal details and qualifications.

3. Beware of messages in your ‘junk’ folder

After the first steps are completed, a CAO application number will be sent via email. It is essential to keep it safe as it will be required for every login and used for correspondence. Email addresses need to be verified too, and it’s important to add CAO address in your contacts to avoid missing correspondence in junk emails.

4. Keep options open

When choosing courses, keep in mind that “Level 8″ courses are honours degrees and “Level 6/7″ courses are ordinary degrees or higher certificates.

Up to ten courses can be selected for each of the two lists, although at the offer stage students can only accept courses from one of the two lists.

5. Placing courses in genuine order of preference

This is crucial. CAO communications officer Eileen Keleghan says students often place their courses by guessing what points they’ll get or how many students will apply for the same courses, but this can lead to them being offered a course they don’t want.

“Your dream course has to be in the first place, your second favourite in the second and so on. You can’t predict any other factors,” says Keleghan.

In fact, CAO allows you to accept a course of higher preference even if you’ve already accepted a previous offer, but doesn’t allow you to take an offer from a lower preference course when you’ve already received an offer from a course you listed higher.

6. Change of mind

The “change of mind” facility is very useful as it allows students to edit their courses list between May and July. To learn more details about CAO applications, a CAO handbook is available on their website.

Video recorded in 2021

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