Thursday 21 November 2019

Aoife Walsh: Get the administrative part of the CAO form out of the way as early as possible


Guidance counsellor Aoife Walsh
Guidance counsellor Aoife Walsh
Aoife Walsh

Aoife Walsh

As of yesterday, the CAO is open for applications for the 2020/2021 academic year. This year, like every year, I will be encouraging all my students to open their applications as early as possible.

Students often delay initiating their application until they have a better idea of the courses for which they want to apply, and are more comfortable with their order of preference, but this is not necessary. The CAO form does not need to be completed in one sitting and, indeed, the most difficult part is selecting courses.

There is no benefit to waiting and, in my experience, applicants who begin the process immediately are reassured by how simple it is in reality. However, a large number of applicants, including my own students, fail to follow this advice.

There is no 'send' button on the CAO form. Whatever courses the applicant has listed on the closing date of February 1 is what the applicant will be entered for. In the meantime, completing the order of preference lists a number of times can be helpful in solidifying an applicant's decision.

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Therefore, potential applicants should get the administrative part of the form out of the way as early as possible and then focus on courses and research.

To get started, applicants will need to register and pay their fee. The CAO application fee is discounted to €30 for any applicant who registers before 5.15pm, January 20. After that, up to February 1, it is €45.

In the 'Apply' section on, they will be asked to furnish personal details and enter credit/debit card details or the number from their bank giro. If an applicant would like to pay by bank giro, they should contact their school guidance counsellor and ask them to request one from the CAO on their behalf. Once they have done this, applicants will receive their CAO number. This is a very important number, which they will use to log in to their CAO form and in all dealings with the CAO, as well as other CAO-related activities, such as applying for the HPAT or submitting a portfolio.

The applicant can log into their account as often as they wish. They may enter application details, apply for programmes such as the HEAR or DARE, and enter and remove courses. At this stage, it is unlikely that applicants will have more than one or two courses in mind for their application and this is the main reason reported by my students for not beginning their application earlier.

However, as it is not necessary to enter any courses at this stage, this should not prevent students from getting started. Entering a few courses, safe in the knowledge they can be removed at a later date, can help reduce an individual's stress around this process.

By avoiding thinking about the order of preference, many students end up in the situation where they submit their form with no course choices for the February 1 deadline. This is far from the ideal situation, but each year, many applicants do just that.

While there is nothing preventing them from doing this, the spring term of sixth year is, at times, overwhelming for even the most prepared student. Deadlines, mocks and orals arrive in quick succession, while preparations for the June exams are also continuing. It is not wise to attempt to make such important decisions while there is so much stress in your life.

Even if an applicant was to make good decisions about their future at this time, they will have excluded themselves from restricted entry courses.

But, most importantly, choosing a course or a career is not a light-bulb moment you will arrive at if you wait long enough. It is a process and one which you should be engaged every day.

Beginning the application early and returning to it often assists applicants in avoiding rushing this process and, as a result, make better decisions. There are various guides available in the Student Resources section of

Aoife Walsh is a guidance counsellor at Malahide Community School, Co Dublin


Q I would like to take Russian for my Leaving Cert as my family is originally from Russia. Is this possible as Russian is not taught in my school?

A Many students who have a second language at home take this for Leaving Cert, even if it is not taught in their school.

Popular subjects include Russian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish and Romanian.

Students should speak to the teacher who organises the State exams in their school and declare their wish to be included in this exam on their Leaving Cert form (the organising teacher normally circulates these in the spring).

Familiarise yourself with past papers as early as possible (available free on and do not presume because this language is spoken at home, you will pass.

This is especially true of students who are interested in taking Arabic, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Japanese or Russian, as these languages are on the Leaving Cert curriculum, i.e. they can be taught in schools.

Email Aoife at aoifewalsh@; Twitter @edguidance

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