Deciding to go to college is often the easy part – the what, where, when and how can be the bits that cause confusion and stress.

If you have any questions about going to college, you can chat online to a trained Youth Information Officer or leave us a message and we can get back to you.

Before you start reading, remember CAO is not the only option and if applying to CAO, there are key dates to watch out for.

This article will address some of your questions and point you to where to go next for support….

How do I choose?

Research, research, research: it may seem boring and basic – but it will be worth it.

  • A career: Firstly, it is okay not to know what you want to do  – this is perfectly normal. Talk to people – a guidance counsellor, someone working in the job you are interested in, someone you admire/ trust. Take an online interest assessment  – careersportal.ie.
  • A course: Ask yourself questions – does the course suit your particular interest, your abilities, your career goals? Check out educational websites: www.qualifax.ie.  You should also check if fees are payable. Not all courses are covered by the Free Fees Initiative.
  • A college: Attend open days (most are virtual). Things to consider include; Courses being Offered; Distance from home; Is it fee paying? Student Facilities; Size of the Campus; College Atmosphere; Courses

Here is a great article on SpunOut that explores how to choose a college course in more detail.

How do I apply to the CAO?

  • Most universities and Institutes of Technology require you to apply through CAO.
  • Dates for Diary: It is important to keep an eye on key dates for the CAO
  • Click the useful video on how to apply to CAO – There are different videos to help you through the process. You can also read applying to the CAO in the CAO handbook to answer more of your questions.

CAO is not the only way to go!

With all the talk of CAO and applying to university, it can be easy to forget that there are other routes to your chosen career. From Apprenticeships, Colleges of Further Education to the Defence Forces among others to consider. Here are other options outside the CAO.


Is there financial support to go to College?


Access Supports to help you get into College

The ACCESS admission schemes help students who face extra barriers – family or financial background or have a disability – and therefore may find it more difficult to get into college.

There are two schemes available for students through ACCESS. It is possible to apply for both schemes if both are relevant to you.

  • HEAR (Higher Education Access Route) Scheme offers ‘reduced points’ college places and extra college support to school leavers from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds who are resident in the Republic of Ireland. There is range of financial, social and cultural criteria that must be met.
  • If you wish to apply for a college place under the HEAR scheme you should apply online through the CAO. Your CAO application must reach the CAO by 5.15 pm 1 February 2020. Late CAO applications are not considered for HEAR.
  • For more information see HEAR
  • DARE (The Disability Access Route to Education) Scheme offers ‘reduced points’ college places to school leavers who as a result of having a disability have experienced addition educational challenges in second level education.
  • If you wish to apply for a college place under the DARE scheme you should apply through the Central Applications Office (CAO). When you are filling in the CAO form online you must complete the part of the form to say that you have a disability or specific learning difficulty. You will then be directed to the separate online Supplementary Information Form.
  • For more information see DARE

Can I Study abroad?

When it comes to further study, there are many options abroad. In fact, there are thousands of courses taught through English in Europe. Entry requirements can often be more flexible than the CAO points system and many courses have low if not free fees. You will also be able to bring your maintenance grant with you if you are eligible for one.

Here is a handy guide on Studying in Europe.


How do I find out more?

You can chat online to a trained Youth Information Officer or leave us a message and we can get back to you.


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