ENTHUSIASTIC students have snapped up over 44,000 college places already.
As the CAO Round One deadline passed this evening, 37,448 students who received offers last Monday accepted a course place.
That represents three in four of the 49,837 students who got a Round One offer and comes on top of earlier acceptances by other CAO applicants, including mature students and those who entering via further education, such as a Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) course.
Overall, college acceptance levels are slightly short of last year's all-time high after Round One, but they remain at record levels.
While Round One acceptances are down from 37,645 last year, the underlying strength in demand is evident when compared with the 36,392 acceptances at the same stage in 2010.
The collapse in school-leaver job opportunities as a result of the economic downturn, combined with a growing requirement for a third-level qualification for so-called "smart economy" jobs has fuelled the race for a college place.
This year has seen a particular surge in interest among students for study in science, technology, engineering and business.
CAO applications showed a shift away from more traditional careers areas such as teaching and healthcare, as public service cuts squeeze jobs and pay
Instead, there was a strong student focus on study linked to growth areas in the economy, which they clearly hope will translate into ready employment when they graduate in a few years time.
A rush to accept college places was evident once the offers were made last week, with 22,131 acceptances on the first day.
The CAO will make a second round of college offers on Thursday, and from then until the middle of October , colleges will continue to fill any remaining vacancies.
As well as the original applicants, the CAO is also processing late applications from students seeking to fill places for which the colleges did to get sufficient suitably qualified applicants initially.
With the number of school-leavers set to grow dramatically in coming years, the education system is braced for even higher demand for college education in the foreseeable future.
A feature of the CAO process this year is the growth in offers in, and acceptances for Level 8, honours degree courses, against a decline in Level 7/6 ordinary degree/higher certificate courses.
One of the focuses of the overhaul of the higher education system currently underway is to improve the offering of Level 7/6 courses, graduates of which are in demand from industry.