Student Issues

Expert Tips & Tricks For Students Filling Out CAO

Completing the CAO can be a daunting experience for many but it doesn’t have to be that way. At this stage, it gives students time to focus with plenty of opportunity to revisit over the coming months. International research tells us that wrong course choice is one of the major factors which leads to student drop out at college. Working in the third level sector myself, this research is borne out every year as I meet new students who are disillusioned and find that college just doesn’t meet their expectations. So how can you guard against this happening?


Some tips for students completing the CAO

Choosing what you are interested in is key to your success at college. In order to establish your areas of interest, you need to think outside the box. Think about your dream course, subject interests, what you are good at, who you admire, what environment you might like to work in. What makes you tick?

You need to re-examine your set of CAO choices with an ‘eagle’ eye. It is so important that your genuine preference for a course governs the order of your choice of course. Don’t be tempted to choose a course or college which is more popular or that friends are choosing. Stay focused on yourself – you are the most important person in all of this discussion and you need to take control. It is your journey.

In order to make informed choices, you need to give each course listed individual attention. Get below the surface and ask questions.

Are you really interested in all the courses you have listed? Do you know enough about them and the subjects you will be studying to make a commitment for the next few years? Have you looked ahead to the second and subsequent years? What other courses can you study at other colleges and in related fields?

In choosing your college, many things need to be considered such as: location, student numbers, course content, teaching methods, academic supports, college services, opportunities abroad, internship opportunities and so on. Every college wants you but more importantly wants you to complete the course of study.

What research have you engaged in? Do you need to conduct further research, searching college and course websites, using the many resources available to you which include: family, friends, teachers, parents, academics at the third level institutions, college students and graduates, your community and any contacts/networks you might have. Make a list of questions. This list will change over time. Remember this is not a quick fix, it is an incremental process.

College life will present many challenges. Students who are happy with their course choices will cope better with these challenges. Making the most of your college experience starts with finding what suits you best.

Given the competitive nature of college entry, you will need to have a wide range of choices available to you in your area of interest. For all courses you plan to list on your CAO application, ask yourself one question, “How will I react if this course is offered to me in August 2019?” Your answer speaks for itself.


Catherine O’Connor, Trinity College Dublin is an Education Consultant and Author. Her book, ‘Cracking the College Code’ A practical guide to making the most of the first year college experience, is seen as “The must have guide for all parents and students” and is endorsed by third level institutions and the office of the Minister for Education and Skills.