Going to College: CAO is open for applications — now is a good time to start the process of filling out the form
Since last Monday, Leaving Cert students and, indeed, any person who is interested in starting college next September can register with the CAO and begin filling out their form.
I always push students to begin this process as early as possible. There is no benefit to waiting and, in my experience, once applicants get going, they are reassured by how simple it is.
The most difficult part of completing a CAO application is not the actual process of filling out the form, but deciding the courses for which to apply.
I have to admit that each year a large number of applicants, including my own students, fail to follow the advice to start early. Students delay because they have not yet decided which courses they would like to list or the order in which they will place them.
The great thing about filling out the CAO form online is that the applicant does not have to make a decision about when the form is completed. There is no send button and there is no piece of information that cannot be changed by the candidate before the submission date. Whatever is entered on it on February 1 is the information with which the CAO will work.
Since the CAO opened on Monday, it is possible for applicants to set up an account into which they can log as many times as they like. And from now until February 1, they can make as many changes to their form as they like.
To get started, applicants will need to register and pay their fee. For 2018/19, the standard application fee is €45, discounted to €30 for any applicant who registers by January 20.
On the form, applicants will be asked to complete their 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, they will receive their CAO number. The number is important as applicants will need it for logging into their form and all dealings with the CAO, as well as other CAO-related activities, such as applying for the HPAT aptitude test for medicine, or submitting a portfolio.
The applicant may log into their account as often as they wish to enter application details, apply for programmes such as the HEAR or DARE, and to enter and remove courses.
At this stage, it is unlikely that applicants will have more than one or two courses for their application. However, it is not necessary to enter any courses at the moment, although that should not prevent students from getting started. On the plus side, entering a few courses now, safe in the knowledge they can be removed at a later date, can help reduce an individual's stress around this process.
The danger is that by not starting the process of entering courses and thinking about order of preference, many students end up in the situation where, on February 1, their form has no course choices. While February 1 is the deadline for registration, and courses and their order of preference can be entered later, it is far from the ideal situation.
Even though there is nothing preventing applicants from delaying entering course choices, 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 students are also preparing for final exams in June. It is not wise to attempt to make such important decisions while there are so many competing demands, and perhaps stress, in a student's life. Also, after February 1, there are certain restrictions about applying for some courses.
But, most importantly, choosing a course or a career is not a lightbulb-like decision at which you will arrive if you wait long enough. It is a process, and one in which potential applicants should be engaged in every day.
Beginning that process early and revisiting it regularly minimises the danger of a rushed decision and, hopefully, will lead to applicants making the optimum choices.
Aoife Walsh is a guidance counsellor at Malahide Community School, Co Dublin