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Your Complete Guide to the CAO

December 1, 2016

Your Complete Guide to the CAO


Your complete guide to the CAO! Everything you need to know.

Step 1: Research 

The research process is the most important step prior to filling out the CAO Application. Remember to research numerous courses and institutions, when applying for third-level education institutes. You can never research enough; speak to your friends, siblings, parents, teachers or guidance counsellors on their opinions and gain knowledge from their experiences. 

Once you have a guideline of what path you want to take, check out all your possible institutions of study. There are many open days throughout the year. Visit your possible college(s) of choice to make your final decision. 

Most third-level institutes issue prospectuses yearly, be sure to pick a new one and read it thoroughly. Also be sure to check out similar courses. Some courses allow you to generalise your study, expanding your opportunities further on, by branching out or specialising in a certain topic of choice. There are many of these kinds of courses available such as general science or business degrees.

After carefully researching the different choices, be sure to check your choices’ entry requirements. Some courses ask for certain requirements such as a certain grade in your subjects, a science subject or a language.


Step 2: Filling out the Application

Applications can be made online or through the post.

Check all the CAO Application and Change of Mind dates to make sure you have applied in time. Apply early to give yourself a peace of mind. Remember you can always change your order and course entries.

Be sure to get the CAO handbook for more information and to use during your process of applying. Take note; Repeat students re-applying from a previous year, the CAO will be issued a new number. Previous CAO numbers are invalid. 

PAGE 1: Personal Details Section

- Photocopy the official Application; having a practice application avoids mistakes. 

- Take your time filling out the information; this avoids mistakes e.g. filling in the incorrect dates.

- If the form is incorrect, it is sent back and a small fine will be issued. 

- ALWAYS get your application proof-read by someone you trust.

Also there are applications for DARE/HEAR, fill in this section if it applies to you. Your school should provide more information about this.

PAGE 2: Course Application Section

- There are two lists; one for Level 8 (Higher) Degrees and one for Level 6 Certs and Level 7 Ordinary Degrees (Diplomas) combined.

- Check the course codes entered. It’s important the entries are correct for the chosen course(s), to avoid disappointment.

- DO NOT DISMISS ANY OF THE COLUMNS; as many of the non-Level 8 choices have add-on degrees available. Be sure to check those courses. 

- Fill out both lists, to be eligible for more course choices. You have a choice of 20 entries, use them all. 

- List your choices in the correct order of preference. Put your most preferred course first, regardless of the points history. You will still be eligible for the course if you have entered it first. It is very important that the preference is correct, as you will be offered your first choice and the CAO will NOT make any other offers thereafter.

Every year on average, 1,000 CAO applicants score below 500 points, after entering courses too high. Therefore not securing any offers from the CAO. Be sure to enter a few lower courses to guarantee an offer from the CAO.

To check if your application has been received; Log onto the ‘My Application’ facility on the CAO website. 

Step 3: CAO Payment

When the first two pages are completed (Personal Details and Application pages); only now can you pay for the application. There is a handy checklist available on the back of the envelope of the CAO envelope, be sure to make use of this. 

The application fee can be paid through the bank BEFORE posting it to the Central Applications Office in Galway. Make sure to take a photocopy of your application before sending it off. Remember to get the certificate of posting on the back page of your CAO handbook. The bank will stamp your application fee payment too. 

Your payment will be made by a Bank Giro form. Fill out the required boxes and get the bank to stamp the three sections afterwards. Remember to hold onto the section declared as ‘FOR REFERENCE ONLY’. Or simply pay online. Payment information is available below.

Make sure all the sections are completed correctly. Tick the Terms & Conditions section. 

After submission of your application, you will be sent a ‘Receipt of Online Application’ with an Application Number attached. This is sent out in an email format. Use your CAO Application Number for future correspondence.

When you log out of your application, any changes that have been made will be updated and saved under your personal CAO Application.

Below are important dates to follow through the process of your application.



The dates below are subjected to change. Be sure to keep up-to-date the official CAO website:

4th November              Online applications open 
                                    CAO Change of Course choices open
20th January                Discounted applications online open (€25 application fee) 
1st February                Closing date for applications
5th February                Statement of Course Choice sent out (Paper Applications only – if not received then contact CAO directly). 
2th February HPAT Test – Entry for Medicine 
1st March                     Closing date for choice amendments 
                                    Closing date for online applications for DARE/HEAR
1st May                        Closing date for late applications
15th May                      Statement of Course Choice sent out for late applications (Paper Applications only – if not received then contact CAO). 
End of May                Statement of Application Record sent to ALL applicants (Contact CAO if not received). 
1st July                         Closing date for Change of Mind on applications 
22nd July                      Exceptional closing date for late applications for HEI applicants
Mid-August                Current year Leaving Certificate results issued 
21st August                  Round 1 offers issued. (Applicants who have not received an offer will be issued a Statement of Application Record.)
28th August                  Closing date for Round 1 Acceptances (17.15 Evening).
31st August                  Round 2 offers issued
Early September       HEIs begin registration
6th September Closing date for Round 2 Acceptances. 
Early October            Results of Leaving Certificate Appeals released
18th October                Closing date for CAO Offers that year.


