Wednesday 17 January 2018

Have a back-up plan when filling in the CAO

Going to college...

Guidance counsellor Aoife Walsh
Guidance counsellor Aoife Walsh

Aoife Walsh

Hopefully, Leaving Cert students have returned to school this week feeling energised. Conversations in school are now probably focused on preparing for the mocks and filling in the CAO form.

Regardless of whether last term was a roaring success or students recognise that they could have done better, there is still time to get plenty of study done and do a good job on the CAO form, as long as the student maintains, or introduces, solid study habits and focuses on careers research.

Deciding what order to place your course in on the CAO is no easy task and requires careful consideration. It is essential that all students fill out the CAO in genuine order of preference but it can be difficult to decide what is your order of preference.

When filling out the form, research is of the utmost importance. Unfortunately every year students guess the contents of the course from the title, or presume that courses with similar titles, in different colleges, will have similar content. However, this is not always the case. Applicants should thoroughly research their choices using the college websites, and literature as well as, and

A common mistake that applicants make is thinking that they must apply for the highest point courses possible.

Sometimes students talk about not wanting to 'waste' their points and only look at courses whose cut-off points last year are similar to the points they expect to achieve. However, it is more important that students apply for courses they feel that they will enjoy and which will suit them.

It can be very helpful to talk about possible choices with people who know you well. Parents, friends and relatives can all help with insight into what might suit you well, or make suggestions you have not yet considered. Remember, the points are based on supply and demand and not on how difficult, interesting or suitable that course will be for a particular student.

Don't rule out courses because you know or have heard of someone else who had a bad experience or dropped out. The most common reason for dropping out of third-level courses is that the content, college or material was not what the student expected. Just because a course did not suit another person does not mean that it is not the right course for you.

It is always surprising how many students apply for courses without having ever visited the institution or completing proper research.

So listen to the opinions of others, but also listen carefully to their reasons for leaving a course, and make your decisions based on what is right for you.

Always ensure that a first preference course is your 'dream' course, even if you are uncertain whether or not you will achieve the required points. The CAO cannot offer you a course for which you have not applied.

Once you have filled in your CAO form in genuine order of preference, it may be helpful to check that there are one or two courses listed for which you are sure you will make the entry requirements (essential subjects/grades).

These can be considered your 'banker' courses. It may be a risk to apply only for very high points courses, with no back-up plan.

Finally, students should ensure that they have made full use of both the Level 7/6 and Level 8 lists. These lists will be considered completely separately and means that students may receive two offers in August, one from each list, giving them choice.

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

Important dates


Mature student CAO Info Session - Cork IT

OMG We're Going Dutch: Meet Dutch Universities - ECom Centre, Ennis

CAO Info Evening - Maynooth University


NUI Galway Info Evening - Radisson Blu Hotel, Letterkenny


Open Day - Liberties College


Open Day - Dun Laoghaire IADT

Course & CAO info Morning - Dundalk IT

Open Day - Mary Immaculate College

Open Event - Pulse College

Open Day - UL


Application Deadline - UCAS


HEAR and DARE Clinic - University College Cork


Open Day - Crumlin College of FE

Lifelong Learning & CAO Options - Galway-Mayo IT Castlebar

CAO Info Evening - IT Sligo

Parents Info Evening - University College Cork

FETAC Science, Computer Science, Ag & Food Science Open Day - UCD


Open Day - Blackrock FE Institute

CAO mature student and parents Info Evening - DCU

Open Evening - Dublin Business School

Open Day - Griffith College Dublin

Open Evening - IT Tallaght

Open Evening - Irish College of Humanities and Applied Science

Mature student Open Evening - NUI Galway

HEAR & DARE Clinic - UCC

Engineering Open Evening - UCD

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