Navigating the CAO Application Process can seem like a daunting task, especially for first-time college applicants. This secure online service, accessible via the CAO website, is your key to a vibrant future in third-level education in Ireland.

Understanding the CAO Form

The Central Applications Office form is your ticket to the various courses offered by higher education institutions in Ireland. However, the CAO application process can be complex. It falls into two categories: normal applications and applications for mature applicants.

Normal applications are typically made by students expecting their Leaving Cert results in the same year they apply. On the other hand, mature applicants are those aged 23 or older on January 1st of the year of their course entry.

The form includes sections for your personal details and course choices. The course choice section is crucial. Here, you list your course preferences in order of desire. Remember, your CAO course preference choices can be the deciding factor for your future study, so research thoroughly before finalising your options.

Key Dates and the CAO Change of Mind Facility

One of the most important dates for CAO applicants is the closing date for applications. For normal applications, this date is typically in early February. However, an exceptional closing date applies for certain courses and applicants, such as mature applicants or those applying for a restricted course.

Restricted courses are those with early assessment procedures, like auditions or interviews. Applicants interested in these courses must indicate this on their initial CAO application, as a late choice won’t be accepted.

The CAO Change of Mind facility comes into play after the initial application stage. This free online change of mind service, typically active from early May to July 1st, allows you to change your course choices immediately. You can alter your preferences, add new courses (unless they are restricted application courses), or remove courses via your CAO account.

The CAO Change of Mind deadline is as crucial as the application closing date. After this final date, your choices are locked in, and any changes won’t be considered.

Managing Your CAO Account and Application

Your CAO account is accessible on the CAO website. For online applicants, it’s a breeze to manage your details and track your application. If you’re a paper applicant, you’re encouraged to verify your application details online. Should any changes need to be made, contact CAO immediately.

You may ask, “Is it too late to apply for CAO?” If you missed the initial closing date, late applications usually remain open until May 1st, albeit with a slightly higher fee. However, late applications are not accepted for restricted courses.

Post Application Stage

After the Change of Mind deadline, you eagerly await your Leaving Cert results and the subsequent CAO offers. The initial CAO offers, known as “Round One Offers,” typically come out a few days after the cert results. If you’re happy with your offer, fantastic! If not, the Change of Mind facility might be closed, but there’s still a chance for different offers in the following rounds if places remain unfilled.

The Costs and Necessary Documentation

The CAO application process isn’t free, but the cost is a small price to pay for a future full of opportunities. Fees for online and paper applicants differ, and late applications come with a higher fee.

You may be wondering, “How do I download a Central Applications Office form?” The form is readily available on the CAO website, identifiable by the prominent CAO logo.

As for documents, you typically need to send proof of your exam results, especially if you’re not currently sitting the Leaving Cert. Mature students may need to provide additional documentation related to previous education or professional qualifications.

CAO Process

CAO Process


The Central Applications Office form and process might seem overwhelming at first, but with an understanding of the key dates, knowing the difference between normal applications and those for mature applicants, and awareness of the Change of Mind facility, it becomes much more manageable.

It’s essential to stay on top of the application process. Being aware of the closing date for applications, knowing how to download the Central Applications Office form from the website, understanding the documents you need to send to CAO, and whether it’s too late to apply, are all part of this journey.

Even after your application, the journey doesn’t end. Stay updated with your CAO account, keep an eye on those cert results, and be ready for the initial CAO offers. Even if your first choice doesn’t pan out, subsequent rounds could still bring good news.

Remember, the CAO form is more than just a piece of paper or an online application. It’s a passport to a world of learning, growth, and opportunities at third-level institutions across Ireland. It’s the start of a new chapter, and the choices you make here will shape your future.

Good luck with your CAO journey! And remember, when in doubt or if any issues arise, the CAO’s customer service is there to help. Contact them directly here or via the details provided on their website.

If you need any help or assistance with the CAO process, Careerhub is on hand to help and advise. Please see our range of services here: