'Don't knows' may be lacking support they need
Some 6,000 CAO applicants have registered with the centralised college admission service, but have not indicated their course preferences.
They represent 8.1pc of the record 74,424 CAO applicants, a further increase on the 4,983 (6.8pc) who had not made their choices at this time last year.
One of the strengths of the CAO process is that once registered, applicants have until July 1 to make their final choices. That is the end of what is known as the change of mind period, which opens in May and during which time applicants may either vary their earlier selection or enter choices for the first time.
This year has seen CAO applicant numbers rise to a record level of 74,424. That trend is set to continue for at least a decade as the school-going population grows and, on top of that, more second-level students stay on to do the Leaving Certificate.
But why are proportionately more of them uncertain about their choices? Is it a consequence of more students from families with no tradition of attending college taking the advice to pursue a degree, but not having the necessary support to help them make their choice?
Cuts in guidance counselling in recent years have been no help to such students. But even before those cuts, reports indicated that in some schools, such students were not getting the necessary direction.
There is the ongoing issue of the myriad of choices on the CAO, which only serves to confuse a lot of students.
This year there are 1,417 CAO courses, 929 Level 8 (honours) programmes and 491 at Level 7/6 (ordinary degree/higher certificate).
In a welcome development, Maynooth University has announced plans to cut its entry routes from 50 to about 20, allowing students to enter a common entry programme and specialise at the end of first year or second year. It follows a trend started by UCD some years ago, and, to date, UCD has reduced its entry routes to 43 for school-leavers. Other colleges have been slow to embrace such change.
If school-leavers are merely deferring choosing their course preferences until after the Leaving Certificate, when they will be more relaxed, that is fine.
But is the system an obstacle to students taking sensible decisions about which is the right course for them, and is it offering the appropriate supports to assist them in navigating the CAO web?
It may be time for the authorities to take heed of the "don't knows".