Your Choice: Courses & The Central Applications Office (CAO)

Learning Objectives:

To make sure you know exactly what course (courses) you want, and know what order you want to rank them in, before filling in the CAO form.

Which course and where?

Choose a course that you feel you would like. There are now huge possibilities through the Post Leaving Cert system of further education as well as CAO, Apprenticeships, the Guards and many other routes through the English system(UCAS).

Don't choose a course or path because someone said you should, or because it will get you a job. It should be something you feel you really want, and would enjoy doing for the next 2 - 4 years. If you fill in every available degree and certificate/diploma course choice "just in case", you risk being offered something you (a) do not like, (b) know nothing about.

The consequences of taking a course that you know little about could be that you hate the course, because it doesn't suit you / it's boring / it's not at all what you thought it would be. You then become unhappy and/or you drop out of college. Apart from feeling bad that you've let yourself and others down, you could also lose your entitlement to free fees and your grant (Higher Education Grant) if applicable.

So, when making your choice, think through all the possibilities:.

  • What course do you really want?
  • What order will you put your other course choices in? (see order of preference below)
  • Do you want to live away from home, especially if the course you want is not offered locally?
  • How will you (or your parents) finance the cost of the course?
  • Are you entitled to a grant (the Higher Education Grant, available through the local County Council if your parents' combined income is within a certain limit)?
  • Anything else that you might need to consider?
  • Will you get the points? (be realistic, but do not undersell yourself).

CAO Deadline

Have your decision made before the CAO deadline (February 1st). If you leave it until the last minute, you might have other things on your mind such as exams (written and oral/aural), project work (if applicable) and so on. You may well make mistakes, or be influenced by others, and put down choices you really have no interest in. Do not put too much emphasis on points when filling up your CAO - it should be based on what you really want to do.

Change of Mind form in July

If you do make a mistake on the CAO form, all is not lost. Remember that the CAO has a "change of mind" option towards the end of June, when you can revise your choices.

IT IS VERY IMPORTANT THAT YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY SATISFIED WITH THE ORDER OF PREFERENCE, ie the courses are in the order you would like, with number 1 being the one you want most.

Score High: Work the Points System

A pass Leaving Certificate can mean 5 subjects at D3 level = 25 points.

Not so difficult to achieve, is it? A person could get a Pass Leaving Certificate by going to school regularly, paying attention in class, and being actively involved in learning. So if you find school subjects difficult, don't worry. If you make an effort, and pay attention in class, you will succeed. Keep up to date with your homework. Complete all homework as it is set. Include some revision throughout the year, and you can gain your Leaving Certificate with at least a pass in five subjects.


This means "All Qualified Applicants". It may not seem important to you now, but it will be when you apply for a job or apprenticeship. Your prospective employer will more than likely expect that you have reached a Leaving Certificate standard of education, but she or he may not be so interested in the actual grades. Moreover, a Leaving Certificate opens up other possibilities for you, for example Post Leaving Certificate and FETAC 1 and 2 courses. These FETAC courses are now increasingly accepted as an alternative entrance route to 3rd level.

Grades and the points system

Grades, however, do matter if you are aiming for a 3rd level course. For each course there are three things to consider:

  • Entry Requirements - Each college and university will have basic entry requirements before you will be considered as an eligible applicant, for example for NUIG you need 2 higher level subjects including Irish and a Continental Language.
  • Course Requirements - These are decided by the faculty you will be applying to, for example if you are applying for a Science course you will need at least one science in your Leaving Cert. subjects.
  • Points- If you fulfill the other requirements then the Central Applications office will decide who gets offered a place by counting up the points you earned from your grades in the Leaving, and offering the highest scorers of the list for each course first. Thus the points we see in the paper and those of the last person to be offered a place and so can be misleading if relied on as a guide for the following year.

Generally, for entry to a 3rd level institution, you will need up to six Leaving Certificate subjects and a specific number of points, from 150 to 600+ (Architecture and some Fine Arts courses for example, give you additional credits for your portfolio). See below the chart of points needed for courses at different 3rd level institutions, (academic year 2009, subject to change*).





NUI Galway



NUI Galway



University College Dublin


Construction Management




University of Limerick



NUI Galway


General Nursing

Athlone Institute of Technology


Computing with software development

Tralee Institute of Technology


Hotel & Catering



It is important not to aim too low or opt for the minimum points for any one course. The demand for any place can vary from one year to another, and the required points will reflect this variance. In the same way, do not opt for a course because it has low points for entry, but which would not suit or interest you.

Calculate Wisely: Points for the Course of Your Choice

  • Check out the points required for the course(s) you want.
  • Allow for changes next year. Add 20 extra to total points required.
  • Divide the new total by 6. This is the minimum score you must aim for in each subject in order to qualify. But as all subjects differ, so will your marks, so aim to get much higher points than you need in your best / easier subjects. These can be offset against your weaker subjects, in case your grades are down.
  • Check the points you are aiming for against the marks you achieved in your last in-house / mock examinations.
  • Note the differences, and mark clearly where you need to improve your grades.
Guidance Your Choice: Courses & The Central Applications Office (CAO)