Deciding to go to college is often the easy part – the what, where, when and how can be the bits that cause confusion and stress.
How do I choose?
Research, research, research: it may seem boring and basic – but it will be worth it.
- A career: Firstly, it is okay not to know what you want to do – this is perfectly normal. Talk to people – a guidance counsellor, someone working in the job you are interested in, someone you admire/ trust. Take an online interest assessment – careersportal.ie.
- A course: Ask yourself questions – does the course suit your particular interest, your abilities, your career goals? Check out educational websites: www.qualifax.ie. You should also check if fees are payable. Not all courses are covered by the Free Fees Initiative.
- A college: Attend open days (most are virtual). Things to consider include; courses being offered, distance from home, is it fee paying, student facilities, size of the campus, college atmosphere, course.
- Progression: Ask yourself questions – where will this course bring me? what can I do next? – check out our post on Progression Routes.
Here is a great article on spunout that explores how to choose a college course in more detail.
How do I apply to the CAO?
- Most universities and Institutes of Technology require you to apply through CAO.
- You can see information on further education & Training (Level 5/6) and apprenticeships through the CAO options. However, CAO is not currently accepting applications for further education courses or apprenticeships. For all queries and information about Further Education and Training or Apprenticeship options, click Further Education & Training or Apprenticeships Here is a short video explaining further education & training and details on how to apply for courses.
- Dates for Diary: It is important to keep an eye on key dates for the CAO
- Click the useful video on how to apply to CAO – There are different videos to help you through the process. You can also read applying to the CAO in the CAO handbook to answer more of your questions.
Different routes to the same goal!
With all the talk of applying to university, it can be easy to forget that there are other routes to your chosen career. From Apprenticeships, Colleges of Further Education to the Defence Forces among others to consider. Remember there are many ways to achieve your goal – check out our posts on Education Options & Progression Routes
You can find information on Further Education & Training (Level 5/6) and apprenticeships through the CAO options. However, CAO does not currently accepting applications for further education courses or apprenticeships. FET Course Hub has really useful information on Further Education & Training or Apprenticeships. Here is FET short video explaining further education & training and details on how to apply for courses.
Is there financial support to go to College?
- The main financial support available for students attending full-time further and higher education courses is the student grant, which may include a maintenance grant and/or a fee grant, depending on your eligibility. Click SUSI for more information.
- Student finance website provides comprehensive information on student grants and other sources of financial assistance such as the Student Assistance Fund, the Fund for Students with Disabilities and the Free Fees Initiative.
Access Supports to help you get into College
The ACCESS admission schemes help students who face extra barriers – family or financial background or have a disability – and therefore may find it more difficult to get into college. There are two schemes available for students through ACCESS. It is possible to apply for both schemes if both are relevant to you.
- HEAR (Higher Education Access Route) Scheme offers ‘reduced points’ college places and extra college support to school leavers from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds who are resident in the Republic of Ireland. There is range of financial, social and cultural criteria that must be met.
- If you wish to apply for a college place under the HEAR scheme you should apply online through the CAO. Your CAO application must reach the CAO by 5.00 pm 1 February 2024. Late CAO applications are not considered for HEAR.
- For more information see HEAR
- DARE (The Disability Access Route to Education) Scheme offers ‘reduced points’ college places to school leavers who as a result of having a disability have experienced addition educational challenges in second level education.
- If you wish to apply for a college place under the DARE scheme you should apply through the Central Applications Office (CAO). When you are filling in the CAO form online you must complete the part of the form to say that you have a disability or specific learning difficulty. You will then be directed to the separate online Supplementary Information Form.
- For more information see DARE
Can I Study abroad?
When it comes to further study, there are many options abroad. In fact, there are thousands of courses taught through English in Europe. Entry requirements can often be more flexible than the CAO points system and many courses have low if not free fees. You will also be able to bring your maintenance grant with you if you are eligible for one.
Here is a handy guide on Studying in Europe.