CAO is not only show in town
Despite all the emphasis on CAO at the present time, CAO colleges are not the only show in town. About 30,000 students are enrolled in colleges in the Further Education (PLC/FE) sector nationwide, and these are still accepting applications.
Most FE colleges operate through the Vocational Education Committees (VEC), and their courses lead to awards from the Further Education Training and Awards Council (FETAC). FE/PLC colleges don't operate a central applications system, so applicants must apply directly to each college. Applications opened last spring, so many of the more popular courses will be filled by now, but there are still some opportunities to apply.
The FE sector is often perceived as the alternative system for students if they don't get sufficient points in the Leaving or their first choice in the CAO. But an FE college can be the student's first choice even if that student has been offered a place in a CAO college. This can happen particularly if students live in a town where there is no third-level college, and they may find a one-year PLC course closer to home less daunting in the first instance.
Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses are an end in themselves, leading directly to employment in many cases. They also offer a fabulous range of study opportunities. The most popular courses include communications, media studies, drama studies, adventure sports, sports management, travel and tourism, business, beauty therapy, boat building and many more.
Many parents and students aren't fully aware that many students use their FE courses to progress to universities and institutes of technology.
There are a number of ways they can do this. The first progression scheme, the Higher Education Links Scheme (HELS), was introduced many years ago, and under it a quota of places was held each year in specified courses in the institute of technology sector for holders of "linked" FETAC awards, that is, linked in content to the course they are entering.
Higher Education Institutions (HEI) in the university sector now reserve small quotas of places on some programmes for FETAC applicants, who are presenting with FETAC Level 5 awards in courses with modules relating in content to the course they are applying to.
In UCD, for example, quotas range from three places in Commerce, five in Social Science, five places each in the Agricultural Science degrees, DN010 and DN048, to 20 places in Science, and 25 in Arts, with small numbers in each nursing programme. NUI Galway holds quotas for FETAC Level 5 holders with specific relevant modules to Arts, Commerce, Business Information Studies, Nursing and Science.
Every HEI prospectus shows the FETAC modules required for the degree in question. CAO's website provides dedicated information for FETAC applicants, including a list of quotas of places on all nursing courses.
The third progression route is the newest FETAC entry route operated by institutes of technology and some other HEIs. Under this scheme, applicants presenting any FETAC qualification may compete with Leaving Certificate candidates for most courses in the institution in question. They are not confined to specific FETAC quotas, nor does their FETAC course have to be linked in content to the HEI course they are applying to.
Applicants for courses under this scheme are listed in order of their points merit, whether on Leaving Certificate points or FETAC award points. A separate points scale is used for converting the scores of FETAC award holders, usually to a maximum of 400 points. This scheme does not apply to nursing programmes.
The largest VECs, for example City of Dublin (CDVEC) with 16 different colleges, or City of Cork VEC, (Cork College of Commerce is the largest FE college in the country), Dun Laoghaire, Limerick, Monaghan and Galway, offer the greatest range of courses. In Cavan town, the Cavan Institute is one of the largest institutes or colleges of further education in the country.
FETAC qualifications are opening more doors into higher education. But it pays to check with the colleges or with FETAC (www.fetac.ie) when planning your path.