FAQ about the Central Applications Office, CAO Ireland

The beginning of February marks the end of the CAO applications for Ireland. But what is the Central Applications Office and how do you apply?

What is the CAO?

The Central Applications Office (CAO) is the organization responsible for overseeing undergraduate applications to colleges and universities in Ireland. Its primary mission is to streamline the application process. Colleges and universities delegate the administration of admissions to the CAO but retain full control of the admissions themselves.

You apply for most undergraduate courses through the Central Applications Office. But you should apply directly to the HEI (not through the CAO) in the following cases:

  • Postgraduate courses.
  • Entry to courses at the post-initial-year level.
  • Short duration, one-term, part-time, and occasional courses.
  • Re-admission to Dublin City University, Mary Immaculate College, Trinity College, and the University of Limerick.
  • Follow-on courses at the institutes of technology.
  • Any course not mentioned in the CAO Handbook.
  • Certain mature applicants.
  • Graduate/mature applicants to the Royal College of Surgeons.
  • if you are a resident from outside the EU

The CAO provides a handbook listing all the courses on offer and gives information on how to apply. In 2020, the closing date for applications from Irish and European Union nationals is 5.15 pm on 1 February 2020. Late applications are possible until 5.15 pm on 1 May 2020 but to a higher fee than the regular application.

Application dates and fees fee Closing Date
Early online application (discounted) €30 20th January 2020 at 5:15 pm
Normal online application €45 1st February 2020 at 5:15 pm
Late online application – restrictions apply  €60 1st May 2020 at 5:15 pm
Change of Mind – restrictions apply  none 1st July 2020 at 5:15 pm
Exceptional online late application  €60 22nd July 2020 at 5:15 pm

Be sure to complete any action well in advance of closing dates. You should avoid making an application close to a closing date. No extensions to closing dates will be allowed and all application fees are non-refundable.


Restricted Courses

You must have applied to the Central Applications Office by 1 February 2020 at 5:15pm if you wish to apply for a restricted course. The restricted course must be included on your course choices list by that date or added to your application using the Change of Course Choices facility for a fee of €10 before 1 March at 5:15 pm. Restricted courses normally require additional assessment procedures, for example, the submission of a portfolio, an oral assessment or interview, or a written assessment. Restricted courses are identified in the handbook by the words “(Restricted – see page 3)” on the same line as its title. Please acquaint yourself with the additional requirements of the restricted course(s) that you have applied for and look through the handbook for more information.
Exception: If a restricted course shares the exact same assessment procedures with a course you had applied for by 1 February 2020, you may be permitted to introduce it on a Change of Mind.

Mature Applicants

Most HEIs will require mature applicants, who wish to be assessed on mature grounds, to have applied to CAO by 1 February 2020 at 5:15 pm, and include course choices by that date or add them using the Change of Course Choices facility for a fee of €10 before 1 March at 5:15 pm. (This restriction does not apply if the applicant wishes to be considered on the basis of school-leaving qualifications only.)

Applying for CAO

Register on the CAO system in advance of the closing date to obtain your CAO application number

  1. Go online at www.cao.ie and click on Apply.
  2. Enter your personal details.
  3. Supply a valid email address – a valid email address is required for security and communications purposes. Failure to provide a valid email address may have serious consequences, for example, you may not receive an offer. Please note that CAO, and HEIs to which you apply, may wish to communicate with you about your application and contact you by email, post, or SMS.
  1. Select the qualifications and assessments section(s) that are relevant to you (there may be more than one relevant section).
  2. Select your payment method. If you are paying by credit or debit card you will be redirected to a payment screen. No payment card details will be stored on the CAO system. Once your payment has been processed you will be brought back to the CAO website to complete the remaining steps.
  3. Create a password. If you forget your password you can use the forgotten password facility. You will need your CAO application number, your date of birth, and the registered email address for your account to be able to automatically reset your password. 
  4. Click on ‘Proceed with application’ to obtain your CAO application number. Your application details will appear on the screen and you will also receive an email containing your CAO application number and your email verification code. If you do not receive an email with your application number your application has not been processed successfully.

Please Note: You should enter your name as it appears on your birth certificate or passport. If you wish to apply under a different name, HEIs will require proof of identification at registration.

Reapplying for CAO
If you applied to CAO years prior and you wish to re-apply for 2020, you must make a new application. In general, you do not need your old CAO application number as you will be provided with a new number when you apply (except in the case of applicants who are carrying forward DARE and/or HEAR eligibility from 2019. If you are unable to locate your 2019 CAO application number please email the Central Applications Office).

