Billy Ryle: As CAO Deadlines Approach, College Hopefuls Must Stay Focussed

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Guidance Counsellor Billy Ryle says it’s remote learning until 1st February, but CAO applicants must keep a close eye on important deadlines…

As if to show its contempt for deadlines and the emotional health of young people, the coronavirus is back at with a virulent strain.

Just when students most need the resources of school at their backs, they won’t see the inside of a classroom before the 1st February, at the earliest.

Of course, 1st February is also normal closing date for applying to CAO for the 80,000 plus people – about 2,500 from Kerry – seeking a third level college course. So, college hopefuls must stay focussed and be aware of key dates and the important tasks to be done in the weeks ahead.

Continued below…


It’s vital to submit a complete CAO application form on time. The 2021 CAO online application remains open until 1st Feb.

Open your CAO interactive online account via “Apply” on, by 20th Jan to get a discount rate of €30. After that the fee increases to €45 until the 1st Feb. The closing date for online Change of Course Choices, which is free, is also 1st Feb.

You may use the online Change of Course Choices facility, fee €10, from 5th Feb to 1st March to add any restricted courses not already listed. Restricted category applicants may also use this facility.

All other applicants should use the free Change of Mind option, between 5th May and 1st July, to make any course changes.

Completed online Higher Education Access Route (HEAR)/Disability Access Route to Education (DARE) forms must be submitted by 1st March. HEAR/DARE supporting documentation must arrive in CAO by 15th March.

Late online applications, fee €60, will be accepted from 5th March to 1st May. From 5th May, you may register a change of course choices online at

Check that your courses have been updated by using the “My Application” facility before 1st July. Before the end of May, you will be sent a Statement of Application Record to verify that all your information has been recorded accurately. If you find any error in the document, contact the CAO.

Course choices and preferences may be changed as often as desired, free of charge, between 5th May and 1st July. If you submit a Change of Mind, it cancels all the previous course choices, which you have submitted.

The two categories (Level 8 and Level7/6) are completely separate from each other for this purpose. Any restricted application course, added for the first time via a Change of Mind won’t be considered unless it shares the same assessment procedure with a course you had applied for by 1st Feb.

In early July, offers of places (Round A) are issued to deferred applicants, mature applicants and to those who need to make visa arrangements.

In early August, offers of places (Round Zero) are issued to certain non-standard categories of applicants such as FET/QQI and graduate applicants. Round One, the main body of offers will be issued shortly after the Leaving Cert results.

Last year 53,815 applicants received offers in Round One. CAO will release details of the finalised 2021offers and acceptance schedule later in the year.

Since the new Leaving Cert grading system and CAO common points scale were introduced in 2017, points’ requirements for many courses have stabilised. As the ‘calculated grades’ considerably inflated course points requirements last year, it might be wiser to consult the 2019 cut off points as a guide to likely points requirements in 2021. But keep in mind that points’ requirements for courses fluctuate from year to year, so predicting cut off points is an inaccurate science.

Each Leaving Cert candidate should aim to achieve her/his best possible result in that exam. Points’ requirements for courses will take care of themselves in due course.


• 25 bonus points are awarded for Higher Level Maths for H6 or above if Maths is one of the six subjects being counted for points calculation
• Foundation Level Maths: F1 and F2 are valued at 20 and 12 points, respectively
• LCVP: Distinction, Merit, Pass are valued at 66, 46 and 28 points, respectively


• 20th Jan: apply by 5.15pm to avail of the online discount rate of €30
• 20th Jan: closing date to register for HPAT (Under Graduate Med.) test
• 31st Jan: closing date to register for MSAP (Mature Students) test
• 1st Feb: online change of course choices (free) closes at 5.15pm
• 1st Feb: normal closing date, at 5.15pm, for applications
• 1st Feb: closing date to register for GAMSAT (Graduate Medicine) test
• 5th Feb: online facility to amend course choices opens at noon (€10 fee)
• 20th/21st Feb: HPAT-Ireland test takes place online
• 1st March: closing date, at 5.15pm, for amending course choices
• 1st March: completed online HEAR/DARE forms must be submitted by 5.15pm
• 1st March: closing date, at 5.15pm for completion of mature student application form
• 5th March: late online application facility opens at 12.00 noon (€60 fee)
• 6th March: MSAP test takes place
• 11th March: MSAP test takes place
• 15th March: HEAR/DARE supporting documentation must arrive in CAO by 5.15pm
• 21st March: GAMSAT test takes place
• 1st May: closing date, at 5.15pm, for late applications
• 5th May: online change of mind facility (free) opens at 12.00 noon
• 31st May: Statement of Application Record sent to all applicants before this date
• Late June: HPAT-Ireland results released
• 1st July: change of mind facility (free) closes at 5.15pm
• 22nd July: exceptional late closing date at 5.15pm for those already in 3rd level

Billy Ryle is a Career Guidance Counsellor and Educational Commentator

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