CAO applications set to surpass 80,000 as 2021 gears up to be the most competitive year for Leaving Cert students

Image Credit: Dominic Daly

CAO applications have reached almost 80,000 so far this year. This is the highest number of applications ever made, surpassing the 2016 record of 76,000.

On Tuesday the 2nd of February, students from all parts of the country received the results of the November Leaving Certificate exam. Of the 2202 students, it was found that 1136 of these candidates received marks higher than their original grades which were determined by calculated predictions of teachers and awarded in August. For students who received higher marks, the new mark will automatically supersede the lower calculated grade and they are permitted to go forward with their CAO application for the 2021/22 academic year. Minister for Higher Education, Simon Harris announced that 554 level 8 college offers will be made to students who sat the exam in November, along with 37 level 6 and 7 offers.  

Although 39% of those who sat their exams scored higher than their predicted grades, it does not prove that sitting the Leaving Certificate exam will assure a better mark for students. The figures show that 34% of students scored lower than their predicted grades, while 28% of candidates scored the same as their original grade. The State Examinations Commission has assured students who received a lower grade in their written exams that they are still entitled to use the highest mark they achieved even if that is the original calculated grade received in August. As for students who deferred their original CAO place and did not receive higher marks in this round of results, they must pay €60 to accept their deferral offer and continue with their original course in September. Although disappointment may cloud these students, they may be consolidated in the certainty of having a desirable course offer for September 2021, as nearly 7,000 additional applications were received to the CAO this year in comparison to last year’s figures.

This year the CAO has reached almost 80,000 applications for third-level college admissions, which is the highest number of applications ever, surpassing the previous record of 76,000 in 2016. This academic year is set to be one of the most competitive as Leaving Certificate students, PLC students, and mature students are all hoping to secure a place in their desired college course and further their education. The revelation of this has once again raised the discussion as to how the Leaving Certificate should be handled for the 2021 exam students. It is still unclear if predicted grades or an amended leaving certificate will constitute the final secondary exams for the class of 2020. Many feel a special allowance should be made for the current sixth years who have missed out on an in-class education for both of their core Leaving Certificate cycle years. 

With the coronavirus pandemic affecting the conventional education of thousands of students across the country, the Irish government will have all eyes on them as they decide on their next move regarding the current sixth year students and the Leaving Certificate. Talks regarding the progression of the Leaving Certificate were held on the 11th of February. The Association of Secondary Teachers In Ireland (ASTI) withdrew from these talks over concern there was not enough work done to assess the students in a Calculated Grades system. Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris branded the move “beyond unhelpful”, however the Union have since agreed to meet the Minister for Education, Norma Foley again.