The CAO Form: What you need to know

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It’s equal parts terrifying and exciting; the CAO has been tormenting potential undergraduates since 1976 – but not to worry. Here at, we’re going to demystify it.  The CAO form itself is actually very straightforward. In fact, once you stop hyperventilating and read the instructions carefully it’s hard to go wrong. Nevertheless, it is worth taking your time, and making sure you’re making the right decision in the right way.

The CAO Form Layout

If you feel like keeping things old-school, there are four pages on the print CAO form and over thirty different spaces to be filled in. The majority of Irish school-leavers only need to complete Part A (pages 1 and 2). While Part B (pages 3 and 4) is for graduates of further education, mature students, or people with qualifications from the UK or further afield. Make sure that you write clearly and in block capitals, especially for course codes.

The online form is exactly the same, except, well, it’s online. The CAO is actively encouraging people to apply online – so actively, in fact, that it costs less to do so – €30 as opposed to €45 (if the online application is made by 5. 15pm on the 20th of January). As efficient as online forms generally are, it is not a good idea to wait until the CAO deadline day to complete your online application, in case the dreaded ‘technical difficulties’ strike – which a danger if half the country’s Leaving Cert students are also trying to use the system at the same time. The CAO recommend online applications are made at least one week prior to a closing date. The online application service has been online since November 5th 2010 at 12. 00 noon – these people are nothing if not precise!

Application Content

Most of the information requested is straightforward enough – you already know your name, date of birth, nationality, and address. It’s a good idea to give your home address and perhaps your parent’s phone number if you have a tendency to misplace your mobile on a regular enough basis. Before you do your final application, it’s best to use their Demo Portal to do your test run. Submitting an incorrect application means you’ll have to pay all over again to get it right.

The most important part of the form is the Course Choices section. The CAO form choice system is split into two categories: a Level 6 & 7 list, where you put your higher certificate and ordinary degree choices, and a Level 8 list, where you put your honours degree options. Each category has ten spaces for course choices and it is recommended you fill in all ten spaces on each list.

You complete the Course Code of the courses you want, not the name of the course, or the institution where it is held. Each third-level course has its own code number, usually made up of two letters and three numbers. You can find this code in the course listings section of this guide, in the CAO Handbook and in the college’s prospectus and website.

Picking Your Preferences

Always, always, always put the course that you really want to do at the top of each list, and then work down the list in order of your own personal preferences. DO NOT rank courses in order of last year’s points, according to what you think your points tally will be, or according to any other consideration. The reason there are ten spaces is that you can afford to aim high, with plenty of space to list other ‘insurance’ courses, should you not get the required points for your first choice.

For most people, this is the end of the form filling. The other two pages (Part B) are for Special Category Applicants. This part is for students taking GCSEs in the UK, mature students, and people without their Leaving Cert applying with a further education qualification. If none of these categories apply to you, write NO in the box at the bottom of Page 2 or click the ‘none of the above’ box on the online form.

Almost There…

It’s a good idea to get someone to check over your form before you send it off, or have someone sitting with you while you are completing the online form.   Even the most organised of people can make a small slip-up, which may prove costly later. So make like Santa and check everything twice. Having a parent or friend check your form will give them, and you, peace of mind. If you apply online, make sure you follow all the directions to the end of the process. You are not finished until you print or save the screen receipt of acceptance of your online application.

You should keep evidence showing you have sent your form, just in case there are problems with the online system or the postal service. Online applicants should keep their printed receipt of acceptance safe. Paper applicants should enclose a stamped addressed card/envelope with their initial application, which will be returned immediately by the CAO as confirmation that your application was received. If your application gets lost in the post you will need a Certificate of Posting (available at the back of the CAO Handbook) and payment evidence of the application fee to show the CAO you applied in the correct way, and that you aren’t to blame for the form’s disappearance. is a national database of universities, colleges, institutes and providers of third level and PLC courses in Ireland. We operate a national search database of courses at certificate, diploma and degree level as well as providing information about career paths and directions.
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