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Last Updated: October 12, 2021

What is CAO/Central Applications Office?

The CAO or the Central Applications Office is a centralized system that lets students process their undergraduate course applications in Irish Higher Education Institutions. The organization was formed in the year 1976 and was created to process applications from all candidates efficiently without having them apply individually for every college or university they have chosen.

The undergraduate courses that candidates can apply to by using the CAO include Higher Certification-Level 6 programs, Bachelor’s Degree- Level 7, and Bachelor’s Degree Honors- Level 8. The CAO publishes a handbook that lists all the courses that are offered and acts as a guide to the application process. Candidates will be allowed to submit only one application in a year. If they end up applying more than once, a penalty fee of € 10 will be charged by the CAO.

Deadlines and Cost for Applying to CAO

The cost of applying on CAO for undergraduate admissions are-
ServiceFeeClosing Date
Early Online Application€ 3020 Jan, 2022
Normal Online Application€ 451 Feb, 2022
Late Online Application€ 601 May, 2022
Change of MindFree1 July, 2022
Exceptional Online Late Application€ 6022 July, 2022
Vacant/Available Place€ 45
Paper Application Form€451 Feb, 2022(Early)
1 May, 2022(Late)

The modes of payment that candidates can choose include:
  1. paying via a credit/debit card
  2. paying in advance through a bank in the Republic of Ireland using the Application Fee Payment Form. The form can be procured by contacting CAO.

Application Process for International Students

Candidates who are applying from outside the EU will either have to use the CAO or apply directly to the Higher Education Institution. There has been no clear distinction made regarding the same and hence it is advised that candidates personally contact the admissions office of the respective colleges/universities to confirm which mode of application they have to use for applying.

If the candidate has resided outside the EU before or is currently residing outside the EU, they will have to apply directly to some HEIs. Candidates should ascertain this with every individual college they plan to apply to before the deadline. If the candidate is required to apply for the higher educational institution through CAO, they will be able to do so using the following steps.

Stages of the CAO Application Process

Candidates who are applying via CAO will be able to do so in a paper format or online. If they wish to apply through the paper format, they will be able to procure the application form by paying an amount of €45 or €90 depending on how early they request for it. Candidates will receive the paper application form via post and upon the submission of this paper application form, they will receive the Statement of Course Choices within 15 days of the submission deadline.

If they are applying online, they will have to take the following steps-

Step 1-Register on CAO website

To use the CAO system, candidates will have to initially register on the official website. Here, they will have to-

Step 2- Edit Application using “My Application”

Candidates will be able to provide further details specific to their qualifications during this step. They will be able to choose more than one option among the categories of qualifications and assessments. The categories that are provided are-

Step 3- Add Documents and Supplementary Information

After choosing the necessary categories regarding their qualifications, candidates will have to provide supporting documents before they can proceed through the application process. The supporting documents include-

Step 4- Add Level 6/7 and Level 8 Courses

After providing the necessary documents, candidates will be able to choose from the courses listed on the site. The courses will be classified based on the levels of the National Framework of Qualification which decides the achievement level of each course. Candidates will be able to choose 10 courses each from the Level 6/7 list and the Level 8 list. The different NFQ levels and the award types based on the courses are listed below:
NFQ LevelAward-Type
Level 8Honors Bachelor Degree
Level 7Ordinary Bachelor Degree
Level 6Higher Certificate
While choosing the courses on the list, candidates must ensure that it is in the order of their preference. This is because the offer of admission will be provided to the candidate based on the highest on the list that they are eligible for and not any course on the list the candidate is eligible for.

Step 5- Choose “Change of Mind” facility, if required

After choosing the desired courses, candidates will be able to go back to the choices they made and alter them if need be. They should do this before the deadline and there will be no additional charges levied for this feature. Through this feature, candidates will be able to change, remove, reorder the courses they have previously chosen.

Step 6- Check “Statement of Application Record”

Once the application has been completed, it is ideal for candidates to go over the Statement of Application Record to verify all the information they have provided. The Statement of Application Record will be sent to the candidate as a final acknowledgment of the application. The main factors to check while going through this section is the course choice and course order, course codes, examination numbers, and personal details. If any of the details are not in order, they will have to contact CAO immediately.

Step 7- Accept Offer Before Deadline

Candidates will be provided with offers of admission in three rounds: Round A(early July), Round Zero(early August), and Round One(mid-August). Each round will have a reply date after which the next round of offers will be provided to candidates who haven’t accepted offers yet.

Accepting an offer is done online. Candidates will be able to only accept one offer in any said round. They will be able to choose one either from Level 8 or from Level 6/7 and not one from both.

The Points System in CAO

CAO has a points system for candidates who have completed their secondary education. The student's points are based on the best score they have achieved in any of the 6 subjects they have taken in the year that are listed in their Leaving Certificate. The maximum score attainable is 625 where different subjects have different scores. A bonus of 25 points is awarded to the candidates if they clear the Math honors test. If a candidate has more than one Leaving Certificate, the one with the best performance will be considered by CAO. It is by using this score that candidates are provided admissions to colleges they have chosen.

Candidates will be graded on a scale of H1-H8 if they have taken higher-level subjects and on a scale of O1-O8 if they have taken ordinary-level subjects. The points they receive for each kind of subject will vary accordingly.

The scale for higher-level subjects is as follows
Level% ReceivedPoints
The scale for ordinary-level courses is as follows-
Level% ReceivedPoints

How to Reapply to CAO?

Candidates who have applied to CAO previously and would like to re-apply will have to create a new application. They will be able to proceed with the steps they did while applying earlier and generate a new CAO application number.

When to Apply Directly to HEI

Though most of the application procedures can be done through the CAO, there are instances where candidates will have to directly apply to the HEI/Higher Educational Institute. These instances are-


Candidates must apply directly to the HEI in question under the following events-

Mature Applicants

Mature applicants are those candidates who are above the age of 23. But some institutions might have a different age set for mature applicants which has to be verified by the said university. Candidates will be able to contact the Mature Students Officer of the HEI they plan to apply to in order to get answers to their queries. The HEIs that mature applicants should directly apply to are- Apart from these colleges, candidates will be able to apply through the CAO.

Evening/Part-Time Courses

Part-time courses and Evening courses are not offered by CAO except a few. Just to be sure, candidates will have to go through the CAO handbook and if they cannot find their desired course in the list, they will have to apply directly to the HEI.

Independent Appeals Commission

Candidates who believe that the offers they received or didn’t receive are unfair will be able to appeal to the Independent Appeals Commission especially if their complaints have not been resolved by the CAO. The appeal given should be provided in writing and signed by the applicant and candidates must provide supporting documents to prove their claim. The appeal should be sent to-

The Secretary
CAO Independent Appeals Commission
c/o Tower House
Eglinton Street
Galway, Ireland.

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