Saturday 16 December 2017

Going to college: Pick courses in genuine order of preference

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

Aoife Walsh

The importance of choosing courses in genuine order of preference when filling out the CAO form cannot be over-emphasised. It is essential to order preferences correctly, so as to avoid frustration and unnecessary disappointment.

The way the CAO operates, come August, an applicant gets an offer for the highest listed preference to which they are entitled, whether that be their first choice or a later choice.

It sometimes happens that when a student gets an offer, they decide they don't want it and would prefer the one below for which they meet the requirements. That's where frustration comes in.

But, once an offer is made, an applicant cannot get an offer for any course listed below it; those courses effectively disappear from the application.

However, it is possible to get an offer for a higher placed course if vacancies become available in later rounds because another applicant hasn't take up an offer.

Students should not rule out courses because they know or have heard of someone else who had a bad experience or dropped out. Just because a course did not suit another person does not mean that it is not the right course for them.

Many students apply for courses without having ever visited the institution or completing proper research. So listen to others' opinions, but also listen carefully to their reasons for leaving and make your decisions based on what is right for you.

If students are confused about their choices it may be helpful to make an appointment with the school guidance counsellor. This will be a little different from the initial appointment with the guidance counsellor, as, for most students, the goal of this appointment is to give them a starting point to continue research. At this stage of the process a meeting with a guidance counsellor can assist a student in organising their thoughts and worries without bias.

The CAO application has two parts. Firstly applicants must register and pay the fee and this can be done even if students have not made a decision about their courses.

If an applicant registers by January 20 then the fee will be €25, between January 20 and February 1 the fee will increase to €40. Applicants should begin the process as early as possible; they can continually log in and make changes up to the February 1 deadline.

However, it is also important to bear in mind that there will be an opportunity for applicants to change their mind between May and July so they should try not to become overwhelmed in the weeks ahead.

It is possible to register as a late applicant between February 1 and May 1. However, at this stage the fee will be €50 and the applicant will not be able to apply for some restricted entry courses.

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

Question: What happens if I don't get my first choice offer? 

Aoife replies: When the first round offers is issued in August, each CAO applicant receives the highest course they have listed in their order of preference, for which they have made all entry requirements and are above the points cut-off. Generally, applicants achieving the points cut-off also get an offer, but in cases where there are more eligible applicants than places, there is random selection.

If you receive an offer for your first preference you will not receive any more offers as you have indicated that you would like this course more than any other.

If you receive an offer for a course that you have listed as a lower preference, the CAO may still offer you a higher preference but only if a place becomes available in a later round. If this happens, it is because another candidate turned down an offer, so there are no guarantees.

Important dates


Open Day - Blackrock FE Institute

Mature Student CAO Info Evening - Cork IT

General Open Day - DBS

CAO Info Evening - DCU

CAO Open Evening - IADT

CAO Info Evening - Maynooth University

Mature Students Info Evening - NUI Galway

Engineering Open Evening-UCD


Online Open Event - DIT

DARE & HEAR Clinic - Ferrycarrig Hotel, Wexford

NUI Galway Info Evening - Cavan Crystal Hotel


Open Day - Liberties College

UCAS - Application deadline


Open Day - BIMM Institute Dublin

CAO Info Morning - Dundalk IT

Open Day - ICHAS

DARE / HEAR Advice clinics. See

Open Day Maynooth University - Kilkenny Campus

Open Day - University of Limerick


Parent Info Evening UCC


Open Day - Crumlin College of FE nOpen Evening DBS

DARE & HEAR Clinic Woodlands Hotel Waterford

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