Thursday 22 February 2018

Random selection -- the painful barrier to a place on your course

Of all the ways of losing a college place, random selection must be the most painful. On CAO points charts, an asterisk or star sign after a cut-off point for a course indicates that random selection applied for the last places on that course.

Random selection means that the cut-off was made somewhere in the list of applicants who tied on the last points.

All applicants to any course are allocated a random number by CAO in respect of their application to that course.

If a number of applicants tie on the same points, they are ranked in order of their random number. Let us suppose that there are 100 places on a course, all applicants are ranked in order of their points merit, and that applicants 94 to 106 on the list are all on the same points. This means that there are 93 people ahead of the cut, and there are seven places left on the course, and 13 applicants all in line for them, sharing the same points, but now ranked within that group in order of their randomly generated number.

So the cut-off point is drawn after the hundredth applicant on the list, and the six below the cut-off are not offered places. They are, however, next in line for an offer if there are vacancies on the course after all those receiving offers have indicated their acceptance.

Random selection only affects applicants tying on the cut-off point. If your points are above the cut-off point, you are offered the place. So it is not as big a problem as students sometimes believe it to be, but it is very disappointing when you lose a place in this way.

Q I had the cut-off points for my first preference course, but I did not get an offer, because it was random selection. What are my chances of getting an offer of that course in the second round?

A Unfortunately, no one can guarantee you anything yet on that course in the second round. It all depends on whether people refuse their first-round offers, how many people are tying on the random point, and what is your position in that group.

Q If college admissions officers sometimes make more offers than there are places, as we understand happens, why do they not just offer to all applicants tying on a point, instead of operating random selection?

A When college admissions officers make offers on any course, they build in an anticipated refusal rate, built on their years of experience. In the very highly competitive courses, they know that the refusal rate will be very low.

There are courses where the numbers are so tightly controlled, particularly in courses like medicine, dentistry, nursing, other healthcare areas like physiotherapy, occupational therapy, radiography, and some teaching courses, that the colleges do not have the facility to offer one extra place.

College admissions officers do not like when random selection happens, and nobody is happier than they are when they can make offers to all applicants on the same points. But they cannot overfill the courses.

Q How many courses were affected this year?

A Somewhere over 90 of the 850 courses on the Level 8 (Honours degree) list showed a star indicating that random selection applied.

In the seven universities, NUI Maynooth showed no random selection (they do not offer healthcare courses), there were four in DCU, six in UCC, eight in UL, 10 in UCD, 11 in NUI Galway, and more than 30 courses in Trinity.

Trinity takes in small numbers to many of its course options, even apart from its healthcare courses, so random selection applies more often.

Random selection is much less common on the Level 6/7 list, with about 12 courses affected by it from more than 420 on the list.

Irish Independent

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