Access to third level has widened in recent years, helping numerous young people to pursue a college course and meet their full potential. There are a number of schemes to assist students overcome disadvantage and, in order to benefit from them, students need to ensure they fill out all the necessary paper work so that the CAO and colleges are aware of their situation.
A very common access route is DARE, which allows students with a disability to access college on reduced points. In this context, 'disability' includes any significant ongoing illness such as mental health issues or diabetes, specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia, mobility issues, visual impairments etc.
At this stage, applicants will have already indicated that they were interested in applying for DARE and submitted information about their disability online. The next step is to submit evidence of the disability, as well as an academic reference.
Applicants must complete Section B and Section C of DARE. These two forms may be downloaded or printed from CAO.ie. Section B is an academic reference and can be completed by any teacher, guidance counsellor or principal in the applicant's school. The person who completes this form should know the student well enough to comment on how their disability has impacted on their learning.
Section C relates to evidence of the disability and should be filled out by the relevant consultant, psychologist, occupational therapist etc. Clear guidelines on who should complete the evidence of disability section are available at accesscollege.ie and CAO.ie.
This type of information takes time to collect, and both school and healthcare professionals can have a large number of these forms to complete at this time, so applicants must ensure they get the forms to the relevant people as early as possible. These forms must be posted to the CAO office and received by April 1.
All higher education institutions set down matriculation requirements, or minimum standards, that a student should achieve. However, some students may not be able to achieve these requirements due to learning difficulties. If that is the case, students may be able to apply for an exemption from this requirement. For example, all NUI colleges, including UCD, UCC, NUI Galway and Maynooth University, require a minimum pass grade in ordinary level Irish.
Some students with learning difficulties may receive an exemption from Irish in primary school to allow them to concentrate on developing other areas. These students may apply to the NUI to be exempt from the Irish and/or third language matriculation requirement. Applicants must inform the NUI of their exemption by downloading the relevant form from nui.ie and returning it to: The Registrar, 49 Merrion Square, Dublin.
One application will suffice for all NUI institutions.
TCD and the University of Limerick have a similar requirement where students are asked to hold a pass at Leaving Cert in 'English and another language'. Applicants may apply for an exemption by contacting the admissions office of the relevant institution.
It is strongly advised to contact these institutions before May 1. Late application may effect an applicant's CAO offers.
* Aoife Walsh is a guidance counsellor at Malahide Community School, Co Dublin.
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