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Going to college: Advice for school-leavers and their future plans on the day the Leaving Cert should have started

On the day the Leaving Cert should have started, guidance counsellor Aoife Walsh advises school-leavers about keeping future plans on track


Secretary general of the Department of Education Seán Ó’Foglú said there would be, "definite information for principals by the end of the month.” (stock photo)

Secretary general of the Department of Education Seán Ó’Foglú said there would be, "definite information for principals by the end of the month.” (stock photo)

Secretary general of the Department of Education Seán Ó’Foglú said there would be, "definite information for principals by the end of the month.” (stock photo)

Today, the first Wednesday of June, is usually first day of the State exams. They are not happening this June, but there is plenty to be getting on with for Leaving Cert candidates who wish to continue to explore their options for next year.


For those hoping to progress through the CAO system, it is business as usual for this process. Universities, institutes technology and other higher education institutions are busy preparing for changes to college life come September and there is much support being provided for applicants through virtual Open Days and Q&A sessions on websites, Instagram etc. This is actually no different from previous years as institutions tended to lean towards online information sessions in June as students, occupied with exams, were unable to attend Open Days.

Applicants should engage with these information sessions even if they are certain of their CAO choices, as they will gain some invaluable information on what college might look like in September 2020. For example, DCU is introducing a flexible approach to booking accommodation as it is unlikely students will need to be on campus all week.

Some universities such as Trinity and UCD have even moved their 5th year summer schools online rather than cancelling them. Summer schools allow TY and 5th year students to experience life at university and are invaluable in helping them make decisions about what they would like to study in the future.

Maynooth University (MU) is currently accepting applicants for its second-chance maths exam. CAO applicants to MH304 Engineering who are concerned they may not be awarded the necessary H4 in Maths, can sit this exam as alternative approach to seeking to satisfying this requirement. The exam, as well as a preparatory course, will take place in August, in the week following the release of calculated grades

Students who sat the HPAT Ireland test in February can expect to receive their results in mid June. Many students will then be one step closer to their goal but for a significant proportion of students the HPAT result will be a strong indicator that they will not be receiving an offer for Medicine this year.

These students may then wish to consider other CAO options in place of, or along with, Medicine. This can be done using the Change of Mind process. Such applicants should consider listing courses that they would enjoy studying and from which they could build an alternative career, in case Medicine does not work out for them. They can may also use this degree to apply for Graduate Medicine in the future. It is important to remember that in order to qualify for Graduate Medicine a degree in any area is acceptable but applicants must achieve a minimum 2.1

The Change of Mind process will close on July 1. All applicants should take another look at their CAO order of preference list before that date and consider if they are still happy with what they have listed. Applicants can add courses (excluding restricted entry courses), remove courses or make changes to their order of preference.

Applicants should ensure they have listed their ‘dream’ courses, have some realistic choices and some ‘just in case’ courses (courses for which they feel confident they will receive and offer). Although I would advise that the CAO be filled out in this way every year, I think, with the introduction of calculated grades, this will be even more important this year.


Many more students are expected to qualify for a Susi college grant for next year because of the impact of Covid-19 on household finances.

Normally, Susi assesses applicants on the basis of income in the previous calendar year, but a "change of circumstances" clause makes provision for a sudden drop in income in the current year.

CAO and Further Education (FE) applicants maybe unsure as to what they will do in September, but if they think they would qualify for a Susi grant, they should submit their application as soon as possible.

The priority closing date for new SUSI grants is July 9, however the earlier an application is submitted the better and, if approved, will provide certainty to students about what financial support they can expect.

There is a delay in many public services at the moment and collecting financial documents to support an application may be more difficult this year than in previous one, which is another reason to start the process as early as possible.

The form will ask applicants to enter where they intend to study next year. It is acceptable to list where you hope to or believe you are most likely to study in autumn and it is not a problem if this changes at a later stage.

Completing the grant applicant early and submitting all requested documentation on time will avoid any delays to your payment come September.

If an applicant decides not to enter third level in 2020 then they will be at no disadvantage as a result of completing this application.


Supports for students in college take on an even greater importance this year with the Covid-19 restrictions expected to lead to significant changes in the approaches to teaching and learning.

AIB is supporting the opening of new maths drop-in centres at the TU Dublin Tallaght and Blanchardstown campuses this autumn, offering free one-to-one tutoring in any area of maths that students may find challenging.

Already available elsewhere in TU Dublin, as well as many other higher education institutions, they will provide non-judgemental assistance to students of all math abilities.

The new centres are being funded by new €1m educational grant from AIB to TU Dublin to support increased participation in higher-level education among students from areas and backgrounds of socio-economic disadvantage.

The grant will also support other equality, diversity and inclusivity initiatives, including an AIB Civic Engagement Outreach Centre at TU Dublin Grangegorman which will host activities such as workshops for Junior Cycle students.


With the closure of many industries there is a stall on recruitment across the country, although this does not mean that apprenticeship schemes are all closed to newcomers. There are a number of positions currently being advertised on apprenticejobs.ie although significantly fewer than one would expect for this time of year.

Hopefully the number of positions here will increase over the coming weeks and months as industries begin to reopen.

Four apprenticeship schemes actively recruiting are the Laboratory Apprentice, Accounting Technician, Logistics Associate and the Insurance Practitioner.

The Insurance Practitioner programme will allow successful applicants to earn a Level 8 qualification in insurance practice from IT Sligo. Allianz, Zurich and AIG are currently hiring apprentices and more information can be found on earnandlearn.ie.


Further Education (FE) courses nationwide continue to accept applications. Traditionally these courses, often referred to as post-Leaving Cert courses, require applicants to hold a basic entry requirement of five passes at Leaving Cert and attend an interview.

None of these colleges are currently able to invite prospective students for an interview but they are accepting applications.

Some colleges have added a personal statement section to their application form but this should not put off any young person who is considering applying. Applicants should simply include a little about their experience in this area to date and how they see this course fitting into their plans for the future. FE colleges would not expect any school leaver to have extensive experience - this is simply an opportunity to outline any school projects or work experience etc which may relate to this course and show you have spent some time reflecting on the course, your own talents and interests and have an understanding of what may be involved.

I advise all my students who are interested in applying for third level to also apply for an FE course. Interested applicants should contact their local further education college directly for information on new courses, links to institutes of technology and universities as well as available places.

Online Editors