THE race for a college place is at its strongest ever after the CAO received a record 73,063 applications.
It is likely to lead to an increase in the Leaving Certificate points needed for courses where the demand far exceeds the supply of places.
It will be some weeks before the CAO provides a breakdown of applications for different academic disciplines, which will give indications as to where competition is keenest.
Demand for different areas of study can vary from year to year, often depending on where students, or their parents, think that the jobs will be by the time they graduate.
The record figure is for applications received by the CAO by its main deadline of February 1 – and is likely to rise further as late applications come in, as is usually the case.
The 73,063 represents a jump from previous record levels of 71,000-72,000 for each of the past four years – and a whopping 10,000 increase from 63,868 only six years ago.
The soaring number of CAO applications reflects record numbers of second-level pupils staying on to sit the Leaving Certificate, as well as a return to education by mature students.
A Department of Education report, published today, shows that more than 90pc of pupils who started in second level in 2007 sat the Leaving Certificate in 2012 or 2013.
It is the second year in a row that completion rates have hit 90pc and the figures are up from about 82pc of those who started in second level a decade previously, in 1997.
There will be a particular welcome for the huge increase in numbers of students in disadvantaged areas sitting the Leaving Cert – now at 80pc, compared with 68pc six years ago.
Secondary schools that are traditionally run by the religious have, on average, the highest retention rates, but the gap between those and other second-level schools is closing.
Girls continue to be more likely to do the Leaving Certificate but a significant increase over the past decade of 15pc in the number of teenage boys finishing school is another feature of the report.
According to the Report on Retention Rates of Second Level Schools, Meath has the highest Leaving Certificate retention rate at 92.94pc, followed by Mayo at 92.93pc.
The ongoing rise in CAO applications is a good news story that will be welcomed as bringing benefits to individuals, society and the economy.
But the big question now is how the third-level sector will cope with the surging demand – which is set to keep growing for at least a decade.
Over the past five years, the number of first-level enrolments to the country's third-level colleges has risen from 40,000 to 46,000.
The 15pc rise in third-level entrants has come at a time when state funding has fallen by 15pc, and colleges say that they are stretched to capacity.
College heads insist that the system needs more funding if they are to deal with the growth in student numbers without compromising quality.