CAO. Never have 3 letters made us quake in our boots, quite the way that those 3 do. Why is it that for some of the most important things in life, we are expected to just know how to do it and then when we don’t,  we’re left to figure it out ourselves? Like hello? You’ve never sat the LC before, so how the heck are you supposed to be a CAO expert? It’s stressful, it’s overwhelming and honestly a huge pain in the bum. We feel you. 

Buuuuuuut the CAO isn’t actually as scary as it looks or sounds. We promise! We are now roughly 1 week out from the first closing date for the CAO applications, and if you are anything like how we were in secondary school, you’ve been putting off the big-scary-being-an-adult stuff for as long as you possibly could. Unfortunately, sitting on your arse while scrolling TikTok isn’t going to get you into college. 

So, we wanted to give you the best shot at nailing your application. Here’s a guide with all the details. Don’t worry, you can thank us later!


Research – Google Is Your Best Friend! 

There are hundreds, no thousands of college and university courses out there. Fancy being a rocket scientist? Ireland has 3 colleges that offer aerospace engineering courses! How about becoming a farmer? Agricultural science is becoming an incredibly popular course in colleges across Ireland. 

What we are getting at is that anything you ever thought you wanted to be, we can guarantee there is a college somewhere that will offer a course on it. So do your research. Be sure to consider your college location, your skills, your strengths and where you want to be after college. 

Now, the research isn’t over just yet. Once you have your top courses in mind, look into what is involved in each of them, from what you will study over the years, to what requirements you’ll need to have to get accepted, to what career opportunities this course will open up for you. 


Creating Your CAO Account – It’s All About Those Baby Steps

The good news is that this whole process can be done from the comfort of your own home, which means yes, you can cuddle your dog for emotional support. 

The signup process is relatively simple, and you can do that on the CAO website here. Do us a favour, and keep your login details somewhere safe, and no, a scrap of paper you tore out of your biology notes copy is not it! You’ll need these details a couple of times over the school year, so mind them. 

There are some fees associated with the application process, so be sure to keep deadlines in mind. There is some good news, if applicable, there are discounts and waivers for fees. 



Completing The Application – Time To Make Those Big Decisions

Now is the time to note down the courses you would like to do. Be sure to put as many options as possible down. Prioritise them in the order that you would like to get them, and for your own sake, please only put down the courses you actually want to do. No one wants to be off doing quadratic equations when you’d rather be cutting the garden with a nail scissors. 

While we are dropping our top tips, here’s another one for you. Don’t go off putting down colleges that are in cities that you won’t be able to move to. Yes, we all want to move out of home and get a taste of good old freedom, but with the cost of housing, lack of availabilities in student accommodation and pressure we are all under to make a few quid, just take a beat to think this one through. 


Submitting And Noting Deadlines – Set Those Reminders

Here is a list of all the key dates associated with the CAO application process. Print it out, and stick it on your bedroom wall – because these are not dates you want to forget about. 

Once you submit your application, your good old friends at CAO HQ will send you an email to confirm all of your choices. Be sure to double-check them so that all the info is accurate. 


Next Steps – You’re Nearly There

Once you have your application submitted, let out that big breath you have been holding and give yourself a round of applause. That was a big task and a huge step towards your future! 

Be prepared, you will start to hear a whole new set of buzzwords associated with the CAO. The 2 main ones will be Change Of Mind and Offer.  Don’t stress, because they aren’t that scary. 

Change of mind does exactly what it says on the tin. The options you have just submitted are not set in stone just yet. There are times during the year after you have some time to sit with your choices when you will have the chance to make changes. 

After the LC results and is when you hear from the CAO about whether you have gotten your place on your chosen course. With your offer, you will have deadlines to meet on notifying them of whether you are accepting, declining or deferring it, but all will be explained to you in the offer email. 


This whole process can be daunting and is a big deal for you. If you don’t know something, reach out to a trusted teacher, we promise that they will guide you, and if they don’t know the answers, we are sure they will try and find them for you! Remember, if things don’t work out exactly how you pictured, that is okay. Take your time, look at all your options and things will fall into place. 

Before we leave you, we wanted you to know that if you are struggling to just get through secondary school, and the idea of college sounds like hell on Earth for you, that is okay. The academic path is not for everyone, and that’s not a reflection of your potential or your ability. Not all of our futures are going to include a cap and gown. You will find your path though, you will find where you excel and you will kill it. We believe in you x


P.S. If the thoughts of the upcoming exams are making your stressed, anxious of feel overwhelmed, we think we have the solution for you! We are running a 2-hour online workshop on the 6th of February 2024, which will give you all the support you’ll need to ace your next exam! Learn more HERE

Supported By

Our Pro bono Partners