STUDENTS are battling for a university place in a desperate 1980s-style points race as record numbers applied to the CAO this year.
More than 67,000 hopefuls registered with the Central Applications Office (CAO) with thousands more returning to college due to a swell in unemployment figures.
However, 13pc of these will not receive any offer as more than 700 courses recorded massive hikes, with science and computing having higher demand than previous years.
A smaller pool of jobs available has driven up competition for places, with final CAO figures showing a 4pc increase in applications for level 8 or higher degree courses.
More than 54pc of these honours degree courses saw a jump in points, while one nursing course in Cork rose to 500 points for the first time.
Points have moved upwards for the majority of all higher-level courses in science, computing, agriculture, medicine and nursing.
And the requirement for science in University College Dublin (UCD), the largest course of its kind in the country, shot up from 385 to 435 points, an increase of 50 points within the space of a year.
Disciplines which have been seriously affected by the downturn are now attracting a significant number of college applicants once again.
Business and law courses have levelled out this year, after a steady decline over the past few years.
But in a reflection of the lack of job opportunities in the construction industry, demand for built environment Level 8, honours degree courses fell from 552 to 319.
Civil and environmental engineering is down 55 at UCC to 430 while architecture is down 40 points at Waterford IT to 400.
In UCD, entry levels for architecture fell below 500 points for the first time in years.
Traditionally the most competitive course, medicine, also recorded an increase with all five medical schools recording a rise in points to a minimum of 720, which included the Health Professions Admission Test (HPAT).
The test was supposed to reduce the pressure on students looking for a place in this highly competitive area.
However, despite official advice against preparing for the HPAT, there is anecdotal evidence that some well-off students received grinds ahead of the exam.
A minimum of 480 Leaving Cert points is needed in order to be in contention, and the maximum HPAT score is 300.
There was no change in points for teaching at St Patrick's Drumcondra at 475, despite the recent announcement of a further 1,000 primary teaching posts.
Meanwhile, student representatives have warned that the third-level grants system faces "meltdown" this year because of the high numbers of applicants.
President of the Union of Students, Gary Redmond, revealed that some hard-pressed students failed to receive any payment until March, seven months into the academic year.
Some students were then unable to pay their €1,500 services charge and found themselves locked out of the library and research areas.
"Last year the grants system was creaking at the seams," he said. "This year it is going to go into meltdown."
Approximately 60,000 students receive maintenance grants each year, but this figure is expected to increase.
And the USI expressed fears that the grant, which was cut by 5pc in the budget, could face a further chop in December.
CAO Special, pages 28-37