Applications for traditionally high-points courses such as law, veterinary, dentistry and physiotherapy have increased significantly this year, according to The Irish Times .
Among the biggest percentage increases in applications for this year were in physiotherapy, which increased by 25 per cent, dentistry, which increased by 17 per cent, law, which increased by 16 per cent and veterinary medicine, which saw a 16 per cent increase.
There were also increases in environmental-based courses, architecture, secondary education, medicine, pharmacy and engineering.
In contrast, less students applied for courses in the arts, humanities and languages than last year. Applications for the humanities fell by 9 per cent, arts fell by 7 per cent, agriculture applications dropped by 5 per cent and applications for art and design decreased by 3 per cent.
Overall, more than 77,800 students have applied for a college course through the CAO this year.
More than half adjusted their course choices during May and June, a period when it was announced that leaving certificate exams were being replaced with calculated grades.
Career guidance columnist Brian Mooney told the Irish Times that the rising unemployment and uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic may be attracting students to courses that have stronger employment prospects.
“Once again, we’re seeing that prospect of a solid job at the end of a course is a key driver, as opposed to exploring an area of education in arts and humanities”, he said.
Mooney also noted that the surge in applications for high-points courses may also indicate that students think they have a better chance of scoring more CAO points under the new predicted-grades system which uses predicted grades.
“Some may well feel that, while they might not have achieved very high points in the traditional Leaving Cert exams, it might be a possibility with the new process. There’s also uncertainty about whether points for some high-points courses might fall this year due to fewer international students, so that could also be a factor.”
It is not clear when leaving certificate students can expect to receive their results and CAO offers, although it is expected to be close to the traditional mid-August date.
In May, former Minister for Education Joe McHugh announced that the leaving certificate was set to be postponed, and that calculated grades would determine students’ performance in their assessments.
Calculated grades will be awarded to students on the basis of a number of factors – such as class rankings, students’ performance in previous assessments and other indicators.
While teachers appear to be primarily responsible for deciding these grades, the school principal and senior management will oversee the process and the grades will be filtered through a number of people before being finalised.
In September of last year, Irish Independent reported that a review by the Higher Education Authority found that in 2017, 36 per cent of those applying to study medicine came from the most affluent areas, compared with 3.5 per cent from disadvantaged neighbourhoods.
Some 24 per cent of those who received between 155 and 205 CAO points were from disadvantaged backgrounds, while only eight per cent of students from wealthier communities scored within this bracket.