Thursday 19 April 2018

Help, I have no CAO offer: do I have other study options?

There is plenty available for those only now considering their post-school studies or for those rethinking original plans, writes Aoife Walsh

Pictured was artist Roisin Murphy from Drumcondra with her sculpture made from Irish Oak titled ‘South Paw’ as part of the Whitehall College of Further Education end of year Graduation showcasing at CHQ Building. Picture Conor McCabe Photography.
Pictured was artist Roisin Murphy from Drumcondra with her sculpture made from Irish Oak titled ‘South Paw’ as part of the Whitehall College of Further Education end of year Graduation showcasing at CHQ Building. Picture Conor McCabe Photography.

Aoife Walsh

Every year, at this time, there are a number of vacant college places available through the CAO. These courses were in the CAO handbook but the level of application did not meet the number of places available, so vacancies still exist.

These places continue to be available for application, both for those who have already applied to the CAO and those who have not yet submitted a CAO application.

At the end of last week, more than 100 CAO courses, at both Level 8 and Level 7/6, appeared on the Available Places list on the CAO website.

During the processing of offers for the first round, the list was suspended and it will go live again tomorrow at noon. It will continue to be refreshed until all offers have been exhausted so it is worthwhile checking back regularly.

If applicants have already submitted a CAO application, there is no charge to apply for a vacant place. Such applicants will be asked to resubmit their CAO list on the vacant places facility on the CAO website.

In the new list, they can resubmit any courses for which they still wish to be considered and add any new courses with a vacant place for which they wish to apply, in order of preference.

Those who have not previously made a CAO application can do so now, for a fee, listing all courses for which they would like to be considered, in order of preference.

Private colleges

As well as publicly-funded higher education colleges, such as universities and institutes of technology, there are also a number of long-established private third-level colleges, with strong track records, offering courses both within the CAO and/or through direct application.

Among the better known of these is DBS, Dublin, which has more than 40 courses in the CAO and specialises in business, law, arts, media, social science, humanities and psychology, but others as well.

Also very popular is Griffith College, with campuses in Dublin (pictured inset), Cork and Limerick, where the wide variety of courses includes computing, architecture, fashion design, photography, music production, business, accounting and finance, journalism and music. Griffith College also provides on-campus accommodation at its Dublin campus on South Circular Road, which is open both to its own students and to those enrolled in other colleges.

The colleges are very attuned to changing trends and maintain course offerings that tap into demand from students and employers and often fill a gap in the market.

Many school-leavers, through their CAO research, will already be familiar with these and other independent colleges and their courses, and may, indeed, have applied for them. But, even at this stage, there will still be vacancies on some of these colleges’ CAO-listed courses, which will be advertised on the CAO Available Places webpage tomorrow.

Private colleges also offer courses that are not part of the CAO system.

These are known as direct entry courses, and lead to qualifications at all levels.

Many private colleges will be holding open days and evenings over the coming days and weeks and will be happy to discuss options. Additionally, interested applicants can use the direct entry courses filter on the ‘course finder’ to research options.

Among the attractions of the private colleges is that they are generally city-centre based, making them very accessible for large numbers of students. They also tend to be smaller than publicly-funded higher education institutions, and many students prefer their more intimate atmosphere. Even where a course is listed with the CAO, the cut-off points for entry tend to be lower than in publicly-funded third-level colleges, although an applicant will have to meet any minimum entry requirements.

Typically, the annual fees for these colleges are around €5,000, but are tax deductible, at the rate of 20pc.

Given that the current student contribution in publicly-funded colleges is €3,000, many families may find that having a child attending a local independent college works out as a more affordable option than moving away for their third-level studies.

However, students attending private colleges do not qualify for State grants.

PLC courses

Post-Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses are extremely popular — and for good reason. They offer an immense variety of courses, as diverse as animal care , early childhood education and pre-university law, science and engineering, which can prepare school-leavers (and others) to go straight into the workplace, or act as a stepping stone to third-level.

With all the talk about points and the fierce competition for CAO places around that process, it is worth noting that thousands of students enter college every year having used their PLC results as the basis for their application. In many cases, such students end up on a desired third-level programme, for which, a year earlier they would not have had the points.

Having done a PLC, a student then has the choice of applying to the CAO on the basis of their PLC results, or using Leaving Cert points. They may submit both and the better of the two will be chosen.

The pressure of the Leaving Cert means that many sixth years are very unsure of what to do next, and lack confidence about making the right choice, and may use a PLC as a breathing space to build some essential skills, while getting a taste of a particular area of study.

A big advantage of PLCs is that entry is not based on points, and all applicants are interviewed.

PLCs are available in stand-alone FE colleges all over the country and in many second-level schools. FE colleges come under the umbrella of the 16 local education and training boards (ETBs). In one example, City of Dublin ETB has 15 colleges across the capital offering a choice of more than 400 courses at levels 5 and 6.

PLC courses are offered at level 5 (one year) and level 6 (two years). Many colleges have been accepting applications and conducting interviews since January. However, most do not have closing dates and will continue to consider applicants until all places have been filled.

While many courses will already be filled, it is likely that all PLC colleges will have places available on some courses.

Applications are made directly to colleges and anyone interested should contact their local colleges for information about available courses and interview dates.

As well as a local college, good starting points for anyone interested in researching or pursuing a PLC is to check with the local ETB, as well as the recently-launched, website, a one-stop shop for all 5,000 further education courses, including PLCs. The website allows for searches using a variety of keywords, such as location or course category. was launched in June and is an initiative of the further education and training authority, Solas.

The website provides a wealth of information on what each course involves, when they start and at what location. In time, it will be possible to use the website to apply online for any course, but at the moment that facility is restricted to a limited number of courses

PLC participants are eligible to apply for a student grant.

UK colleges

If you are willing to travel, the UK equivalent of the CAO, UCAS, is currently undergoing a process called Clearing. Clearing is where places at third-level institutions in Great Britain and Northern Ireland which are not already filled are available for applications.

The requirements for entry for and process of application to a third-level college in the UK is different from what pertains in Ireland.

As a result, applicants who may not achieve the necessary points or meet the requirements for a course in the CAO, may fulfil the more subject-specific requirement for a similar course in the UK.

Those interested can apply now even if they have not used UCAS before. Lists of available places are released on and applicants deal directly with each institution.

If you choose to apply for Clearing, it is important to start this process as soon as possible even if you are not sure you will take the place. This is because even though Clearing remains open until September, courses will be removed as they are filled. The earlier you apply, the more choice you will have.

For those who have already applied to UCAS, a process known as Adjustment opens tomorrow, whereby applicants who have performed better than expected in exams can apply for places that may not have been available to them previously.

While Brexit has raised uncertainties, any student from the Republic of Ireland, entering a UK college this year is guaranteed that they can finish their course on existing terms.

Online Editors

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News