A Guide to the CAO for Irish applications

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Navigating the CAO Application Process for Irish Universities

Applying to universities in Ireland is an exciting opportunity for many students. The Central Applications Office (CAO) manages applications to undergraduate courses in Irish higher education institutions.

The CAO application process operates on a system of post-qualification admissions, meaning offers are made based on actual exam results rather than predicted grades. This system ensures that students’ placements reflect their true academic achievements.

Offers are issued in rounds, typically starting in late August after the release of Irish Leaving Certificate results and continuing until all available places are filled. The CAO allocates places based on supply and demand: courses with higher demand and limited places have higher CAO points requirements.

The only thing that counts are the points that you received: there is no personal statement, no reference, no interviews (apart from in very specific circumstances). With this, the CAO scores listed on websites are not entry requirements like in the UK, but the points score of the last student to get a place in last year’s admissions cycle. That is no guarantee of what the cut-off would be in the current year. And, with such a finite system, it is entirely possible that you might miss out on a course by just one point.

The other key factor of this system is that your order of preference, therefore, becomes important. When you apply, you will rank your choices. If you get into your first choice, then all other choices are deleted; if you don’t get into your first choice, you are then considered by your second choice, and so on until such point as you have a place somewhere.


Converting A Levels to CAO Points

Understanding the conversion of A Level grades to CAO points is crucial. Here’s a simplified guide:

A Levels:

  • A* = 185 points
  • A = 156 points
  • B = 131 points
  • C = 106 points
  • D = 84 points

Only your three best A Level grades and one best AS Level grade (if any) are considered for CAO points. Therefore, focusing on achieving high grades in your A Levels will maximise your points.

Similarly, conversions exist for other qualifications sat in the EU, including the IB Diploma.


Understanding the CAO Application Process

  1. **Creating an Account**: Start by creating an account on the CAO website ( This allows you to enter personal details and track your application status.


  1. **Course Selection**: The CAO application allows you to apply for up to 20 courses, divided into two lists: Level 8 (honours degree) and Level 7/6 (ordinary degree or higher certificate). Carefully research and choose courses, and pay close attention to the CAO points that were the cut-offs in previous admissions cycles.


  1. **Deadlines**: The key dates to remember are:

– **1st February**: Normal application deadline.

– **1st May**: Late application deadline (with an additional fee).

– **1st July**: Change of mind deadline, where you can alter your course choices without any extra cost.


  1. **Application Fees**: Fees vary depending on when you apply. It’s generally cheaper to apply by the normal deadline.


  1. **Supporting Documents**: Non-Irish qualifications, like A Levels, need to be supported by appropriate documentation. Ensure you upload scanned copies of your results and any other required paperwork promptly.


By understanding the process and converting your A Level grades to CAO points, you can make informed decisions and enhance your chances of securing a place in your desired course. Good luck!