Going to college: Once you get a CAO offer, you can’t take up a preference lower on your list
So, you have worked hard researching courses. You have attended all the open days and read all the prospectuses. You have ruled out a large number of courses and found a significant number of 'maybes.' What's next? Now it is time to fill out your order of preference on the CAO form.
Hopefully, by now, applicants have a reasonably significant number of courses for which they wish to be considered. Between 10 and 20 is very helpful but in reality it is better to have too many than too few.
Some of these courses may be what we like to call 'dream' courses, some courses may be compromises that will assist the applicant in achieving their career goals and some may be 'just in case' courses that the applicant feels are a safety net.
Applicants should begin by reviewing the descriptions of all courses in which they are interested. Course details can be easily confused, so ensuring you are familiar with the 'ins' and 'outs' can be very helpful.
Next, applicants should ask themselves: "If points were no problem which of these courses would I choose?" Whatever the answer to this question might be, this can be considered the applicant's 'dream' course. This should be listed in the first position on the CAO form, even if the applicant feels that the minimum points may be beyond their reach.
The applicant should then ask themselves: "If I did not receive an offer for this course which would be the next best option?" This course should be placed in the second position, and so on until all spaces have been filled or the applicant has run out of courses.
By completing the form in this way, the applicant will receive an offer for the course they wanted the most as long as they meet the entry requirements, in terms of subjects and grades, and make the cut-off points. It is essential that applicants do not make the mistake of placing what were high points courses in 2017 high on their list, simply because they don't want to "waste points".
Firstly, points change year-on-year but, secondly and more importantly, applicants run the risk of receiving an offer for a course which they do not really want or missing out on a place on a course they would prefer and for which they achieve the required points.
Every August, I am contacted by students who wish to change their offer for a course they have listed lower on their list. These applicants point out that they have achieved enough points and entry requirements, but it is not possible to be offered a course lower down the list.
The only way to ensure that applicants will not be disappointed is to complete the CAO list in genuine order of preference. Even if they feel they may not achieve the points for their desired course, they should list it on their CAO.
It is impossible to know what the points will be in August and applicants will be disappointed if they achieve the required points and they have not listed the course. Similarly, applicants should avoid listing their courses in order of last year's cut-off points as points can change dramatically from year to year.
Aoife Walsh is a guidance counsellor at Malahide Community School, Co Dublin