Friday 27 April 2018

Time to examine your study options outside the CAO form

Firing up the youth: Cavan Institute students Catherine O’Reilly, David Beatty and Alexander Cliffe with science tutor Nora Hennessy.
Firing up the youth: Cavan Institute students Catherine O’Reilly, David Beatty and Alexander Cliffe with science tutor Nora Hennessy.

Aoife Walsh

Now that the first deadline for CAO has passed, students who have completed forms should take some time away from researching CAO courses. This will allow them to concentrate on their mock exams, orals and revision in general. It is also helpful to take a break from considering CAO options and return to this process with fresh eyes in March or April. However, now is a great time to fully consider Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) choices.

While the CAO is responsible for processing applications to the institute of technology (IT) and university sector, students may also apply for study in the further education sector. This sector offers a wide range of courses which are generally of one year's duration leading to a FETAC Level 5 qualification. Some courses will offer an additional year of study, which will lead to a FETAC Level 6. FETAC Level 5 qualifications comprise eight modules, including a work experience module.

There are a number of reasons why students may consider making an application to a PLC. Students may feel that they are too young to progress to higher education and would benefit from a year of study in a similar area in a more local but still post-second level environment. Students may also feel unsure of taking a four year degree in a specific subject area and may wish to spend a year studying their area of interest before moving to a university or IT.

These qualifications can also be used to access other third level degree programmes for students who do not achieve the necessary requirements at Leaving Certificate. There are currently over 600 courses listed on the CAO, which will consider any FETAC Level 5 qualification for entry. Many of the further education colleges now offer academically focused courses, which are specifically designed for students who wish to progress to study in higher education institutions, for example pre-engineering and pre-science.

As well as being used as a progression to higher education, PLC colleges also offer numerous courses in areas of interest to students and in demand from employers, which are limited or not offered at all in universities and ITs. Examples include fashion design, beauty therapy, furniture design etc. Students may feel that they are not interested in studying for three of four years more and PLC courses offer an opportunity to gain a recognised qualification in a specific area in a short amount of time.

The majority of further education colleges are now accepting applications and generally do not have closing dates. They will continue to accept applications and interview students until all places and waiting lists are filled. Applications should be made directly to the institutions and most institutions will allow students to select two courses of interest. The application forms are often filled out online or are available from the colleges. Applicants will need their PPS number and their school roll number if they are currently in full-time education.

The minimum requirement for entry to a PLC course is five passes at Leaving Certificate or a pass at Leaving Certificate Applied. Some courses may require students to have specific grades in certain subjects for example maths for engineering. These requirements, where they exist, are always lower than the grades required for higher education courses in the same area.

Applicants will also be asked to interview and the decision on their acceptance is generally based on their performance here.

While the idea of attending an interview to gain acceptance to a college is an intimidating one for most Leaving Certificate students, it is normally more positive than they expect. The purpose of these interviews is simply to assess the applicants' suitability for their course.

The interview panel is made up of teachers and tutors from the college who understand that, for most students, this may be their first experience of an interview. Questions will focus on what the student may expect to study while on the course, what interests or experiences they may have which are related to the course, and what they might like to do when they have finished.

The biggest mistake that students make at PLC interviews is not telling the panel about their experience as they believe it is not relevant to the course. However, the panel will understand that there are a limited number of experiences that anyone can have by the age of 17, and therefore it is important that students tell the panel as much as possible about themselves, and let them decide if it is relevant or not.

Applicants may be asked to bring a portfolio or an example of their work to their interview. This is most likely in media, art-related, or creative courses.

Students should bring with them examples of their best work. This could include something they have made as part of a school project, or at home as part of a hobby.

Anyone unsure of what to include in their portfolio should contact the college directly, or speak to their school guidance counsellor. It is likely that students already have a piece of work which would be suitable even if they don't realise it.

If applicants are considering applying for PLC as an entry route into a CAO course, they should carefully check which PLC courses, if any, their chosen CAO course will accept. Many universities and ITs print this information in their prospectus, as well as making it available on

Applicants should then look up the course codes of the PLC course rather than the titles on – course finder, where they can find out which PLC colleges offer these courses. Finally, students should check the PLC course also offers the subjects required for entry to the institution they are considering.

Important dates this week:


Online facility to amend CAO course choices opens, fee €10


Killester College of Further Education Open Day

Ormonde College of Further Education Open Day

Portobello College Open Day

University of Limerick Information Evening adult and mature learners

February 7

NCAD Portfolio Submission

February 8

Pulse College Open Day

February 9

Engineers Week 2014

February 11

GAMSAT Ireland Registration 2014 Closes

Aoife Walsh is a guidance counsellor at Malahide Community School, Co. Dublin.

Irish Independent

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