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I haven’t applied to college, is it too late?

There are still plenty of pathways  through higher and further education, writes Aoife Walsh


Photo: Stock image

Photo: Stock image

Photo: Stock image

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 — www.thisisfet.ie — 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 thisisfet.ie 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 Post Leaving Cert 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 and many students decide to progress to higher education. Universities, colleges and institutes of technology have programmes in place to recognise further education and training qualifications as a route to entry.

A PLC graduate with good results has a great chance of securing a place on a third-level course, without any reference to Leaving Cert points.


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, which is generally between 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 www.apprenticeship.ie.

All apprenticeships lead to qualifications from levels 6-9 on the NFQ.  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 minumum five “passes” in the Junor 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 Friday, 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 education and training board (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.

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 cao.ie

Some of these courses were advertised over the summer but have been removed to allow for the processing of Round 1.

Applicants may apply for available places from 12 noon on Tuesday, 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. An Available Places course should be placed higher on the list than any offer which has already been received.


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 ucas.com 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. This is because even though Clearing remains open until September, courses will be removed from the lists as they are filled.

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 all over Europe offer some of their courses through English. Many have lower entry requirements than Irish courses as well as low fees.

In many institutions school-leavers have a right to education as long as they meet the minimum entry requirements, i.e. six passes including two H5s.

There are currently a range of courses open for application, all taught through English.

For more information, check out studyineurope.ie or eunicas.ie.

EUNICAS is an applications service that assists students in applying for courses in Europe.

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