Interview dates are available on the Official CAO site: 

For Non-Standard Applicants entries, be sure to consult the CAO website or handbook for more information on applications.


Course Codes: 

Most colleges and universities that can be applied through the CAO, begin with the same few letters. The codes usually contain two capital letters followed by the three numbers. These letters depict where your course is and the numbers are which course you have chosen within that institute. For example: Honours Bachelor Degree of Commerce in UCD (Level 8) – DN650 (2015).

The CAO website has a facility online to check course codes correctly. 

Here is a list of all the third-level codes in Ireland:


College/ University Name:


American College


National College of Art & Design


Athlone Institute of Technology


St. Angela’s (Sligo)


Institute of Technology Blanchardstown


IBAT College of Dublin


Church of Ireland College of Education


Irish College of Humanities


University College Cork (NUI)


Marino Institute of Education


Institute of Technology Cork


College of Computer Technology


Institute of Technology Carlow


Dublin Business School + Dublin Business School of Arts


Dublin City University


Dundalk Institute of Technology


Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design & Technology


University College Dublin


Dorset College


Institute of Technology Dublin


Institute of Technology Galway-Mayo


Griffith College


Grafton College of Management Sciences


National University of Ireland Galway


ICD Business School


Institute of Technology Limerick


University of Limerick


Institute of Technology Letterkenny


National University of Maynooth


Mary Immaculate College


Pontifical University – St. Patrick’s


National College of Ireland


St. Nicholas Montessori College, Ireland


Carlow College


Portobello Institute


Royal College of Surgeons, Ireland


Institute of Technology Sligo


Shannon College of Hotel Management


Institute of Technology Tallaght


Institute of Technology Tralee


Trinity College (NUI)


Institute of Technology Waterford



Fee paid to the CAO are non-refundable. This includes Application payments and fines paid. Below is a guide of the dates and fee amounts due. These dates are subject to change. Check the Official CAO website regularly for date changes and updates.

                                                            FEE                            CLOSING DATE
Normal Application                            €40                              1st February 2016 (17.15)        
(Online or Paper)
Online Discounted Rate                     €25                              20th January 2016 (17.15)
Late Online Application                     €50                              1st May 2016 (17.15)
Late Paper Application                       €80                              1st May 2016 (17.15)

Payments can be processed using two methods: Card payment or bank payment. If applying online, the choice of both are available to you. Paper Applications can be paid for through the bank. 

Card payments can be made with a credit or debit card (both either Visa or MasterCard). Bank payments are made at the bank with an Application Fee Payment Form. This form has to be requested from the CAO. The bank keep Part Three and return Part One and Two to the Applicant. They will stamp each of those parts you have retained from them. Be sure to keep a hold of all the documents.

It is the applicant’s responsibility to pay the correct application fee. Overpayments will not be refunded and Application underpayments will have an added processing charge of €10. 


CAO Official Website:

‘‘Any attempt by an applicant or by any person(s) acting on the applicant’s instigation, directly or indirectly by means of written communication or otherwise, to canvass or otherwise influence in the applicant’s favour, may disqualify the applicant from the competition’’.

If an applicant or anyone acting on their behalf tries to canvass them or contact anyone to boost their application, the Application will be disqualified and therefore being dismissed automatically. This means their application will be faulty, thus excluding them from the CAO completely.


Change of Mind: 

The Change of Mind facility is available to all applicants. There is an online Change Courses facility allowing you to edit your choices. This facility is free until 31st January 2016. Be sure to change your courses before the dates suggested.

The facility will re-open again on the 5th February with an additional charge of €10 Additional Processing Charge for this facility, closing at 5.15pm on the 1stMarch 2016. This payment can be made through a Credit/Debit Card service.

The Change of Mind facility is only available on these dates. Applicants will not be able to adjust their choices during any time/date not suggested.


Course Levels:

Most courses are graded using numbered levels. These levels are depicted by the NFQ. The NFQ (the National Framework of Qualifications) was introduced as a system where qualifications are graded. The grading system is judged by numbers 1-10, the higher the number, the higher the qualification. For example the Junior Certificate is graded a Level 3, while the Leaving Cert is a Level 5. Is the Leaving Cert Applied is a Level 4.

Most courses on the CAO are listed as Level 6, 7 or 8. The Level 6 is called a Certificate. Level 7 is an Ordinary Degree or Diploma and Level 8 is an Honours Degree. Level 6, 7 and 8 courses are available at most universities, institutes of technology, private colleges or training colleges.

Level 8 are generally four years in duration, with exceptions such as medicine lasting five or six and Arts degrees are often only three years. The duration of Level 7 courses are three years. Most of these types of courses supply an additional year, giving the opportunity to apply for a Level 8. More courses are added every year to the list of Level 7’s offering additional years. Be sure to check your favoured course online.


Now that the filling in of your CAO is made easy, the hard work left is picking your courses.

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