Leaving Cert 2018

Understanding CAO Offers

The first round of CAO offers (Round 1) is made available to applicants a few days after the Leaving Certificate results [Go to Key Dates]

Those who applied online will receive their CAO offer online. Successful applicants will also receive an email and SMS text message if they have selected this option.

This Round 1 offer will contain the highest choice, for which your son or daughter has achieved the required number of points, from their 1-10 CAO application lists.

It can be useful to have the following information available at CAO offers time:

  • Statement of course choice
  • Points Calculator
  • NPC / IGC helpline number - 1800 265165
  • Access to relevant websites including and college sites 

College applicants may receive two offers:

  1. A Level 8 Honours Bachelor Degree offer (the highest undergraduate level)
  2. A Level 6 & 7 offer (Most of these courses are run at Institutes of Technology but there is an excellent links system from the courses into level 8 at both IT and University levels)

The CAO publishes the points required for all  Round 1 offers on the CAO website on the same day. [Go to Key Dates]

The new points will also be available here on our CourseFinder from 2pm on that day, indicating if points have risen, fallen or remained the same for this year.

Any change in points also highlights trends in certain course areas and is a reasonably good barometer of course and career popularity. Points may go up or down from year to year.

The Offers and Acceptances Process

  • CAO Round One course offers will be made a few days after the Leaving Cert results.
  • Offers are made online from 2pm on the day and also by post and SMS text.
  • The cut-off points for CAO courses will be available on our CourseFinder from 2pm, and on the CAO website.
  • Applicants must decide whether to accept this offer or not. Round One offers must be accepted within a week.
  • Further rounds of offers continue until all course places are filled.
  • Applicants who have not received an offer will receive another Statement of Application Record from the CAO.

In some instances, Round 2 may offer an option from higher up a candidate's list of choices, but there is no guarantee that this will be the case. e.g If the points for a particular course drop in Round 2 and your son or daughter now meets this points requirement, they may get a higher offer


Check out the CAO Available Places List for remaining vacant course places


As parent or guardian you will wish to be as supportive as possible, allowing for open and thorough discussion of all options, but keeping an eye on the practicalities at the same time. At this time many parents feel much like a board chairperson, facilitating and enabling the young person to make the best possible decisions at this time, whilst also ensuring that everything runs efficiently and cost-effectively and that there are no unfortunate slip-ups or oversights.

The main issues facing parents at this time are

  • How does the system work and how can I make sure all acceptance deadlines are met and all important correspondence is dealt with
  • What course will my child end up on this year
  • What supports does s/he need put in place
  • Do we need to arrange accommodation
  • How much is this going to cost and what’s the best way to manage our finances in the coming years
  • Are there hidden costs and pitfalls that we should be aware of?

Some of the most frequently asked questions confronting parents at CAO Offers Time are answered below:


Will points go up or down?

Every year different factors contribute to the increase in points across certain high demand courses - this year:

  • There is strong demand for courses in Education, Health, and Business courses
  • Demand is down for Arts, Journalism and Physical Sciences
  • Population trends, the total number of CAO applicants, the state of the economy, employment opportunities are additional factors that may affect the setting of points since they all have an influence on supply and demand of courses. 

Points may drop or remain steady in some cases as supply and demand for courses changes.

See our story on the most popular courses in 2019 here. This can give an indication of where points will rise and fall. Remember that nobody will know the points for each course until the offers are released!

For many students, the CAO Offers Process is a straightforward one. They are offered their first choice of course. They accept it and register for college, proceeding into a most exciting and rewarding time of life.

If my son/daughter doesn’t get their first choice, what other CAO options are available to them?

Hopefully, your son/daughter will be offered their first choice in the first round of offers but, if not, there are a number of additional CAO options available to him. These include:

  • Offer of another course choice further down the CAO list
  • Offer of a similar course at a lower level
  • Offer of their preferred course choice in ROUND 2 or subsequent round
  • The offer of their preferred course choice on the successful appeal of Leaving Cert Results. For information on this process click here
  • Courses with vacant places will be notified on available places list on CAO website, click here
  • Other options outside the CAO, click here

How is a CAO offer accepted? 

When an offer arrives, he/she should read through the offer and instructions carefully first.

To accept an offer, he/she simply logs into the CAO system using his/her access code and password and submits his/her acceptance of the offer.

He/She needs to be sure that /heshe does this well inside the deadline, particularly if he/she is returning her acceptance by standard post.

[See Key Dates for the closing date for acceptance of a first round offer.] 