Provide details of your qualifications and assessments 

Go to www.cao.ie and click on My Application. You will be asked to enter your CAO application number, your date of birth and the password that you created at the application stage to login. After that, you will be brought to the Qualifications and Assessments screen where you will be asked to provide additional information about the section(s) that you selected when you registered on the CAO system. 

Some applicants may select one or more of the sections below, and it is important that applicants inform the CAO of all qualifications in order to be credited for them at the offer stage. Please follow the instructions for the sections that are relevant to you. If you don’t follow the instructions correctly, you may need to pay a fee of €10 for the additional work required. When sending copies of supporting documents remember to number, date, and write your CAO application number on the front of each page. More detailed information about the different qualifications can be found in the CAO handbook.

  • Irish Leaving Certificate Exams (1985-2020) 
  • QQI FET/FETAC Level 5/6 Exams (2002-2020) 
  • FETAC Level 5/6 (NCVA Level 2/3) Exams (2001 or earlier) 
  • GCE/GCSE (England, Wales, and Northern Ireland exams 1996 – 2020)
  • Other School Leaving Exams 
  • Further education (other than QQI FET/FETAC LEVEL 5/6 AND NCVA LEVEL 2/3) Third-level Higher Education 
  • Mature Applicants 
Indicate if you wish to apply for the Higher Education Access Route (HEAR) 

The Higher Education Access Route (HEAR) is a third-level alternative admissions scheme for school leavers from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds, residents in the Republic of Ireland.

Indicate if you wish to disclose a Disability/Specific Learning Difficulty and apply for the Disability Access Route to Education (DARE) 

You are not obliged to disclose a disability and/or specific learning difficulty unless you are applying for an alternative admissions scheme (e.g. DARE or another scheme offered). If you do not wish to disclose your disability and/or specific learning difficulty on the application form, you may do so at any time on entering an HEI and reasonable accommodation will be made at that stage if possible. Disclosure of a disability and/or specific learning difficulty will not adversely affect your application in any way. 

Add your course choices

You are responsible for ensuring that you meet the specified entry requirements and conditions for all courses. The processing of an application at any stage should not be taken as an indication of eligibility for any course.

To add your course choices, log in to the My Application facility and click on Add Level 8 course choices or Add Level 7/6 course choices. You are given the option to introduce 10-course choices on each list, and the choices that you make on one list will not affect the choices on the other list – the only time you have to choose between the lists is if you receive an offer of a course from both lists. 

You will have opportunities to make changes to your course choices lists using the Change of Mind facility. For more information on changing course choices, check the CAO handbook. 

Course entry requirements: The Point System

In 2017, a new grading scheme for the Leaving Certificate was introduced. The Common Points Scale used by the Central Applications Office to determine entry into higher education institutions was also revised.

Students who have taken the Leaving Certificate examination are allocated points for the results they get in their six best subjects at a single sitting of the Leaving Certificate. The points awarded depend on the level of achievement in the subject. You can use this points calculator to work out what points are awarded for any particular set of results.

The number of entry-level points needed for any course depends on the number of places and the number of applicants for them so the entry-level varies from year to year. More points are awarded for Higher-Level papers than for Ordinary-Level papers. The seven Irish universities, Dublin Institute of Technology, part of Technological University Dublin (TU Dublin), and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland allocate extra bonus points for Higher-Level mathematics.

The Central Applications Office publishes the minimum points required for admission to courses as each round of offers is made. You can also check the points required in previous years.

In order to gain entry to a higher education course in Ireland, you must have the number of points required for the course you have chosen. You must also meet the entry requirements/matriculation requirements set down by the HEI.

If there are more applicants for the number of places on the course, the places are allocated to the students with the highest points. Therefore the number of points required for a particular course may vary from year to year depending on the number of students who choose it as their first option. A random selection procedure operates if there is a larger number of students with the same number of points. 

If not all students who are offered places accept them, another round of offers is made to students with lower points and so on in further rounds until all places are filled. So you may be able to get into your preferred course on the second or even third round.

If you are a European student applying for universities in Ireland, this could also be of interest for you:

  • EU/EAA Students: A guide to university applications in Ireland
Jacqueline Russe
Jacqueline Russe

Jacqueline is a German journalist and editor for Babylon Radio who likes comics, manga and video games. She is a state-certified translator for both English and German, currently working on her Bachelor's in Technical Translation.

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