CAO points surge to see many college places decided by random selection

Sarah Mooney

CAO points awarded to students based on their performance in the Leaving Certificate and required to secure a place in college are “highly likely” to return to record levels this year.

The number of points required for third-level courses are forecast to inflate to levels seen last year, according to internal records released to The Irish Times by the Department of Education.

This means many in-demand college places in courses such as medicine, health sciences and commerce are set to be awarded on the basis of random selection.


Last year, this lottery system saw some students who received the maximum points possible – 625 – lose out on their first-choice college course.

The points surge is expected again this year due to a decision to keep Leaving Cert students’ grades “no lower” than last year, combined with high numbers of college applicants.

Higher grades have been seen during the last two years of the Covid-19 pandemic as traditional exams were mixed with calculated grades.

Additional places

Secretary of the Irish Second Level Students Union and current Leaving cert student, Eoin Connolly, said the news of a surge in points is no great shock.


“This isn’t that surprising, they said they were going to purposely adjust the points to try and match somewhat last year, otherwise we’d be at a disadvantage… It's certainly not ideal,” he told Newstalk radio.

Guidance counsellor Brian Mooney meanwhile reminded students there are other routes to third-level than the CAO.

“Students can apply for a course through the CAO. If they don’t get that course, they could do a further education course for a year and get a reserve place on that course maybe next year,” he said.

It comes as Government sources told The Irish Times that Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris is planning to seek Cabinet approval shortly for an additional 1,000 college places this year.

These will be targeted in areas such as medicine, healthcare, social care, engineering and courses relating to climate change, and will aim to reduce some of the points pressure and use of random selection.