Central Applications Office
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The primary mission of the Central Applications Office is to centrally process applications in a fair and efficient manner. The colleges and universities delegate the administration of admissions to the Central Applications Office; colleges and universities retain full control of admissions.
The Central Applications Office was founded in January 1976 based in Galway, with nine colleges and universities participating initially. The first students processed through the system commenced courses in 1978.
The Central Admissions Service (CAS) was introduced independently by the Dublin Institute of Technology and the Regional Technical Colleges, both of whom were outside the initial Central Applications Office.
Commencing in the 1991 intake the Central Applications Office and Central Admissions Service decided to combine their admissions procedures so that students would have to complete only one joint application form for both systems - the CAO/CAS. The common points scale came into operation the next year, with the best six results from one sitting of the Leaving Certificate becoming the standard; previous to that there had been some allowance to accumulate points by sitting the Leaving Certificate more than once. Also the combined system was taken as an opportunity to reduce non-standard applications such as interviews for selection and portfolios of work - and overall to simplify the applications process. Eventually the CAS was subsumed into the CAO.
Students applying for positions in third level education courses apply to the CAO rather than to individual educational institutions such as colleges and universities. The CAO then offers places to students who meet the minimum requirements for a course for which they have applied. In the case that there are more qualified applicants than available places on a particular course, places are offered to those students with the highest score in the CAO points system.
Outside the points system
The points system is designed for young people leaving secondary education. Many institutions reserve places in some courses for older adults, people from disadvantaged backgrounds, or other groups unlikely to achieve a place through the points system. Applications for most of these are routed through the CAO, but processed manually by the individual institutions rather than automatically via the points system.
The points system
The CAO awards points to students based on their achievements in the Leaving Certificate examination. A student's points are calculated according to these tables, counting their best six subjects only (resulting in a maximum score of 625 points since 2012 with the introduction of the extra 25 points awarded to those who achieve a D3 grade in honours mathematics). If a student has sat the Leaving Certificate examination on more than one occasion, their points are calculated according to their best year's performance. Students' points are used as a queuing system for over-subscribed courses, with the available places offered to those students ranked highest by the points scale.
In the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme, students may obtain a Distinction (70 points), Merit (50 points), or Pass (30 points) that can be used as well as their 6 best subjects.