The points system
Points are not set by the colleges, or the CAO. They are based on supply and demand, by the Leaving Cert points of the applicants. If the students applying for a course all score very highly, the points will go up, and vice versa.
Say for example, a course has 20 places. The CAO will run through the list of people who have met the minimum requirements for the course, and offer the course to the top 20 people. The points of the last person to be offered the course are the points that are published as the "cut-off" for the course. If any of those people refuse the offer, the course is then offered to the next person on the list. Whatever points this person is on will become the points published for 2nd round offers, and so on.
The whole CAO application process works on a basic principle ... that YOU know what you want!
It is important to understand this, and to understand how the system is set up based on that principle.
When the CAO gets round to offering places, you will be offered the first course on your list for which you have enough points, and everything below that on the list vanishes instantly. If you missed a higher ranked option on your list by a few points, and the points drop in a later round, you may well be offered that ... but you will never be offered a lower option on your list, even if the points for it were higher than the course you were offered, and you achieved those points.
The system presumes you knew your own mind when you ranked your choices.
Which is why it is absolutely essential that you rank your CAO choices in the order in which YOU would like to be offered them ... NOT according to what way you think the points might go, not in order of supposed status, not for any other reason except "I really want to do X, that goes down first; if I don't get X, then Y is my next preference ..." and so on.
Or ... as one of your own peers puts it ...
Golden Rule for the CAO, which most people don't seem to cop...
Put the course you want the most in the top position, regardless of whether or not you think you'll get the points.
Once you are offered a course on your CAO form, you cannot be offered any course in a position lower than this. However, you could be offered a higher up course on your form in subsequent rounds. You won't get it if you don't at least ask!!!!
The CAO itself puts it this way:
Originally Posted by CAO Handbook
Order of Preference:
It is MOST IMPORTANT that you state your course choices in view of genuine preference and/or career plans.
IT IS A MISTAKE to base your choices only on your present expectation of examination performance or the points levels of previous years.
There is no need to fear that a statement of your genuine order of preference will militate against you. If you are not successful in your first choice this will have no effect on your chances of obtaining a place in one of your lower preferences.
So ... why am I basically repeating the same thing three times?! Premature senility?!!
No ... because year after year, this is the thing which trips people up, no matter how often it is said!!
*** Link to CAO Handbook ***
Please *do* put aside an hour at some stage to read through it ... it will repay you as the year goes on. Even if you don't recall every detail, you will have a better idea where to find what you want / check on details.
Link to CAO log-in page ... log into your CAO account here!
How the CAO works: (Page 22 of 2012 Handbook)
Offer of highest preference
You will be offered a place in the highest of your course preferences to which you are entitled (if any).
This will be done, independently, in respect of Level 8 and Level 7/Level 6 choices.
You may, therefore, receive two offers at the same time; one for the highest Level 8 preference to which you are entitled and the other for the highest Level 7/Level 6 preference to which you are entitled.
Exclusion from lower preferences
IMPORTANT: When you have been offered a place in one of your course preferences, you are excluded from further consideration for any course which is lower in your order of preference than the one in which you have been offered a place.
This means that while you may subsequently move upwards in your order of preference (if places become available due to withdrawals) you will not be considered for a place in a course which is a lower preference than that already offered.
Later offers for higher preference
If you are being offered a place in a course which is not your first preference, you may subsequently be offered a place in a course of higher preference if such a place becomes available.
This applies whether or not the earlier offer has been accepted. It is NOT necessary to accept an offer in order to be considered for a higher preference if it becomes available later. There is no guarantee, of course, that a higher preference will become available.
Non-acceptance of subsequent offers
Having accepted an offer of a place, you are not obliged to accept a subsequent offer. You may retain the original offer simply by ignoring the subsequent one.