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Leaving Cert 2020: I haven't applied to college, what can I do?

If you haven't yet applied for higher or further education, it is easy to do so, and there is a wide variety of pathways, writes Aoife Walsh


Life changer: ‘For anyone leaving school, they should consider NLN, it’s brilliant,’ says Chloe Daly. ‘It has changed my life.’

Life changer: ‘For anyone leaving school, they should consider NLN, it’s brilliant,’ says Chloe Daly. ‘It has changed my life.’

Life changer: ‘For anyone leaving school, they should consider NLN, it’s brilliant,’ says Chloe Daly. ‘It has changed my life.’

Higher Education

CAO Available Places

It is still possible to make a CAO application through the Available Places facility on the CAO website, cao.ie. These are college places that have not yet been filled and are available both to new applicants to the CAO as well as those who are already in the system. The list is added to and updated as offers are accepted and declined, so check back regularly.

The facility is currently closed for updating and will re-open for applications from Monday, September 14. New applicants can apply for any listed course that interests them by making a CAO application for a fee of €45. Applicants who are already in the CAO system can add Available Place courses to their list of preferences for no fee. Remember to ensure you add them in order of preference and leave in place any courses you still wish to be considered for.

Private Colleges and direct entry courses

There are approximately 75 direct entry courses available across private colleges as well as publicly-funded universities and institutes of technology in the 'direct entry' section of careersportal.ie. Many of these courses are continuing to accept applications.

Private colleges are the main providers of direct entry courses but they also have a large offering on the CAO, many of which will be listed on CAO Available Places, on cao.ie. These courses include psychology, business, acting, psychology, law and computing.

Griffith College, with campuses in Dublin, Cork and Limerick, and Dublin Business School (DBS) are two long-established private colleges with courses across a wide spectrum.

If students are interested in pursuing study via direct entry course at a private college they should contact the college. Fees are approximately €5,000 a year, however tax relief is available at 20pc. Given that the Student Contribution in publicly-funded colleges is €3,000, the private sector may be a realistic option for some families, particularly if it allows a student to stay at home, rather than incurring accommodation costs. Unfortunately, many of these courses do not qualify for the Susi grant, although some do.


If you are willing to travel, you can still consider colleges in the UK, including Northern Ireland. If you have not already applied to UCAS - the UK applications agency - and wish to do so, you can go through a process called clearing. Clearing has opened as students in the UK received their results some weeks ago. It will remain open until October 20. This is where unfilled places are available. Search ucas.com for more information.


Some universities in the EU are still accepting applications, and they do not select on the basis of Leaving Cert points. These include Italy's University of Bologna and University of Padua, and Poland's University of Wroclawa. Places are available in areas such as Law, Business, Medicine. Physiotherapy, Psychology, Politics, Science and Veterinary Medicine.

There are also programmes in a wide range of areas that have a second start date in February, in The Netherlands, Finland, Denmark and Germany, with application deadlines in November/December.

EUNICAS, a support service for university applications to EU countries, provides updates on its website.

Further Education and Training

Further education and training (FET) covers a broad choice of post-school avenues, including post-Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses and other routes to valuable qualifications and skills development, such as traineeships and apprenticeships.


Post-Leaving Cert (PLC) courses can be an end in themselves, in that they may lead directly to a job across a vast array of occupational areas, from accounting, to childcare, to fashion, to music, to sales, to veterinary. They can also act as a stepping stone to higher education, without worrying about Leaving Cert points. If a student completes a PLC programme with good results, they have a great chance of securing a reserved place on a third-level course. Along with more general courses, some have a very specific focus, such as Pre-University Science and Pre-University Law.

Colleges of further education, which operate under the umbrella of education and training boards (ETBs) all over the country, are the main providers, although about 25 second-level schools also offer some. They are generally of one year's duration, but some extend to two years.

The minimum entry requirement is five Leaving Cert 'passes' and colleges will continue to accept applications and interview applicants until courses are filled.

The important role a PLC plays in acting as a bridge between school and higher education is acknowledged, and those who go on to college tend to have good outcomes. A report a few years ago highlighted how the estimated retention rate of college students with a foundation in PLC was around 70-75pc. While there is no direct comparison with completion rates of those who go straight to college, another recent study suggested that 50pc of those with 300 Leaving Cert points completed their degree.

