CAO applications down slightly on 2021 but still high as 78,162 apply for college place ahead of deadline

Deadline in race for college places passed at 5pm on February 1

Education Minister Normal Foley. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Katherine Donnelly

This year’s applications for college entry are slightly down on last year.

When the CAO standard deadline passed at 5pm yesterday, there were 78,162 applications, 1,141 fewer than 79,303 on the same day in 2021.

There is also provision for late entries and, last year, the final figure for applications was a record 84,817.

However, it is not likely that late applications will bring the final 2022 figure up to that level.

The CAO is expected to release a breakdown of applications by discipline next month and that will give an idea of the level of demand for particular subject areas this year, and where the likely pinch points will be.

If demand is up in an area, it often means that points for courses in that discipline will rise.

Extra college places were opened in 2020 and 2021 to take account of the grade inflation associated with the Leaving Certs in those years, and to minimise disappointment among students with high grades.

Those extra places remain in the system, and it remains to be seen whether any more will be provided this year.

Yesterday’s initial CAO applications figure offers no detail on the numbers applying from different categories, such as school-leavers or mature students, or how many have applied from the UK or EU countries.

Possible explanations for the dip in applications could be a fall among mature students and those who apply for a college place based on results from a post-Leaving Cert (PLC) course.

Leaving Cert candidate numbers are expected to rise this year in line with upward trends in the second-level population, so applications from that cohort would not be expected to drop.

While last year may have been a peak of sorts, the underlying trend in demand for entry to higher education is up. In 2017, there were 76,213 applications on February 1.

Last year, a surge in mature applicants was linked to the impact of the pandemic, with many using lockdown as an opportunity to rethink their careers and to pursue a change.

The pandemic has also affected traditional school-leaver patterns around post-Leaving Cert (PLC) courses.

Many students use PLCs as a fallback in the event they do not get their CAO offer of choice, but the opening of more college places in the past two years to adjust for the impact of the pandemic on Leaving Cert results has seen greater uptake in higher education courses.

If some students who would otherwise have done a PLC have gone straight to third-level in the past two years, it would affect application levels from the PLC sector in 2022.

The late-application facility opens between March 4 and May 1.

Applicants can also change their mind about course choices between May 5 and July 1 – a free facility used by about half of CAO applicants every year.

A second sitting of the Leaving Cert this year, due to start in early July, has been announced.

It will cater for students who may not be able to sit exams in June for reasons such as a bereavement, illness or because of public health advice relating to Covid.

Strict criteria will apply to the granting of any such concession.

Because of this, no date has yet been fixed for either the release of Leaving Cert results or CAO round 1 offers.

Traditionally, these are issued in the middle of August, but they have been delayed in the past two years because of the exceptional Leaving Certs due to the impact of Covid.

It is expected they will also be delayed this year because of the second sitting of exams.