CAO deadline looms... here's some advice for applicants

The CAO deadline is looming, so what does it mean for you, navigating your application, says Michelle Flynn, Career Guidance Counsellor and Career Advisor at
CAO deadline looms... here's some advice for applicants

This Wednesday, February 1 at 5pm is the CAO application deadline for intending CAO applicants. Picture: Stock

THE date Wednesday, February 1, at 5pm is the CAO application deadline for intending CAO applicants.

This deadline does not mean time is up for your course choice. By this deadline, the CAO wants you to have your application filled in and submitted, so that’s your personal details and email address, you will receive your CAO number thereafter.

It is vital that the CAO applicant reads all correspondence pertaining to their application from the CAO throughout the process.

If you feel a sense of panic or worry or confusion, or currently don’t really know what to put down, I strongly advise you not to panic or rush the process.

The CAO change of mind facility which opens in May runs up until July 1, 2023, and allows you to add courses, remove courses, change order and preference.

The only reason you need to have your CAO complete is if you are applying for a restricted course. This is a course that requires additional aspects such as entrance tests like the HPAT exam for medicine, portfolios for example in art, graphic design or architecture. Important advice is to investigate and check whether you will be applying for a restricted course or not. If you are still in doubt and there may be a possibility, put it on your CAO list before February 1. You can remove it with the opening of the change of mind facility in May, but importantly, you cannot add it at that point in May.

Filling in your application form is the easy part, it’s deciding on which courses to choose that you will enjoy and that will take you to your chosen career is more difficult.

At, I meet parents and students who feel very overwhelmed choosing their courses. There are so many similar courses, courses that are labelled the same but have different outcomes. Entry routes and progressions also tend to cause uncertainty.

Research is vital, thorough research via college websites, search engines like Qualifax, attending open days or talks or consulting with a career guidance counsellor for individual guidance. Every student and family situation is unique, sometimes certain college locations may not be viable and people are seeking alternatives.

Have you considered the following as part of your research:

  • Do you meet subject entry requirements?
  • Have you participated in work experience or at least spoke to someone who works in the area?
  • What were the past graduates career progression
  • Is there further study needed?
  • Is it recognised by governing bodies or closely connected to industry?
  • Does it include Erasmus study or work placement?

These are core questions that need to be answered to allow you to assess different courses, and help you to rule them in or out.

The other confusing and stressful aspect is the order of preference. It’s a phrase parents and Leaving Certificate students will hear all the time, but what does it actually mean?

There are two lists on the CAO application. The first list is for Level 8 courses (honours degrees) and the other list is for Level 6/7 courses (Higher Cert./ordinary degree). Each list allows applicants to enter 10 courses, so 20 courses in total. It is important to note that these two lists do not have to be completely full; it is strongly advisable that both contain courses of choice. When offers are made if the student receives their first choice and accepts, they will receive no more offers below this.

It’s the same principle for accepting the second offer, then they won’t get offered the third, so the order is integral to a successful application for the students. Time should be given to consider all courses that will lead to the desired career path.

At, students and their parents will seek advice to get the CAO application right, to ensure they have maximised their chance to get into chosen careers.

A recent student of mine is seeking to do physiotherapy and while the Level 8 degrees in Ireland for this have very high points, she will still put these down as her ‘top choice’ courses at the top of her list. After this then degrees that you can use to enter physiotherapy on a different pathway to be followed by postgraduate study.

A concern for parents and students for 2023 is what will happen to the points, whether they will continue to rise or come down, post the grade inflation in recent years.

The most important approach is that you still put down your ‘top choice’ course irrelevant of the points. There have been provisions made with the addition of 1,056 extra places in college courses.

It’s important to take assurance in that 54% got first round offers in 2002, which is over half of CAO applications getting their top choice course.

You have plenty of time to continue on your research, keep researching and investigating. There are endless possibilities and routes to take you to your chosen career. You need to find the right courses for you and build them into your CAO application.

Michelle Flynn is a Guidance Counsellor and Career Advisor specialising in career guidance for students and their parents and career change at or follow on Instagram or Facebook

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