If he/she is unavailable to do this for any reason, he/she should designate a trusted family member to respond on her behalf.

Note: If you have been offered your first preference course for either the level 8  or level 6 and 7 choices, you will not receive any further offers from CAO for the same list of courses. This applies regardless if you accept or reject your offer. You may still be eligible to receive an offer from the other list e.g. receiving your first preference from your level 8 list precludes you from receiving further level 8 offers but you may still be eligible to receive further offers from your level 6 and 7 list.

My son has been offered Level 7 course. If he accepts this offer can he still be offered a Level 8 course in the next round?

Yes, he can accept the Level 7 course and this will not affect his chances of being offered a Level 8 course in the next round.

However, he may not be offered a level 8 course in the second round so it is a good idea for him to accept the Level 7 course anyway. Many students find that entering college at level 6 or 7 in their chosen course area works out very well in the long term. On completion, in most cases, they can progress to a level 8.

On the basis of the current Leaving Cert result, my daughter may fall short of the points for her course. However she thinks she may be upgraded on appeal. What should she do when the first round of CAO offers comes round?

Your daughter may receive an offer for a similar course lower down the list. If she decides that the first CAO course offered is not for her, then she can simply allow the offer to lapse and await the second round and the results of the appeals process.

Alternatively she may accept the offer and consider transferring or deferring to any new course offered that might be offered to her on appeal. She must also consider the possibility that her LC results may not be upgraded on appeal.

Our daughter has been offered a Childcare course at Level 7. Her first choice is Childcare at Level 8 in the same college but she fell short by a few points. She has been offered a Level 8 course in Psychology at another private college which charges full tuition fees. What should she do?

Before deciding whether to accept the Level 7 offer or allow it to lapse and possibly take up the Level 8 Psychology course in a private college, your daughter can consider the following:

  • Area of course and career interest
  • Progression links from Level 7 to Level 8. She can check this out here or with the individual college. It is often better to do a Level 7 course that progresses to the Level 8 course of career choice than to do a Level 8 course that is of less interest and career value
  • Location
  • Costs. Costs in Private colleges can run to several thousand euro more than the standard college registration fee

If she decides to accept the level 7 offer, this can be done online, before the deadline. If she accepts the level 7 offer, the level 8 Psychology offer will lapse.

She should keep an eye out for the second and subsequent rounds of CAO offers. As there may be still a chance that she will be offered her first Level 8 course choice. In this case, she can accept her first choice Level 8 offer and her Level 7 offer will lapse.


Is it possible to accept a Round 1 offer while also planning an appeal of scripts with a view to being upgraded to a higher course choice?

A round 1 offer can be accepted and later superseded by taking up a later offer arising out of a successful appeal.

E.g: Amy, with 445 points has been offered her second choice of DC230 Economics, Politics and Law at DCU at 420 points in the first round of CAO offers.

Though it’s not her first choice, she accepts it and will be happy enough to continue with this course.

On appeal, her grades bring her points score up to 450 points and she is offered her first choice of DC232 Law & Society at DCU 455 points. (Note: figures based on 2017 points)

Though it is now the end of September and several weeks into term, she has been offered a place on DC232. Amy must now decide if she:
a) wants to transfer over to a new course, several weeks into the college academic year
b) remain in her current course until the end of the year.

In some cases, colleges offer the option of a deferred place next year on the preferred course. Amy should contact the college student advisor. They will establish what the best option is for her.

Students are sometimes advised to consider a deferral until the next year if they are five or six weeks into a course.

My son is five weeks into a Physiotherapy course but has just been offered a deferred place in Medicine for next September. If he completes first year in Physiotherapy and takes up deferred place in Medicine, will we need to pay full fees for first year in Medicine?

So far, the (DES) Department of Education & Skills has allowed students to attend college in the intervening year before taking up their deferred course, without the student being liable for full fees the following year.

This situation is outside the control of colleges and there is no guarantee that the situation won’t change at some point in the future.

What are my options if I fail Leaving Cert Maths? 

A number of colleges offer students the MCT = Maths Competency Test or equivalent.

This gives the student a chance to boost the Maths results and secure their college place. Students that have studied the Leaving Cert Higher Level Maths programme are invited to sit the MCT.

Read more here on dealing with a fail in maths.

What if my child accepts a Round 1 offer and receives a better offer in Round 2?

He can accept the Round 2 offer which will automatically cancel out the Round 1 offer – since only 1 acceptance from any candidate can remain in the CAO system at any given time.

How does The CAO Random Number Process of allocating places work?

