Common mistakes in CAO applications and how to avoid them

by | Mar 26, 2024 | Parent Support


When my son filled in his CAO he put Science in Sligo as his first choice. And that’s what he got offered.


Red flags popped up all over the place! He was not a sciency person and Sligo? He barely heard of it before!

We said, No! We weren’t funding a bid for him just to get away from home for something that he wouldn’t flourish in. As you can imagine, he was less than impressed. It was difficult for us to say no. Eventually, he decided to take a year out of college to think about his future.

This is a common mistake that teenagers make in their CAO applications.

Common Mistakes

Every year, I get parents contacting me because their teenager has made some mistake in their CAO application form. Sometimes, it’s a simple administration error but often it’s a lack of understanding of how the CAO works. Or how to plan out their CAO choices to ensure that they get a course that will get them to where they want to go. One student only had one course on their application form and just missed out on it by a few points. The heartbreak for that girl!

I also get parents contacting me because their teenager chose the wrong university course and is miserable. They are considering dropping out or have done so. They are now stuck in low paying jobs with their self-confidence in tatters.

With a small bit of forethought, a lot of these mistakes can be avoided.

And parents, please don’t rely on your teenager fully understanding the process themselves. They very often don’t. Very often, parents don’t understand how the CAO works either, leaving it to their teenager. This is a big mistake. As one mum who did this told me, “I didn’t realise we had a problem until the offers came out. I thought my son had it all under control. I thought his school explained it all to them”. They didn’t really.

So what can you do?

Check in with your teenager over the Easter holidays to see if they have made good choices for their CAO. Ask a few questions to see how they answer:

  • Have they checked what they will study each semester? Do they like those subjects? Do they even understand what they are?
  • Do they know what careers they can achieve when they finish their course?
  • Are they capable of getting the points that the course requires?
  • What other options do they have under their 1st preference? Do they align with their top choice?
  • Have they researched pathways other than the CAO, such as Tertiary degrees, apprenticeships, Further Education and Training?
  • Do the answers to your questions seem a bit woolly or vague?

If red flags start popping up, like they did for us with our son, then it’s time to steer them back to the drawing board.

Career choice is a process

It does take a while. With a lot of research into different courses, different universities, they will be able to find their thing. And then, do that all over again!

And remember, they don’t have to get stuck on choosing a course that has lots of points. There are plenty of not so well-known courses available that have lower points just because not many people are applying for them. They are still good courses.

It’s also a good idea for parents to familiarise themselves with how the CAO works. There is a handbook on the CAO website here.

There’s still plenty of time.

Your teenager may be so wrapped up in their study that they feel that they don’t have time anymore. That is not the case!

The CAO is closed at the moment until 5th May when the ‘Change of mind’ facility opens until 1st July. They have plenty of time to do even 1 or 2 hours research a week.

Indeed, I coached a number of students last year during their Leaving Cert exams, up to 1st July and they made excellent choices. The important point to remember is that there is no rush yet but ongoing research is very beneficial.

So let’s avoid the heartbreak and help your teenager avoid these common mistakes by having a well thought out career plan.

Chat soon,

Helen xx

About Me

Find out more about me here and my careers coaching programme for teenagers here.


If you would like to sign up for my newsletter, please fill in the form below. You will then receive a copy of my Study Skills PDF.

Image of Helen Dillon Careers Coach for Teenagers


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sign up for my newsletter and receive a copy of my Study Skills PDF

Pin It on Pinterest

Skip to content