A return to education is something that many people consider, especially around the New Year. 

People leave formal education at different times for different reason. Some go straight into work after secondary school; Some find that the course they chose is not for them and leave. Others want to return to education later on in their lives. Whatever the reason, step one is to realise that it’s never too late!

If you think education is right for you now, let us take you through some of the steps or options you might want to consider if you are thinking about returning to education.


If you didn’t go to college or left this year and now want to go back, here are a few steps to get you started……..

  • Talk to someone who can talk you through your options – you can chat online to a trained Youth Information Officer or leave us a message and we can get back to you.
  • Start planning – make a list of what needs to be done to achieve your goal – we can help with this too.
  • Find out how to Apply to go to College
  • Research the course you’re thinking of, talk to people who have done the course and try to go to Open Days – many open days will be Virtual this year, so check relevant college websites for details.
  • Central Application Office (CAO) for Third Level colleges have deadline application dates based on different categories of people. It is important to figure out what dates are relevant to your situation. If you are applying as a Mature Student, scroll down to section below.
  • Consider other educational routes than the CAO.
  • Explore Access Programmes to College.
  • Find out if you are eligible to get the SUSI grant or Back to Education Allowance (BTEA)/ VTOS or other funding to help with return to education.
  • Get a part-time job (although extra difficult at the moment!) – it can keep you busy until September and help save up some money for college!

Returning after a longer break!

It can be daunting to return to college after a long break but there are many supports out there to help you achieve your dream. Here are a few to get you started:

Youth Information Service – aimed at young people aged 15-25 year olds – we are here to talk you through your options – you can chat online to a trained Youth Information Officer or leave us a message and we can get back to you.

Adult Guidance Service – aimed at anyone who left school or started work early and now want a second chance to improve their education. They are a free service that offer: advice, guidance, and information on education, training and careers.

Access Programmes – provide an opportunity for students who are generally under-represented at third level to progress to Higher Education.  They provide a supportive educational environment which helps to prepare students for the personal and academic challenges they may face at third level. Access programmes differ from college to college with some aimed at school leavers and others aimed at mature students who are looking to return to education.  Here is a selection of Access Programmes available around the country

Rightcourse is a new portal showing the diversity of upskilling supports available from apprenticeships, practical work-based learning to formal accredited programmes. It aims to help each person identify the most suitable upskilling option for themselves.

Alternatives to the CAO education route – this blog post outlines various education options other than the university/ college route.

eCollege is a SOLAS-funded online training facility that provides a range of high quality interactive online learning courses, available any time through broadband Internet access, for those who wish to learn at their own pace. eCollege courses are currently free of charge to anyone over 18 who wishes to do a course. If you are not sure what to expect from an eCollege course, you can do a short starter course.

FET (Further Education and Training) is for anyone who is over 16 who wants to learn new skills or enhance existing skills to get the right job, progress to third-level or to support the achievement of personal goals. FET offers a wide variety of life-long education options, including apprenticeships, traineeships, Post Leaving Cert (PLC) courses, community and adult education as well as core literacy and numeracy services. FET courses and programmes are provided through the Education and Training Board network throughout the country as well as through other local providers including online through SOLAS’ eCollege.

Colleges of Further Education offer post leaving cert courses that are a mixture of academic, practical and work experience. These courses are a great option as they are designed as a step towards skilled employment and, as such, they are closely linked to industry and its needs. The courses are full-time and last for one to two years and you receive a QQI level 5 or 6. You apply directly to the individual colleges and entry is based on academic ability, life/ work experience and/ or interview.

CAO Applications for Third Level Colleges are handled by the Central Applications Office (CAO) for a small fee. Checkout the CAO for application deadlines.

Apply to CAO as a Mature Student Third-level colleges reserve a small number of places specifically for mature students who want to return to college full-time. If you are over 23* you can apply for one of these places. This means that you will compete for your place on a different basis to those who are just leaving school – this means that you can use your life experiences and previous jobs and other qualification to enhance your application. The number of places reserved for mature students are limited, however, so it is likely that you will still have to compete with people applying under the same process. Some HEIs will ask for additional application along with the CAO – you need to check with the relevant College you want to apply to.

*Generally, you are considered to be a mature student if you are at least 23 years of age on January 1 of the year you enter your course. If you are interested in a particular college you should check how it defines a mature student.


Can my previous studies be counted if I return to college?

If you’ve completed any higher education studies, your previous study may count towards your new course. Many qualifications are gained by receiving study ‘credits’ i.e. you receive credits upon successful completion of each module. You can ask your College if you can apply for credit transfers. They usually ask for what you studied, where and when – and you need to provide original evidence of your previous study – They compare your previous study against the learning outcomes for your chosen qualification and inform you of any credit transfer they can give.


Want to chat to someone about your situation?

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