Friday 23 August 2019

Help, I have no offer. What can I do?

From apprenticeships to studying abroad, there are many paths for students who didn't receive a CAO offer

Students of the popular Music, Management and Sound PLC at Coláiste Stiofain Naofa (CSN) College of Further Education, Cork, who performed at a showcase concert earlier this year to celebrate 30 years of the programme: (l-r) Thomas O’Brien, Kerry; Luke Considine, Clare; Julie O’Sullivan, Ballydehob; and Lily Rose Murphy-Ownsworth, London
Students of the popular Music, Management and Sound PLC at Coláiste Stiofain Naofa (CSN) College of Further Education, Cork, who performed at a showcase concert earlier this year to celebrate 30 years of the programme: (l-r) Thomas O’Brien, Kerry; Luke Considine, Clare; Julie O’Sullivan, Ballydehob; and Lily Rose Murphy-Ownsworth, London
EU option: Wroclaw University of Environmental and Life Sciences in Poland

Aoife Walsh

Leaving Cert candidates who have not yet made future study plans may now feel ready to do so - and there are plenty of opportunities to apply to college for this year, as well as other options.

Further Education And Training

Further education and training represents a panoply of opportunity including post-Leaving Cert (PLC) courses and the growing number of apprenticeships and traineeships.

A recently launched website - - has been designed to help students considering further education or training to get a feel for what's involved by hearing from current and past students about their journeys and experiences: from a student who went from disappointing Leaving Cert results to working in Michelin-starred restaurants to another who followed his passion for art and photography to become a leading photographer.

The website also allows visitors to search through the huge range of options available through education and training boards (ETBs) nationwide.


There are more than 30,000 places available on PLC courses each year. These are one or two-year programmes with awards at levels 5 and 6 on the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ). They equip students with the necessary skills for the workplace and many go straight into a job afterwards.

Alternatively, PLCs can act as a stepping stone to third level. A PLC graduate with good results has a great chance of securing a place on a third-level course.


Apprenticeships are growing at a fast rate - both in terms of the variety available and the number of participants.

A key benefit is the opportunity to earn while you learn. Apprentices are employed by a SOLAS-approved employer for the duration of the programme - generally two to four years.

There are currently over 16,000 apprentices across 52 different disciplines.

Alongside a big resurgence in long-standing apprenticeships such as in construction, engineering, motor and electrical, there are 27 new apprenticeships - and more coming. New ones are in areas such as biopharma, finance, accounting, hospitality and food, ICT, logistics, original equipment manufacturing, auctioneering and property services. See the full list on

All apprenticeships lead to qualifications from levels 6-9. Most are linked to ETBs, but in others, study is in an institute of technology.

* TU Dublin has a 12-week Access to Apprenticeship Programme to support the transition of 16-24 year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds, with a minimum five "passes" in the Junior Cert, into an apprenticeship. Participants sample a range of apprenticeships in construction, engineering, electrical, motor and aviation industries. The next 12-week course starts in September and applications are open until August 30.


A traineeship is a bit like an apprenticeship in that it combines classroom-based learning and work experience but is of shorter duration - six to 20 months. Also, while apprentices are employees, trainees are students and access to a programme is via an ETB.

There are more than 70 traineeship programmes around the country across a range of industry areas including aviation, IT, animation, hospitality and digital marketing.

All traineeships are structured around identified career pathways and participants have the opportunity to develop cutting-edge skills and knowledge on the job. They lead to awards at NFQ Levels 4-6.

In general, if the trainees are not entitled to a grant or social welfare payment then the host employer will pay an allowance.

National Learning Network

Traditional post-school study routes don't suit every young person, especially those who struggle to be heard in a large class, who need extra support due to a learning difficulty, or who are living with mental or physical ill health. For such students, the National Learning Network (NLN) offers a stepping stone into a job or further education. NLN has 50 colleges around Ireland offering a range of City & Guilds and QQI-accredited courses, as well as vocational and life skills training - everything from barista skills to spreadsheets, personal budgeting, horsemanship, catering and CV creation.

Learning is at the student's own pace, in small classes and with work experience tailored to individual needs and abilities. All students have access to one-to-one support from instructors in numeracy and literacy, as well as an onsite psychologist.

Higher Education CAO Available Places

Some CAO courses will have more places available than applicants. Any course that has places still available will be listed in the Available Places section of

Applicants may apply for available places from 12 noon on August 20. Any applications received by 11am, August 23 will be processed in time for Round 2, on August 28. From September 2, the system will work to a weekly schedule. The Available Places listings will be updated constantly until all offers have been exhausted so it is worth checking back regularly.

Both CAO applicants and those who have not made an application to the CAO can apply. There is a fee of €45 for new applicants, while it is free for existing applicants.

Applicants will be asked to resubmit their CAO list leaving on any courses for which they still wish to be considered, and adding in any Available Places courses for which they wish to apply in order of preference.


Just because a student doesn't qualify for, or receive an offer for a place in a preferred course in Ireland, doesn't mean that they would not get on to a similar course in the UK. The demand for particular courses and the criteria for entry can differ significantly between Ireland and the UK.

UCAS, the UK equivalent of the CAO, is currently going through a process known as Clearing. Clearing is open to existing UCAS applicants and those who have not applied and allows for application for vacant places.

Lists of available places are released on and it is the responsibility of applicants to deal directly with each institution.

Anyone considering applying for Clearing should start the process as soon as possible even if they are not sure they will take the place. Interested applicants should contact the ­institution directly before making an application.

While Brexit has created much uncertainty, an agreement has been reached that means that Irish students starting in the UK this year, at least, will be eligible for the same fees as UK students and have access to the same supports, for the duration of their studies.


Universities around Europe offer some courses through English. Many have lower entry requirements than Irish courses as well as low fees.

There are currently a range of courses open for application, all taught through English. For more information, check out or

Medical Poland, representing Polish universities offering courses through English in Medicine, Dentistry, Physiotherapy, Pharmacy and Nursing, is running a helpline tomorrow an information event on August 28 and interviews in Dublin on August 29.

Direct Entry Courses and Private Colleges

Students can also go into higher education on direct entry courses that are not listed on the CAO, and anyone interested applies to the college. There is a wide range in areas including business, acting, social care and computers.

There are about 60 direct entry courses listed in the 'courses search' area of, a very convenient way to see what's available.

Courses may run in either publicly-funded institutions or private colleges. The main providers are private colleges, such as Griffith College in Dublin, Limerick and Cork, and DBS in Dublin.

An example in the publicly-funded sector is a Level 8 Stage Management and Technical Theatre at Trinity's Lir Academy. Other examples abound. Another is the Level 7 in Agricultural Mechanisation in IT Tralee, which will be accepting applications until today.

Meanwhile, Limerick IT offers a number of Level 6, 7 and 8 programmes across its campuses in Limerick, Thurles and Clonmel.

In the private sector, as well as traditional courses, Griffith College has an Earn and Learn initiative in collaboration with leading employers, including the Central Bank for school-leavers who want to enter the workplace immediately while studying part-time for a degree.

Many of these colleges will be holding open days in the coming weeks.

Typically, fees for a private college are around €5,000, although many are less. They are tax deductible at the rate of 20pc and with the 'student contribution' at €3,000 in public sector colleges, more and more families are finding that attending a local private college may be more affordable than moving away from home for third-level study.

Irish Independent

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