Record 74,000 seek college places

The number of students seeking places in third-level colleges has reached another record high, topping 74,000 for the first time.

The figure for submissions to the Central Applications Office (CAO) up to its main February 1 deadline compares to 73,091 this time last year. Even discounting 336 applicants for entry to second or subsequent years of some courses, a system operated by CAO for the first time in 2015, there are 1,000 — or 1.4% — more people seeking college places.

The rise comes amid growing pressure on colleges to squeeze in over half of all school leavers, as numbers sitting the Leaving Certificate continue to surge.

The 130-plus honours, or level 8, degrees in engineering and technology have seen a 9% jump in a year in the numbers putting them top of their course lists. Those 6,384 first preferences make the category the fourth most popular, but although level 8 science degrees remain more popular, 3% fewer students had one of those as their No 1 choice.

Arts and social science degrees account for one-in-five of all 925 level 8 programmes offered through CAO this year, and remain the most popular, although first-preference listing are 3% down on last year. Of all 63,130 applicants who have listed one or more honours degrees, 14,641 — almost one-in-four — have an arts programme as their first preference.

Applicants can list, in order of preference, up to 10 level 8 courses and up to 10 from almost 500 level 6 and 7 (higher certificate or ordinary degree) courses. For nearly a third of the 34,821 students who have listed level 6 or 7 courses on their applications, business and administration was the most popular category, followed by science, engineering and social science programmes.

As well as engineering, other level 8 course categories are continuing to enjoy a resurgence in popularity, after dips over previous years linked largely to economic conditions. There has been a 16% rise to 624 in the number of students picking one of 11 level 8 architecture degrees as their top choice, and the 2,837 listing one or more somewhere in their application is up 11%.

Other trends in level 8 application data released by the CAO today include:

  • Business/administration: 10,053 (up 4%);
  • Science/applied science: 8,282 (down 3%);
  • Engineering/technology: 6,384 (up 9%);
  • Nursing: 5,368 (down 2%);
  • Teaching: 4,731 (up 2%);
  • Medicine: 3,283 (up 0.2%);
  • Law: 2,341 (up 13%)

CAO general manager Joe O’Grady said the figures are are subject to change, as the change-of-mind facility will allow most applicants add, remove or reorder course choices from May 5 to July 1.

The country’s biggest institution, University College Dublin, reported an 8% drop in first preferences for its arts degree, but a 12% rise for social science. It said a 15% fall in demand for science at UCD was expected, after first preferences had trebled in the previous decade, but courses in architecture and built environment categories are more popular than 2014.

“It is not surprising that our trends reflect national trends,” said UCD deputy president Mark Rogers. “However, I urge students to make their choices based on their interests and aptitudes rather than on economic indicators.”

Last year’s 78,000 CAO applications up to the final May 1 deadline included 44,000 who sat the Leaving Certificate in June.

The CAO said the 10,763 mature applicants, those aged over 23, are 316 fewer than last year and include 152 applying for entry to courses later than first year. There have been 1,383 applications from the North, up from 1,091 a year ago and from 1,223 in 2013.

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