6,275 applicants did not fill out course choices
A worrying rise in the number of CAO applicants who did not fill out their course choices is a feature of this year's figures.
Some 6,275 aspiring college students who registered with the CAO before the February 1 deadline did not list their preferences. It represents about 8pc of all applicants, a proportion that has been growing steadily over the past decade but most significantly in more recent years.
CAO applicants have until July 1 to submit their choices, but the large number of "don't knows" at this stage raises concerns about why students are not ready to fill out the form before the main deadline.
John McGinnity, admissions officer and assistant registrar at Maynooth University, said it was better for students to make an initial selection and then to adjust that, if necessary, during the Change of Mind period between May and July. He said not listing choices before the initial deadline also left applicants in a position where they could not apply for restricted entry courses.
Institute of Guidance Counsellors president Betty McLaughlin said she was shocked at the high figure, blaming it on cutbacks in guidance counselling in schools. According to Ms McLaughlin, over the past five years, thousands of second-level students have had to "go it alone when filling in CAO choices".
"While middle-class students are able to rely on help from parents, family and friends, students from less well-off backgrounds and immigrants, who relied heavily on the guidance counsellor for help, are losing out."
She said in 2007, 1.3pc of CAO applicants did not fill in their course choices before the February deadline, but this had now shot up to 8pc.
"We clearly have a very uneven and disjointed service", said Ms McLaughlin.