If only 3 places remain out of a possible 200 places on a course, and the 198th to the 202nd eligible applicants all have the same points, only 3 out of these 5 applicants can be awarded a place. When applying to college courses through the CAO, each applicant is allocated a random number for each course.

This number is totally random – similar to a lottery number, and bears no relation to any other factors including CAO number, date of application, or order of course choice.

The applicant with the highest random number is allocated the first of the three remaining places and likewise for the two remaining places. The three eligible course applicants with the three highest random numbers are allocated the three remaining places.

You can read the full explanation here.

If my son is awarded a place on a course (e.g. by Random Number) and another student is upgraded on appeal, can my son lose his place on the course?


How is it possible to get more than the required number of points for a course and still not be offered a place?

This can happen if an applicant doesn’t meet all of the following entry criteria:

  • Individual College minimum entry requirements
  • Specific Course requirement – eg a particular grade in Maths or a language

Entry requirements can be checked for each course on

It is also important to ensure that if a language exemption in the Leaving Cert has been granted, that it has been registered with NUI or other appropriate authority. 

No offer?

My son worked very hard for his exams but got no offer of a college place in the first CAO round. He did not appeal his LC results as he felt they were a fair reflection of his performance. Does he have any chance of a place this year through the CAO?

He may still be offered a course in Round 2. Alternatively he can check into for vacant places. These are courses which have not yet filled all available places.

When checking through available places on the CAO site, it’s important to note that private colleges charge full tuition fees. A small number of colleges including TU Dublin offer direct entry courses. He can contact the individual college for details of these courses.

Other non-CAO options can be explored from here

My son received two offers from the CAO - a Level 8 and a Level 7 course. Can he accept both and make a final decision later?

No. He can only accept one offer at a time.

If he is having difficulty deciding, he has a few days from the date of offer to make up his mind [See Key Dates]. This gives him time to weigh up the options including which course is most suited to his interests and career plans down the line. He can discuss the issue with his Guidance Counsellor, or call the NPC / IGC helpline.

He can also check out the course content, modules and progression routes here or by going directly to college websites.

I missed the points requirement for my first choice by 20 points - and did not get offered it in round 1. Does this mean I can never be offered my first choice?

It does not mean you can never be offered your first choice, it simply means in round one you were not entitled to a place on the basis of your points but you may become entitled to an offer in round two.  If you become entitled to a place in round two then you will be offered it regardless of what you did or did not accept in round one.

I was offered my first choice but I'm no longer interested in this course. Can I apply for a course with vacant places even though I was offered my first choice?

Yes, you can. Vacant college places are available online here.

If I defer my second choice offer, will I still be offered my first choice if points come down in round two?

Yes, you will be offered your first choice in round two if points come down. Be sure to contact the admissions office of the college that offered you a place and request permission to postpone until next year. Outline your reason for seeking a deferral. The college will then contact CAO on your behalf.

If you are not offered your first choice and wish to pursue your second choice (which you previously deferred), you must reapply through CAO next year, listing just that one course in your application. If you list other courses other than your deferred place, you are then back in open competition with next year's applicants.

If I accept my offer of Law in Galway, what are the possibilities of being able to transfer to law in Trinity after my first year, which I missed due to points?

You would have to contact the HEI involved as each college has its own transfer policies.

It looks like my son won't get any other offers. If he accepts the current one, does it necessarily mean he has to go on the course until he weighs up some other options?

He is not obliged to accept it but accepting it would give him some breathing space to think this through. He could then contact the college directly and also look for a deferral.

A PLC course may also be another option. Remember - the Government will only pay for you to do first year once. Making a wrong choice can prove to be expensive.

If I accept my first choice for a Level 7 course in CIT, can I still get my first option for Level 8 offered to me in round two, if the points were to drop?

The answer is yes. Your level 6/7 will have no effect on your level 8 list.

My daughter got offered a place on the Physiotherapy course in UCD and had medicine as her first choice. Can she accept the offer and then later decline it?

Yes she can. If after having accepted the course she decides to repeat her Leaving Cert she can contact UCD and tell them that she is not taking up the place on the course.

Do the points tend to drop by much in the second round of offers?

The answer to this varies very much from course to course. In the high-demand courses you don't tend to get massive drops of points going from round to round, that is even if there is a second round for these courses. But in courses that are in lower demand you can get a drop in points.

These tend to be in the region of five or 10 points but, as always, there are exceptions. This very much depends on how many people do not take up an initial offer on the course and hence how many places down the course merit list the CAO have to go to fill the unfilled places.