Third level education in Ireland is made up of four sectors, the Universities (7 colleges), the Institutes of Technology (14 colleges), the Colleges of Education (5 colleges), and independent Private colleges. The first three are substantially State funded and take part in the government free fees scheme, whereas Private colleges are all fee paying.
In exploring whether a course meets your needs, it is helpful to know what qualification is awarded at the end of the course. It is also helpful to know who is the awarding body for that qualification, and what progression routes are available after completing the programme.
Qualifications in Ireland are included in the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ). Third level undergraduate courses can lead to qualifications at any of three NFQ Levels depending mainly on the time needed to achieve the required skills and knowledge:
NFQ Level 6 – Higher Certificate, two years full-time
NFQ Level 7 – Ordinary Bachelors Degree, three years full-time
NFQ Level 8 – Honours Bachelors Degree, normally three or four years full-time, sometimes more.
- The Universities are the awarding bodies for themselves, and mainly offer NFQ Level 8 awards.
- The IoTs (Institutes of Technology) offer awards at NFQ Levels 6, 7 and 8. IoT colleges may make their own awards under Delegated Authority from HETAC* or may issue HETAC awards. Some IoTS also offer awards via the Further Education and Training Awards Council (QQI), for instance Foundation Programmes. Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), like the Universities, makes its own awards.
- The five Colleges of Education generally grant awards that are validated by HETAC or FETAC.
- Private colleges make awards, some of which are validated by foreign universities and some of which are validated by HETAC or FETAC. Some of their awards are not validated by any outside body, and may not be recognised internationally.
* HETAC awards are part of the QQI framework. HETAC is responsible for the quality assurance processes & procedures across the IoT sector, both in the validation of new programmes and in awards arising from them.
All QQI awards are internationally recognised. Progression opportunities allow students to climb up the NFQ Levels with ease. Students with a Level 6 award can easily continue to a Level 7 award within the same discipline.
Entry to Third level courses typically includes school leavers with Leaving Cert (Established) or Leaving Cert Vocational (LCVP), students with a FETAC award from a PLC course, mature students and international students.
Applications for almost all full-time undergraduate courses is through the Central Applications Office (CAO). The CAO provides an application pack with a handbook that lists all the courses on offer and gives information on how to apply.
The closing date for applications from Irish and other European Union nationals is normally 1st February at 5.15 pm each year. Late applications are allowed up to 1st May at 5.15 pm of the same year (Note: certain exceptions exist - check with the college for details). You can also submit a Change of Mind form to amend your choice of courses from 1st May until 1st July. Decisions on offers of places are normally made in August and September, after the results of the Leaving Certificate have come out.
Students who have taken the Leaving Certificate examination are allocated points for the results they get in their 6 best subjects, at a single sitting of the Leaving Certificate. The points awarded depend on the level of achievement in the subject. The number of entry-level points needed for any course depends on the number of places and the number of applicants for those places so the entry level varies from year to year. Higher points are awarded for Higher-Level papers than for Ordinary-Level papers.
You can find out what points were required for admission to courses in previous years using our Course Finder.
A student must also have the particular academic entry requirements (also called matriculation requirements) for the course he/she wants to take. Details of these requirements are available for each course in Qualifax - the National Learners Database which can be easily accessed through this sites Course Finder facility. This information can also be found on the different University, Institutes of Technology and Colleges of Education websites.
All colleges have minimum entry requirements for courses offered to first time applicants directly from school. Individual courses may have higher requirements; these must be checked out individually when researching courses.
|Note: The entry requirements for mature students, FETAC applicants and foreign students differs from school applicants and should be checked out for each course being considered. Note this information is readily available within the Qualifax courses database under the ‘FETAC Applicants’ and ‘Mature Applicants’ sections for each course.|
We provide a step by step wizard to help find undergraduate courses used by the CAO here.
Studying Abroad is increasingly popular with Leaving Cert Students as the next step after school. visit our comprehensive Study Abroad infomation area for helpful information and advice.
Further progression to Fourth Level is offered in all Universities, most Institutes of Technology and a range of private and professional organisations.