Anyone interested in pursuing a PLC, should contact their local further education college to enquire about availability.


An apprenticeship offers the opportunity to study for a qualification while also working in the relevant field. They are a great option for those who like a hands-on approach to building knowledge, and getting paid to do it.

The variety is increasing all the time, with 56 different types available, and more being developed. Starting salaries vary, but they tend to be in the region of €20,000.

As well as long-standing apprenticeships in areas such as construction, engineering, motor and electrical, there are new options constantly being rolled out.

One recent announcement was the degree-level Recruitment Executive apprenticeship, a three-year honours programme with the National College of Ireland in Dublin's IFSC as the education partner.

Other sectors where apprenticeships have emerged include biopharma, finance, hospitality, butchery, software developer, cybersecurity, logistics, auctioneering, See www.solas.ie.

All apprenticeships lead to qualifications from NFQ (National Framework of Qualifications) Levels 6-9, or equivalent.

Apprentices are employed by an employer approved by the State further education and training agency, Solas, for the duration of the programme, generally two to four years.


A traineeship is a bit like an apprenticeship in that it combines classroom-based learning and work experience, but is of shorter duration - ranging from 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), of which there are 16 in the country.

All traineeships are structured around career pathways and participants have the opportunity to develop cutting-edge skills and knowledge on the job, making them more employable.

There are more than 75 programmes available nationally in a range of industries, with new ones being developed on an ongoing basis by ETBs. The ETBs work in partnership with industry representatives and employers to identify skills gaps and future skills needs in the local workforce.

To give an idea of the scale, currently there are about 1,500 participating companies.

At least 30pc of the learning is on the job and opportunities are available in areas as diverse as construction, ICT, logistics, fashion, engineering, business and finance.

They lead to awards at Levels 4-6, Level 6 being the equivalent of having done two years on a post-Leaving Cert course (PLC).

National Learning Network

For young people who have just finished school and may be struggling with anxiety levels, the National Learning Network, the education and training division of the Rehab Group, offers an alternative pathway to further and higher education and jobs.

Suzanne Allen, who is Principal Psychologist with the Rehab Group, says Covid has exacerbated anxiety levels in those who are prone to feeling anxious and is also causing greater social isolation and loneliness.

"Many people who struggled to socialise before Covid-19, for example people with Autism, are finding they have regressed and require a lot of support in order to regain lost skills. Also, some people who never had issues with socialising have now found they require support to re-engage."

NLN has 50 centres around the country, catering for 16 to 65-year-olds, offering nationally recognised and accredited programmes from Level 1-Level 5 on the National Framework of Qualifications. Level 5 is the same level as a post-Leaving Cert (PLC) course. Programmes will be delivered this year through a mixture of on-site and remote learning.

Rehab's Director of Learning Lucianne Bird says some people come to NLN with previous qualifications, and others don't any, perhaps because school didn't suit them.

"It's not important to us what a person had before NLN, it's important to us where the person would like to get to. That's the starting point."

As an example, she says people can achieve a Level 4 or Level 5 qualification with NLN and apply for an apprenticeship.

One student to benefit from NLN's supportive environment is Chloe Daly, 22, from Limerick. Chloe felt a little lost after she finished school and was unsure where to turn. "I honestly didn't believe I would ever be able to get a job and I didn't know what I wanted to do. Then I did a trial week at NLN," she says.

As part of an Employer-Based Training programme Chloe undertook at NLN Raheen, she sampled a number of work experience options until she found her niche - childcare. Now she has set her sights on becoming a Special Needs Assistant.

"It's thanks to NLN that I got interested in a career in childcare, during work experience something just clicked.

"I would like to move on and become a Special Needs Assistant and there is a Level 6 programme that I have set my sights on, so I'll stick with NLN until I'm ready to move to further education.

"For anyone leaving school, they should consider NLN, it's brilliant. And for anyone who didn't finish school, I would tell them to try NLN, there's always a second chance. NLN has changed my life," says Chloe. "Before I left school, I had a certain kind of attitude but the instructors have changed that for me and I now believe I will get a job."

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