A UK applicant expressed surprise at the simplicity of the CAO application system, saying he would have expected that an applicant would have to provide teachers' recommendations, predicted grades and personal statements, as is the case with the British application system, UCAS.
Unlike the UCAS system, the CAO system does not rely on such requirements.
Once applicants have met whatever specific course requirements may be required for the courses they are applying to, they are ranked in order of merit on the basis of their exam grades converted into "points", and the available places on a course are allocated in order of the applicants' scores.
A small number of courses have additional selection mechanisms, like portfolios for art and design, or aptitude tests for medicine, but the vast majority rely entirely on the Leaving Cert or other school leaving exam.
Irish Leaving Certificate applicants (or school-leaving applicants from abroad) will not know how they stand until all the results are in. Points are not set in advance.
Colleges work out "points" equivalences for school-leaving exams other than the Irish Leaving Certificate. Applicants from outside of Ireland should always contact the HEI in question.
The points system is regarded as a fair, but blunt, instrument, and one that cannot be manipulated through a "who you know" culture – a very important safeguard in a small country.
Nevertheless, there is ongoing debate on how to improve the process. Recent years have seen increased quotas for mature applicants; applicants with a FETAC qualification, and special access routes like DARE and HEAR for applicants with disability or socio-economic disadvantage.
As part of a process to establish if there is a better and a fairer way to offer college places, Trinity College Dublin is introducing a feasibility study in 2014. The university will introduce additional selection methods for some applicants to three courses: law, history, and ancient and medieval history and culture. Twenty-five places will be offered in the new admissions route.
Applicants in the feasibility study will be assessed in three ways: (1) Leaving Certificate results, (2) Relative Performance Rank (RPR) – the performance of the applicant relative to other applicants from their school; and (3) Personal and Contextual Data – provided via supplementary materials submitted by the applicant.
The information submitted will be sent to Trinity where it will be examined by professional readers, and will be presented for evaluation to an independent Admissions Review Committee.
All information, including Leaving Certificate results, will then go before a Final Review Committee consisting of internal and external representatives, where the final decision will be made about the allocation of the places.
Operating in partnership with CAO, all applications will be made completely anonymous to ensure the process is free from external influences.
Open days today: Dunboyne College of Further Education, Dunboyne, Co Meath, from 2pm-4pm. Marino College of Further Education, Marino, Dublin 3, from 11am-4pm.