While it is great to see the rising interest in science, there is a negative consequence of the climbing points: some students who have a real passion for science may not get the Leaving Cert points required to secure a place.
There is an alternative, and increasingly popular, route to a place on a science degree programme, via a Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC)/Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) course, offering many benefits for students.
By undertaking a pre-university year in a FETAC/PLC college and receiving distinctions in key subjects, students gain real confidence in the subjects before engaging with them at university level.
The courses involve continuous assessment and all include a mandatory work experience module, so students really know what they are getting into as they progress.
Students can check individual details at different third-level colleges. At UCD, we are keen to highlight awareness of the science (DN200) places reserved for FETAC Level 5 and 6 progression students, and have introduced a further 20 places specifically for the BSc in Computer Science (DN201).
Here is how the progression route (to science and computer science) works.
When you are filling out your CAO form, fill in the Level 8 degrees in order of preference.
Separately, do your research on FETAC courses that allow you to progress to Level 8 the following year.
On the CAO website, put FETAC Information into the search box, click on FETAC Entry Requirements and enter the course code for the Level 8 course you would like to ultimately take, for example DN200 for Science at UCD.
This will give you a list of FETAC courses under the heading Essential Major Awards. The next step is to visit the Search All Courses section on www.qualifax.ie and enter the FETAC code in the course code box. This will return a list of FETAC providers of that course nationwide.
To apply for your preferred course, contact the FETAC providers directly.
I recently spoke with Joan Donelan, guidance counsellor at Killester College, a PLC college offering courses including Pre-University Science (5M3807) and Pre-University Arts (Cultural and Heritage Studies, 5M2154) at FETAC level 5.
She emphasised the value to students in applying early through FETAC, as a reassuring back-up: "I would advise, even as a plan B, for students to apply early to FETAC courses. They can do this at the same time as their CAO. It's free; they have nothing to lose."
The PLC colleges will invite students for interview in the spring and, if suitable, they could have a conditional offer of a place before they even sit the Leaving Cert.
Although this Higher Education Links Scheme (HELS) has been in existence for over a decade, more could be done to develop awareness of this as a viable progression route for school-leavers.
I advise students and parents to look into the options that it provides.
UCD is holding a FETAC Entry Routes to Science and Computer Science information morning on Thursday, January 9.