Students may begin their CAO application at any time without having to make final decisions on courses. The application has two parts.

Firstly, applicants must register and pay. To do this, they should go to the ‘apply’ section of the CAO website, where they enter some personal details and pay a fee using a credit/debit card or a bank giro. An applicant who prefers to pay with a bank giro should contact their school guidance counsellor who can order one from the CAO.

Applicants who register by January 20 will be charged a reduced fee of €25. After this, the fee will increase to €40 for registration before February 1 and €50 for a late application received before May 1. Once this section is complete, applicants will be issued with their CAO number. The next stage is to go to the ‘My application’ section of the website and log in using the applicant’s CAO number, date of birth and password.

Applicants will be asked for further information on their education etc., as well as indicating any intention to apply for the HEAR or DARE schemes and to enter course choices. Applicants may make and save changes to this section until February 1. It is important that any restricted entry courses that applicants wish to be considered for be entered by February 1.

Course choices may be amended between February 5 and March 1 for a fee of €10 but most students should not need to avail of this facility as changes can be made during the ‘change of mind’ period between May 5 to July 1 for no fee.

Making the decisions about which courses to apply for and what order to place them in can be difficult. Students often feel that they must apply for the highest points course they think they can achieve, however it is more important that students apply for courses they feel that they will enjoy and which will suit them. Courses should be listed in genuine order of preference. It can be very helpful for students to talk about possible choices with people who know them well, such as parents, friends and relatives.

Applicants should not rule out courses because they know, or have heard of someone else who had a bad experience. The most common reason for dropping out is that the content or college was not what the student expected, but that does not mean that it is not right for someone else. Many students apply for courses without having ever visited the institution or completing proper research.

If students are confused about their choices, it may be helpful to make an appointment with your school guidance counsellor. This will be a little different from the initial appointment with the guidance counsellor as, for most students, the goal of this appointment is to give them a starting point to continue research, and can assist students in organising their thoughts and worries without bias.

Aoife Walsh is a guidance counsellor

Author: Francis O' Toole

Francis O' Toole is a Educational Psychotherapist & Guidance Counsellor. I set up this blog page to help students gain as much information as possible to be able to make right choices and decisions regarding their career options. I believe that we will be very successful in our careers if we follow what we enjoy.

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