SCHOOL leavers are putting their faith in economic recovery as this year’s CAO applications reveal a bounce for courses in business, construction, engineering and technology.
Traditional professions such as law and architecture are also in high demand as a record number of applicants compete for sought-after college places.
In contrast, areas showing a downturn include arts, probably reflecting a greater focus on career opportunities now that the economy is on the upturn.
Demand for medicine has slipped for the third year in a row, likely linked to changes in the HPAT aptitude test applicants must sit as part of the college admissions process.
But other health courses such as dentistry, radiography and occupational therapy have seen a big rise in applications.
A swing back to primary teaching is another feature of this year’s applications, as students foresee growth in opportunities from burgeoning school enrolments and an end to cutbacks in education.
The boom in agriculture and science has ended with a drop in students putting them down as their top choices. After strong demand in recent years, interest in these areas may have found its level, or it may be that the rise in points has turned off some students.
In the swings and roundabouts of the CAO process, points tend to rise in disciplines showing increased demand – and to stay steady or fall where applications are down.
The CAO received a record 74,424 applications – up almost 2pc on the 73,091 last year. More than 6,000 of those applicants have not yet indicated their course preferences – but may still do so before July 1.
Among the 74,424 CAO applications are 10,763 from mature students - classified as those aged 23 or over - which is down 316 from last year.
That may be down to better availability of jobs, or greater options to enter college through other routes.
UCD has maintained its position as the college of first choice with 8,856 first preferences - although down about 300 on last year - compared with 7,862 for Trinity College Dublin (TCD), which is up 2pc on last year.
The 2015 CAO figures show the growing popularity of Level 8 (honours degree) courses, with a 1pc rise overall in applications compared with a 5pc drop in first preferences for Level 7/6 (ordinary degree/higher certificate) courses.
Against the overall 2pc rise in all CAO applications, honours degree construction-related courses show a dramatic 28pc increase in first preferences, although the numbers are still relatively low.
In a further sign that college applicants hope to ride the wave of a new building boom, first preferences for architecture are up almost 16pc. Meanwhile, law, another big casualty of the recession, is up almost 13pc.
While a number of healthcare degree courses have experienced an increase in demand, first preferences for nursing are down nationally by 2pc. There are an extra six first preference applications for medicine this year, representing an increase of 0.18pc, but when compared with the overall increase in applications, it represents a fall.
Engineering and technology courses have seen a steady rise in interest in recent years which has continued this year, with a 9pc increase. At Trinity College Dublin, engineering is up 13pc, while at Dublin City University (DCU) Common Entry Engineering is up 24pc.
Reflecting a national trend in business and law degrees, UCD has seen a 5pc rise in first preferences, with Economics and Finance up 28pc and pure Economics up 67pc, while interest in all business and law degrees at Maynooth University is up.
The biggest percentage drop nationally in applications is for agriculture/horticulture, with first preferences down almost 19pc from last year. At UCD, agriculture, including food science, has seen a 17pc fall in first preferences, but that comes on the back of 155pc growth in the past decade.
Against the downward trend in applications for science, DCU's Sports Science and Health programme saw an increase of 8pc in first preferences.
This year, DCU incorporates St Patrick's teacher training college, Drumcondra, the Church of Ireland College of Education and Mater dei Institute of Education, which has contributed to a record number of 5,500 first preferences for the northside university.
While education programmes generally show a modest 1.5pc rise in applications, there is evidence of a resurgence of interest in primary teaching, with double-digit growth for applications to St Patrick's.