TRINITY College Dublin (TCD) is launching a radical alternative to sole reliance on CAO points for entry for certain college courses, starting in 2014.
Under the ground-breaking initiative, a student's general performance at school and other personal information will be used to decide who gets a place.
TCD will test the alternative entry route by offering a limited number of places in three courses in September 2014 and September 2015.
Ten of 90 first-year places in law, 10 of 40 places in history and five of 15 places in ancient and medieval history and culture are being reserved for the new admissions route.
The scheme will run for at least two years and will act as a feasibility study for other universities as part of the wider review of the points system.
While the points system is generally regarded as blunt but fair, it is criticised for rewarding those who can afford to get grinds before exams.
The courses involved in the TCD scheme generally require more than 500 points, but using the alternative route, school-leavers could achieve a place, perhaps with up to 100 points less than the CAO cut-off.
TCD dean of undergraduate students Dr Patrick Geoghegan said it was about trying to match the right person with the right course.
As well as their Leaving Cert results, students will be assessed in two other ways – a Relative Performance Rank (RPR) and a personal information statement.
The RPR will compare the CAO rank of the applicant with others from their school and could help a student with ability, who, as a consequence of some disadvantage, fell short of cut-off points required, to gain entry.
The personal statement will cover matters such as why a student is interested in a particular course and details of any special circumstances, ranging from illness to sporting achievements, as well as a short essay giving students an opportunity to express themselves freely.
Students wishing to apply for a place under the scheme will tick a box on the CAO application form, although it does not preclude them from getting a place under the traditional system.
All the information will be anonymised by the CAO before the applications are sent to Trinity for processing, so there is no risk of identifying an individual student or school that could lead to charges of favouritism.
Dr Geoghegan said that it was now international best practice to use a range of assessment when it came to allocating college places.
The initiative was endorsed by the dean of admissions at Harvard University, William R Fitzsimons, who advised Trinity on the matter and is in Dublin today for its official launch.