Going to College: Checking out the differences between levels 6, 7 and 8 on the CAO
When completing the CAO form, all applicants may apply for 10 Level 8 courses and 10 Level 7/6 courses. What's the difference?
All qualifications are organised on the National Framework of Qualifications. This framework allows for learning achievements to be measured and related to each other in a coherent way. The higher the level of qualification, the deeper the learning.
The Leaving Cert is a Level 5 qualification. It allows students to progress to higher education courses at levels 6, 7 or 8.
The framework can be thought of as a ladder, with all qualifications placed from lowest to highest. The system allows for students to move up the ladder at their own pace. For example, a person with a strong Leaving Cert may access a Level 8 programme directly, while a person with fewer points may decide to take a Level 6 course and work their way up the ladder until they achieve a Level 8, or even a Level 9 (master's) or Level 10 (PhD). Level 8 is also known as an honours degree.
This is what many people think of when they think of a traditional university degree. They are generally four years in duration, with some notable exceptions. Architecture, for example, is five years and many arts degrees are three years. Students mainly apply for these courses through the CAO, with some private colleges offering Level 8 courses both through the CAO system as well as direct entry.
School-leavers are required to meet the minimum entry requirements and essential subjects for these courses and then compete for a place based on CAO points. Minimum requirements for Level 8 courses are normally two H5 grades and four O6 grades (with the exception of Trinity College Dublin which requires three H5 and three O6/H7).
Level 7 degrees are known as ordinary degrees. They are generally three years in duration and students mainly apply for these courses through the CAO, while some private colleges also offer level 7 courses outside the CAO. Once again, Leaving Cert students are required to meet the minimum entry requirements, essential subjects and then compete for places on CAO points.
Many institutions require a student to achieve five O6/H7 grades for entry to Level 7, although there are some exceptions. Essential subject requirements are also lower than for Level 8 courses - for example, if a student wished to study engineering at Level 8 in DIT, he or she will require a H4 in maths while engineering courses at Level 7 in DIT require an O4/H7 in maths. Level 7 degrees are offered at universities, institutes of technology, and private colleges.
Level 6 courses are also available through the CAO. They are generally two years in duration and require five O6 grades for entry. These courses also have add-on years available which allow students to progress all the way to Level 8.
In order to identify if a Level 7 or Level 6 course offers an add-on year to achieve a Level 8, students can check their CAO handbook. The third column of the course listing pages is dedicated to this purpose.
Aoife Walsh is a guidance counsellor at Malahide Community School, Co Dublin.