Back to Articles

FETAC it works.

Understanding how students can progress in Ireland can be a little tricky. First you have to understand the terminology. Oh, how we love our acronyms, we have:

CAS, ECTS, QQI, FETAC, HETAC, ECVET, NFQ, HEI, IOT, CAO, CATS (not the fluffy kind!) …

And if that’s not enough we have …


Never mind the computation and equations that need to be done to transfer your results into some form of CAO points. Most students are challenged by the new project maths course never mind this formula:

Award Grade =                       (CV1 x GV1) + (CV2 x GV2) + (…..CVn x GVn)


Total Credit Value – CV of Exemption(s)

Stick this up on a board and watch the glazed expressions…..

Seriously!!! Does it have to be so complicated?

We end up with students (and Guidance Counsellors) saying ‘OMG, I haven’t A CLUE, can someone just tell me how to get to college if I do a post leaving cert course?’

Well hopefully I can….and in a way that makes sense.

The good news is that despite the above, students are progressing using this system with 20% of 1st years in the HEIs coming from the FETAC sector.

The progression opportunities are real and not that hard in real life to understand and it goes like this:

Any student with a full FETAC Award at level 5 (or 6) can use this certificate qualification to compete for a place in a third level college if the college is one of the 38 HEIs that allow progression.

To find out if a course is linked you can use the CareersPortal FETAC Progression Route tool:

Click here

Note: Just remove “any” and put in the award code (for example 5M2102) into and a full list of linked degree programmes around the country will be provided:

Alternatively, you can do this another way via our PLC Course Search and if a green link appears beside the course search                         then this course links to a degree programme. By the same token you can do a CAO course searchand if the college accepts FETAC awards a green link will appear beside the course too.


Differences between Universities and IOTs (Institutes of Technology)

Generally speaking the Universities only allow students to progress from similar programmes referred to as ‘linked’ (the content is linked) while the IOTs (Institutes of Technologies) allow progression using both the non-linked progression from any full FETAC certificate course and the ‘linked’ system (with the most common being onto Nursing degrees which can only be accessed from ‘linked’ courses).

There are rules about the minimum entry requirements such as the numbers of distinctions need to be achieved. In addition, students may also have to achieve grades in specific components such as maths. For example most Universities look for a minimum of 4/5 distinctions to be allowed onto a level 8 degree while some of the IOTs look for 3 distinctions to get onto a level 8 degree, but no distinctions for levels 6/7. Thankfully, this information is easy to access through the CAO: click here

Some HEIs (Higher Education Institutes) make rules about how many places are kept or ‘reserved’ for FETAC students and they may have a ‘quota’ (limit on the number of places). You can look up the HEI websites and see how many FETAC places there are and even what CAO points they got in on in 2013. Using the reserved places system means students only compete against other FETAC students.   There are also HEIs which allow students to progress using an open competition model where they compete against other CAO applicants in a point’s race.

Understanding the Language…

In order to understand the system let’s get to grips with some of those acronyms and terminology…

What is an Award?

An award is one of 4 types:

  1. Major award – all the full qualifications that you see on the rainbow of qualifications in the outer 2 bands, degrees, masters, certificates, advanced certificates, leaving cert, junior cert. Click here for the FETAC rainbow diagram of qualifications.
  2. Minor awards – partial completion of the no 1’s ( some modules, some subjects)
  3. Supplemental awards – additional learning in addition to a no 1 major award (extra modules)
  4. Special purpose awards – relatively narrow or purpose specific achievement


What is CAS?

The Common Awards System (CAS) replaces FETAC (1-6) and each award has a unique code.

The first part of the code signifies the level. The next letter represents the type of award M=major, N = minor, S = special purpose and finally U=supplemental. The last part is a 4 digit number, unique to each type of course.



The codes look can like this:

5M2102 , which is a Level 5, Major award in Business Studies, in other words a full certificate at level 5 in Business Studies

How are awards graded?

Awards at levels 5 and 6 are graded Distinction, Merit and Pass.

What are credits and what is CATS?

Credits (marks) can be accumulated over time and some students can study at their own pace to arrive at a full award which is a total of 120 credits. Think of them as building blocks. 1 credit equates with 10 hours of ‘learner effort’. By completing minor awards at levels 5 and 6 (subjects/modules) students can use the CATS (Credit Accumulation and Transfer System) to reach a full certificate award of 120 credits. Some HEIs do not allow students to progress unless the Award (qualification) was achieved in one academic year.

What are typical ‘minor award’ (modules) credits worth?

A typical FETAC level 5 course would be made up of 8 components (subjects/modules) also known as ‘minor awards’.

Here is an example:5 vocational (mandatory and electives)2 general studies1 work experience

These 8 components would be worth 15 credits each to give a total available credits of 120 (8 x 15 = 120 credits)

Some courses might do extra components/awards. Any minor award can have a credit value of 5, 10,15,20,30. Even if students take extra awards they use only components up to a max of 120 credits when trying to convert their scores into CAO points. Much like when students study 8 subjects for the leaving cert, only the 6 best will count. So if a student got all top marks (distinctions) they would have 120 out of 120 credits. This means they achieved the maximum converted CAO points score of 400 points. To convert the FETAC credits we use the formula. It is basically a tool to convert the credits into points (knocking out any surplus credits over 120).

Click here for FETAC calculator which takes the pain out of working out the formula yourself!

How are HEI places allocated?

If students are applying for a linked programme of study such as a nursing degree, they must fulfil the entry requirements by doing the correct FETAC linked course (there are 3 for nursing) and they must get 5 distinctions in specific named components. Once they are deemed eligible for consideration, they are allocated places using the CAO random numbers method. Last year there were 13 HEIs offering places on nursing degrees and in total 75 places were allocated plus 10% of the nursing places in DCU. Nursing is one of the most difficult degrees to get on, others are easier. To view the number of nursing places available around the country through FETAC progression links this year click here

When students apply to get on to any HEI programme, they are allocated places on a competitive CAO points basis. Only when more than one applicant is sitting on the same points total will the random selection method be used to rank them.

If students need to pass a particular maths component to gain entry to the HEI, they may be allowed satisfy this entry requirement from the grade they achieved in maths at leaving cert level.

How do students apply to progress using FETAC level 5?

They apply through the CAO and their results will be sent directly to the CAO. They will be offered places in round 1.

How do students with FETAC level 6 progress?

A level 6 award can be used to progress to HEI year 1 through the CAO. However, some HEIs allow level 6 award holders to gain advanced entry to 2nd year. To do this, students must contact the HEI directly to discuss application procedures.

What is a ‘legacy award’?

Pre CAS (Common Awards System) awards are known as legacy awards. Think of them as a throw back to the olden days! An example would be old FETAC or NCVA awards. From now on awards will be QQI awards.

If you would like to see how many places and what CAO points candidates gained entry to UCD (Please note not all Arts and Science places where filled) check out this link:

Other HEIs have FETAC information on their websites.

Hopefully, this makes the progression journey a little clearer and since we started with some acronyms I thought we might finish on a few….

So hopefully L8R when you go ISO info that there will be less OMG I’m SITD and more it’s NP and that this article hasn’t been TMI but has helped point you on your way. I’m saying this with a VBG!!

[and for those who need a translation: L8R=later; ISO= in search of; OMG= oh my god; SITD= still in the dark; NP= no problem; TMI= too much information; VBG= very big grin J ]






Useful FETAC Tools

FETAC Progression Routes   (just put in the award)         Click here           

FETAC Points Calculator                                                               Click here

Progression Information for Nursing Degrees                    Click here

CAO Progression Link Tools                                                        Click here



Back to top