Sky-high CAO points leave some top performing students without first choice

Some students may be disappointed with their results or CAO offers. Photo: Stock image


thumbnail: Some students may be disappointed with their results or CAO offers. Photo: Stock image
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Katherine Donnelly

Sky-high CAO points have left many of the best-performing Leaving Cert students without their top college choice.

Even school-leavers with 600 points and more have failed to secure a place across a range of hotly contested, elite courses.

In some cases, the minimum score necessary to get an offer in today’s CAO Round 1 was the maximum 625, which includes the 25 bonus points for higher maths.

Even then, not all students with 625 points got their No 1 choice.

After a record set of Leaving Cert results, the offers confirm that points for college entry have gone up across the board, with a small number of exceptions.

The CAO has issued a record 82,175 offers to 55,221 CAO applicants.

Half of the 49,358 offers for honours degree (Level 8) programmes were for the applicants’ first preference course and almost four in five were for one of their top three preferences.

While those patterns are in line with previous years, it has never happened that so many students with the highest scores didn’t get their top choice.

At Trinity College Dublin, there are now nine courses requiring more than 600 points, including medicine, which always commanded the maximum.

Even at that, not all students who have achieved the cut-off for their course are being offered a place today. Points for all nine 600-plus courses come with an asterisk, which means places were offered on the basis of random selection.

The manner in which points have rocketed for already high-points courses at Trinity can be seen here:

:: Management Science and Information Systems Studies 625, up 12 points from 2020;

:: Dental Science 625*, up 12 points;

:: Pharmacy 613*, up 23 points;

:: Global Business 613*, up 24 points;

:: Philosophy, Political Science, Economics and Sociology 613*, up 24 points;

:: Law and French 602*, 37 points;

:: Psychology 601*, up 34 points;

:: Human Health and Disease 601*, up 36 points.

:: Medicine 743* (including Hpat score), up 8.

Trinity Vice-Provost Prof Orla Sheils said this year’s Leaving Cert students have had a difficult year and the university looked forward to welcoming all students – new and existing – in the coming weeks for a more in-person campus experience than last year allowed.

“This year we have added 195 places across a range of courses to help meet demand. Still the rise in points for many courses was inevitable and reflects increased demand for undergraduate places,” she said.

At University College Dublin (UCD), students needed a minimum of 600 points for six courses, including medicine.

Points for entry to Ireland’s largest university have gone up by an average 40 when compared with the 2020 final round. The highest increases were in the arts and humanities – up 71 for DN520 BA Joint Honours (now 381) and DN530 Humanities (now 397).

UCD’s highest points course is Economics and Finance at 625* .It has 50 CAO places. The other five 600-plus courses at UCD also carry an asterisk, meaning that not everyone on that score has secured a place.

Other UCD programmes requiring more than 600 points are:

:: Actuarial and Financial Studies 613*

:: Veterinary Medicine 601*

:: Physiotherapy 601*

:: Biomedical, Health and Life Sciences 613*

:: Medicine 743* (including Hpat score)

Commenting on the sharp rise in points at the top, UCD Deputy President and registrar Professor Mark Rogers said the level of achievement reported in this year’s Leaving Certificate places means that points have increased across the university’s programmes.

“While we are delighted for students, it is not a sustainable position that entry to our degrees should require achievement of greater than 600 points,” Prof Rogers said. “In one case, achieving the maximum points possible in the Leaving Certificate does not guarantee students a place in their course of choice.”

The university stressed that it always sought to avoid random selection “but in these degrees, the large number of applicants on the cut-off point made it unavoidable when allocating against planned intake”.

At NUI Galway, points have risen across have increased for 65 of its 69 programmes:

:: About half of all programmes 30 saw an increase of more than 50 points

:: Five programmes saw an increase of more than 80 points this year (Arts with Creative Writing; Arts with Journalism; Computer Science & Information Technology; Mechanical Engineering; Podiatry)

:: Points increase for Biomedicine Biomedical Science.

:: Arts, Commerce, Science and Engineering have also all seen an increase in points.

An extra 4,620 college places were provided this year – and the majority of studnets will have achieve received their top choice or one of their top three.

But the additional capacity was not enough to satisfy student expectations in a year when Leaving Cert results reached a new pinnacle and raised school-leavers’ hopes.

Every year, CAO applicants fail to get a preferred offer, but it is unprecedented for so many school-leavers achieving perfect or near-perfect results to be disappointed.

The extraordinary set of Leaving Cert grades arose from the twin-track approach to assessment this year due to Covid disrupting the school year.

Students could opt for accredited grades based on estimated marks provided by teachers/schools, or sit exams, or both. Where students did both and there was difference they were accredited with the better result.

Teachers were generous, and the final shake out saw average grade inflation of 2.6pc – on top of 4.4pc last year – but that masked a much steeper increase in top grades.

The number of H1s doubled or trebled in many subjects, when compared with the average across 2017-2019.