Friday 24 May 2019

Help, I don't have a CAO offer... what can I do?

Queen's University, Belfast. Even if a student has not applied for college in the UK or Northern Ireland, it is possible to submit an application now through 'clearing'. Photo: PA
Queen's University, Belfast. Even if a student has not applied for college in the UK or Northern Ireland, it is possible to submit an application now through 'clearing'. Photo: PA

Aoife Walsh

Some CAO applicants will be disappointed that they didn't get a desired course, and some won't have any offer at all. This can be devastating and it is likely that trying to figure out the next step will be stressful.

Other Leaving Cert students did not apply to college at all and are now wondering if it is too late. No, it's not. There are plenty of opportunities for anyone still seeking a college place.

CAO Available Places

If any CAO course still has places available after all offers have been issued, then that course will be listed in the 'Available Places' section of the CAO website. If an applicant has not received a CAO offer, or would like to be considered for one of these courses in a further round, they may apply for Available Places. It is important that candidates check they hold all necessary entry requirements for each course for which they want to apply.

There is no charge for CAO applicants. They should log into the CAO website using their CAO number and password. In order to apply for Available Places, applicants should create a new order-of-preference list including any Available Places courses and any courses from their original CAO list for which they would like to be considered in future rounds.

Students may apply even if they have not previously completed a CAO application. First-time applicants will need to create an account and pay a registration fee of €45.

The Available Places list is updated regularly so students should keep checking.

Private colleges

There are a large number of courses in private colleges currently listed on the Available Places list at

These courses are in a range of areas including business, acting, psychology, law, computing, etc .

Private colleges list many of their courses on the CAO, but they also run excellent courses to which applicants can apply directly. There are over 50 direct-entry courses listed on the website, in both private institutions and universities. Many of these courses are happy to continue to accept applications.

If students are interested in pursuing study at a private college, they should contact the colleges. Fees are approximately €5,000; however, tax relief at 20pc is available. Given that the student contribution fee will be €3,000 this year, the private education sector is becoming a more realistic option for many families. Private colleges include Griffith College and Dublin Business School.

Many such courses place weight on experience - rather than simply exam results - when assessing applicants and give all students the opportunity to gain real-world experience. For example, Griffith College is now offering credit for students who complete legal work, as well as the opportunity to work on the Innocence Project. Students may earn up to 10 credits for this work.

More information can be found online and at college open days.

Post Leaving Cert courses

It may be possible to gain a place on your desired CAO course in 2019 by spending this academic year taking a further education (FE) course (commonly referred to as a PLC, or post-Leaving Certificate course).

These courses are generally one or two years in duration. They allow the students to study a specific area of interest and use their results from this course to compete in the CAO for a reserved place in a university or institute of technology.

As well as acting as a stepping stone to college, without having to worry about points, FE courses aim to prepare students for direct entry into the workplace.

There is a wide variety of courses, from hairdressing, media and art to pre-university science, engineering and accountancy, and many more.

There are over 700 courses listed on the CAO that will consider any PLC course for entry, and most PLC courses will lead to a possible entry to multiple CAO courses.

These PLC colleges have been holding interviews and offering places since January, so many are full or have waiting lists. However, there are likely to still be places available in a number of courses in each college, and they will be holding interviews in the coming days and weeks.

FE colleges are run by local ETBs and are located all over the country. Interested students should contact their local college and find out which courses are still accepting applicants and when interviews will be held.

Study in the UK

UCAS is the UK and Northern Ireland equivalent to the CAO. However, requirements for entry into courses can be very different from the requirements of Irish colleges. Even if a student has not applied for college in the UK or Northern Ireland, it is possible to submit an application now through 'clearing' - a process by which places that have not yet been filled, or have been turned down, are available for application.

Some courses that are very popular in Ireland, such as nursing, often appear in the 'clearing' process in the UK. More information is available at It is always helpful to phone the admissions office of any college you are considering, to discuss your application. This will make the process much quicker and clearer.

Study in Europe

Universities all over Europe offer courses through English, even in countries where English is not the main language. Many of these courses have lower entry requirements than Irish courses, as well as low fees.

There are currently a range of courses, taught through English, available in the Netherlands, Italy and Poland, amongst other countries. These include business engineering and even medicine. For more information, students should see or EUNICAS is an applications service which will assist students in applying for third-level courses in Europe.

Irish Independent

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