Students reject science in final college choices

Increase in take-up based on early applications reversed as students opt for arts and business courses

Science, engineering, and technology degrees are proving less popular with this year’s college applicants, but law and some health courses are among the most appealing.

The data showing the final preferences of just under 71,600 people seeking entry to honours (level 8) degrees reveal that arts and business continue to attract the highest numbers of applications.

However, while those two categories have seen students listing courses as their first preference up 2.5% and 1.6% on this time last year, respectively, there is a much different story on science and technology.

The turnaround is particularly noteworthy for level 8 science degrees, as earlier figures from the Central Applications Office (CAO) indicated they had been rising in popularity.

From a rise in 4% in first preferences based on students applying up to the February 1 early application deadline, the final number of 9,272 whose top choice is a science or applied science degree is nearly 2% less than this time last year.

Students who selected engineering or technology degrees as their first preference is down 4% in a year to 7,920, but this is an improvement on a 5% fall indicated in the February 1 figures.

Between February and July 1, Leaving Certificate students and other CAO applicants can add courses or change their order of preference, with their final choice next month.

Up to the May 1 final deadline to register with CAO, 80,345 people applied for entry to third-level courses at around 40 colleges, just 22 more than the same time last year. The 71,595 of them applying to level 8 courses is up just 0.4% on 2016.

Separate from listing level 8 degrees, applicants can seek entry to higher certificate or ordinary degrees (level 6 or 7 courses). The numbers for these categories continue to fall, from more than 46,000 a year ago to 45,393.

Other big swings on level 8 first preferences include a 6.5% rise in numbers pinning their hopes on a law degree, up almost 200 to 2,811. The popularity of architecture and built environment degrees are up 6% and 4.7% to 786 and 662, respectively, but the number of courses covered by these categories are quite small.

There has been a 9.7% increase in first preferences for ‘other healthcare’, a category that includes speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, and nutrition degrees. Dentistry has seen a 14% rise in popularity for the two degree programmes, and is the top choice of 353 applicants. However, first preferences for medical school entry, which also requires applicants to undertake the HPAT aptitude test in spring, are up just 0.5% to 2,937 people.

Physiotherapy and veterinary medicine show slight drops in popularity, but pharmacy first preferences have fallen 6.5% to 349 and the 5,620 listing a nursing degree as their top choice are 5.5% fewer than a year ago.

A new Leaving Certificate grading system is being introduced this year, and there are amendments to the points system with different CAO points corresponding to each of the new exam grades.

Students should receive their results on Wednesday, August 16 and the main CAO offers will be issued on Monday, August 20.


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