Career choices as CAO closing date looms: Keep your options open

Career Advisor NIAMH DWYER of My Career Plan shares some advice as the CAO deadline approaches - how to apply to college and what other further education options are available
Career choices as CAO closing date looms: Keep your options open

Early registration for CAO is January 20, closing date is February 1.

JANUARY is a busy month for Leaving Certificate students. Preparing for upcoming mock exams is a priority, as well as making important career decisions in the run up to some key deadlines.

This includes the normal closing date for CAO (Central Applications Office) on February 1 at 5pm. While significant focus is placed on applying to the CAO for college places in autumn 2022, there are lots of other options open too so take time to consider them all.


In my experience some students can feel quite overwhelmed at the thought of trying to decide what to do for the rest of your life but changing how you think about that may help to ease the stress around making decisions.

You are choosing the pathway that best suits you for the next phase of your life, not the whole lot of it.

Take time to research the broad selection of options available to you in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), Colleges of Further Education and Training (FET) as well as apprenticeships, traineeships and other training programmes. There are also great opportunities to study outside of Ireland, particularly in the UK and in Europe. Remember there is not just one pathway for everyone, but several.

Niamh Dwyer, Careers Advisor, My Career Plan
Niamh Dwyer, Careers Advisor, My Career Plan

Applying to CAO

If you have not already registered for CAO, do so now on There is a ‘demo version’ of the form on the website which you can use as a practice run. Once you have registered you have until February 1 st at 5pm to complete the application and add in your course choices. If you register by January 20 you can avail of the discounted fee of €30 which increases to €45 up to February 1. 

You have the option to list 20 choices on CAO in total, 10 choices at level 8 (honours degrees) and 10 choices at levels7/6 (ordinary degrees and higher certificates). 

Fill up as many as you can – 20 choices means 20 chances to get a course offer! 

The vast majority of level 7/6 courses have progression routes onto level 8, so make sure you fill up options on both lists, which operate independently of each other. This means that when CAO offers are issued after the Leaving Cert results you may get two offers, one from each list.

Order of Preference & Restricted Courses

Always follow the golden rule of the CAO and list your courses in ORDER OF PREFERENCE. You will be offered the highest course on your lists that you are entitled to, based on meeting entry requirements and cut-off points for 2022. You will have plenty time to change course choices later on when the Change of Mind facility opens on May 5 before the final deadline of July 1, but if you are applying for courses that are ‘restricted’ they must be added in by the February 1 deadline. 

If you are applying to study Medicine as an undergraduate in 2022, will also need to apply for the HPAT (Health Professions Admissions Test) exam before the application deadline of January 21. The exam itself will be held between February 18 and 21.

HEAR and DARE applications

Students who are eligible to apply for the Higher Education Access Route (HEAR) or/and the Disability Access Route to Education (DARE) must have applied to CAO by the February 1 deadline and then have until March 1 at 5pm to complete the relevant sections in their CAO account. 

Supporting documentation will need to posted to the CAO and arrive by the deadline of March 15 at 5pm. Further details on both schemes can be round on

Further Education and Training and Apprenticeship options are not based on CAO points, but could be an option.
Further Education and Training and Apprenticeship options are not based on CAO points, but could be an option.

Further Education & Apprenticeships

This year you will find links to Further Education & Training (FET) and Apprenticeship options on the CAO website on These options are not based on CAO points. FET colleges are now accepting applications for a huge variety of courses starting in September, many of which have progression routes onto Higher Education for students who want to take that route. You can check out details on all courses, entry requirements and how to apply on or on individual FET college websites. 

There are currently 62 national apprenticeship programmes available with more in development for 2022. 

They are in lots of different industries, including international finance, insurance, construction, engineering, healthcare, biopharma, hospitality and more and are advertised on an ongoing basis on and

For further details on all programmes, entry requirements and industry contact details see

The National Learning Network provides training to students who may require a more specialised support to progress onto further education or employment. They offer 44 different courses at various centres nationwide. See learning-network/

Study abroad

If you have plans to apply for colleges outside of Ireland take note of upcoming application deadlines. Applications to Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales must be made through by January 26 at 6pm. You will need to complete a personal statement and get a reference so don’t leave it until the last minute.

Northern Ireland has become a popular option for students from the Republic because the fees are substantially lower than in other parts of the UK. See the college websites for details.

We have an increasing number of Irish students applying to study in Europe annually. Generally colleges across Europe accept applications until later in the year but you will need to check the individual countries for exact details.

Your best resources for looking at options in Europe are www.eunicas.comtarget="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> and, which will be hosting virtual open day webinars on the study of veterinary in Poland on January 22 and medicine and medical sciences on January 27. Details can be found on their website.

Remember you will still have lots of time to review your options and change your mind later, but for now focus on exploring all the different options open to you and make sure you don’t miss the deadlines!


Niamh Dwyer, Careers Advisor, My Career Plan, 087-9801105J

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