This week, colleges all over the country will be holding mature student information and advice evenings for anyone who is considering making an application to the CAO through this entry route.
For most, the decision to return to education after a long break can be both exciting and intimidating. Many mature students may not have had a positive experience of education up to now and may worry about their ability to meet the challenges of higher education. Feeling apprehensive about making such a change is very common, however, there is a large amount of support and assistance available for those considering this path.
Applicants who are over 23 on January 1 of the year of application may apply through this route, and last year, more than 12,000 such applicants applied for a college place. If applying to the CAO as a mature student, applicants will not have to meet the same entry requirements as school leavers. Institutions will normally use a variety of other means to assess an applicant's suitability for the course. This may include an interview, testing and consideration of work or life experience. Applicants who meet the school leavers entry requirements can also enter through this route if they prefer. Applicants who wish to apply as a mature student normally must apply by February 1.
If considering applying to third level as a mature student, it is necessary that applicants become familiar with the CAO process. As a first step, a potential applicant should contact the CAO and request a CAO handbook. This handbook lists all the rules and regulations of the CAO, and pages 4 and 14 are particularly useful.
The CAO website also contains video guides and written guides for mature student applicants, which outline the process step by step.
Next, applicants should contact the admissions office of the institution to which they are considering applying. This is essential as the various institutions require applicants to submit different types of information. Also, some colleges may have different definitions of a mature applicant or may consider applications after February 1.
The majority of mature student applicants receiving an offer will get the offer in July. However, more offers will be made in early August and it is possible to receive offers until CAO closes in mid-October.
Once successful, there a number of supports available to help mature students meet the challenge of balancing study with family and work commitments. These can include financial support, such as the student assistance fund and the SUSI grant, as well as social support from associations such as the mature students' union.
Many institutions also have a full-time mature student officer who can assist students if any problems arise during the course of their studies. Colleges can also offer very practical help for mature students, such as on campus crèche facilities, orientation weeks for mature students, extra library support and social gatherings.
No matter what particular challenges or concerns a mature student may have, it is likely that the college has come across them before. Therefore, if you are considering applying for third level, this week is a great week to take the first step.