CAO Offers; All you Need to Know & What to do if it Doesn’t Go your Way

Let’s just start by saying CONGRATULATIONS on completing secondary school and getting through the leaving cert process. Has it been easy? I doubt it. Will you regret some decisions or mistakes you made? I’m sure you will. At the end of the day, however, there is a lesson in all those decisions and mistakes. You just need to keep an open mind and find the hidden lessons.

The next chapter now opens; the CAO offers. Before we get into the CAO offers process, and what to do if it didn’t go your way, I want you to take some time to celebrate your success so far. You have finally arrived at the finish line. You should feel very proud of your accomplishment.

Below we will take you through a step-by-step approach to dealing with the CAO offers.

Round One CAO Offers

In the first round of CAO offers, the student is offered the highest preference listed on their CAO application to which their points rating entitles them. Once they have been offered their highest CAO choice, the student is excluded from further consideration for any course that is lower than the place offered. The student may still be eligible for a course of higher preference if a place becomes available later on.

Round Two CAO Offers & Subsequent Offers

All applicants apply on the basis of school leaving examination results, regardless of the year completed. After round one CAO offers have been accepted, the CAO then issues round two offers for the remaining places. Subsequent offers are issued by the CAO as necessary (until October) to fill any vacancies that may arise.

If you receive a CAO offer from both lists in the same round, you must choose between them; you can only accept one offer from either the Level 8 or the Level 7/6 list. So, you have to choose between the two offers. If you find yourself with such an option, it might be worth considering the Level 7/6 course on offer to you, rather than accept a Level 8 course lower down on your list of preferences, which may not be a course you have a genuine interest in studying. And remember, whichever course you accept will have no effect on your entitlement to an offer of a course higher up either of your two lists –  if it becomes available to you in a later round.

Deferring a Place

If you decide to defer a CAO offer of a place, you must write or email immediately to the Admissions Office of the appropriate Higher Education Institution (HEI). You must give your name as it appears on the CAO application. Quote your CAO application number and the course code of the offer you wish to defer, and set out the reason(s) for the request. You must mark “DEFERRED ENTRY” clearly on the envelope, or in the subject line of the email.

The letter or email must arrive in the Admissions Office at least two days before the reply date shown on the Offer Notice. The HEI will communicate their decision to you. If the deferral is not granted, you may then accept the CAO offer for the current year, providing they record the acceptance by the reply date. If your deferral is accepted, then you must reapply through the CAO the following 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 the following year’s applicants.

Later CAO Offer Rounds

In a later CAO offer round, you may be deemed eligible for an offer of a course higher up on your preference list. You can choose to accept this higher preference offer, even if you have already accepted a lower preference offer in an earlier round.

Random Number Selection

For some courses, random number selection may also be a factor. Before students are placed on the Order of Merit list for a course, they are assigned a random number. If there are five applicants with an identical point score competing for one remaining place, random number selection applies and the place will be offered to the candidate with the highest random number.

No CAO Offer Received

If you do not receive a CAO offer in the first round, you will receive a Statement of Application Record. Please check this document carefully to ensure that all of the information is correct. For example, your examination number and results. In the absence of a CAO offer in round one, it is important to consider other options and consult with a Guidance Counsellor if possible. You may still receive an offer in round two or subsequent offer rounds. You may also choose to make an Available Places application (see below) via

Available Places

If you do not receive a CAO offer in subsequent rounds, or if you are unhappy with the CAO offer that you receive, you may apply through the ‘Available Places’ facility’ on the CAO website. This facility opens at noon the day after round one CAO offers are made available online.

The ‘Available Places’ facility’ lists all of the courses which institutions have not yet filled. Applicants who meet the minimum eligibility criteria may apply for such courses. An application for an ‘Available Places’ course does not guarantee a CAO offer.

Explore Other Options

If the CAO offers do not go your way, there is absolutely no need to panic. There are so many other options you can consider. Such as;

  • Further education, PLC courses. It’s not too late to apply, and there are plenty of opportunities
  • Take a year out and reapply to CAO next year
  • Apply for a job. Gain some experience working in a field you are interested in
  • Do an online course; upskill while working by completing one or more online courses throughout the year
  • Repeat the Leaving Certificate
  • Apprenticeships
  • Study abroad

Do seek help and support when making these decisions.

Queries or Questions

If you have queries or questions for the CAO, you can use the contact facility on A response will usually be issued by the next working day.

It’s time to open up a new chapter in your life whether that be college, a year out, the world of work or a year to explore. The hard work starts now, but becoming the best version of you and being true to who you are will stand to you for a lifetime.

Make today count.

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