Going to college: Importance of listing courses in right order

The CAO form itself is very straightforward. The most difficult part of this process is deciding what courses to apply for and in what order.

Courses should always be listed in order of preference only. It can, however, be very helpful to understand how the offers system works in order to realise why listing courses by preference is so important.

The offers

When deciding which applicants should receive an offer for any course, the CAO lists all those who achieved the entry requirements for that particular course in order of how many points they have received.

If a college instructs the CAO to offer 10 places on a course, they will offer these places to the top 10 candidates on this list. Then, the cut-off points published in August will be the points achieved by the 10th person on that list. That is the person who achieved the lowest number of points, but still enough on that list to be offered a place. For this reason, it is impossible for anyone to predict with certainty what the points for a particular course will be in any given year. Whether points increase or decrease depends on the number of students who apply and the results they achieve.

The CAO will offer an applicant the highest preference course for which they have made all entry requirements and reached the points cut-off. If the applicant has not achieved enough points to receive an offer, then the CAO will move to the next course they have listed on their form – the second preference choice and so on – until there is a course for which the candidate is entitled to an offer.

Once an offer is made, any course that the applicant has listed, below the course for which they have received an offer will be cancelled.


In future rounds, the CAO will always offer an applicant a place on a course for which they become eligible and which they have listed as higher preference, if a place becomes available and the applicant is next on the list.

It is really important for students to realise they will be offered the single highest preference course on each list for which they are deemed eligible and have the required points.

The applicant cannot be offered a lower preference course after receiving an offer of a course higher up their preference list. It is for this reason that it is so important to complete the CAO in genuine order of preference.

The CAO website provides very helpful and clear advice in the student resource section of their website, including very useful video presentations such as ‘Mapping my Future’.

Question: I want to do primary school teaching. If I don’t get into the BEd, what is the best alternative course to pursue?

Aoife replies: An alternative is to take a Professional Masters in Education (Primary School), for which applicants must hold a minimum Level 8 degree in any discipline. Many students considering this route will opt to take an Arts degree, which is shorter than some others — normally three years. Arts degrees allow students to study subjects relevant to both the primary and secondary curriculum, and those who do not achieve a higher level C3 in Leaving Cert. Students can meet the Irish requirement for primary school teaching by passing Irish in the first year of their Arts degree.

I would suggest that students choose a degree in an area that they would be happy to pursue as an alternative career, in case they change their mind about primary teaching. While pursuing an alternative degree, a student can improve their chances of being accepted to the Masters in Professional Education by maintaining and improving their level of Irish.

Aoife Walsh

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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