Careers rarely develop the way we plan them. Our career path often takes many twists and turns, with particular events, choices and people influencing our direction.

We asked Aoife Mc Dermott from Department of Education and Skills to give some advice for people considering this job:


Aoife Mc Dermott


Department of Education and Skills

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  Aoife Mc Dermott
The most important thing is that you like your subject area! It?s also important to do as well as you can throughout your degree. For example, I applied for PhD scholarship during my final year, so they were looking at my first, second and third year results. Finally, I find that liking people helps a lot.

The Investigative person will usually find a particular area of science to be of interest. They are inclined toward intellectual and analytical activities and enjoy observation and theory. They may prefer thought to action, and enjoy the challenge of solving problems with clever technology. They will often follow the latest developments in their chosen field, and prefer mentally stimulating environments.
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Applying to College - PLC

PLC/FETAC (Post Leaving Cert) courses are typically one or two year programmes covering a wide range of subject areas. Application to these courses is directly to the college (as early as January each year).

For many PLC students however, there is no need for further third level study, as qualifications from several PLCs are internationally recognised. For instance, some colleges offer qualifications from the Institute of Certified Public Accountants and City and Guilds. Most offer FETAC qualifications that are now widely recognised and in some cases, such as childcare, are job requirements. Class sizes in PLCs tend to be smaller than in Universities and ITs, and lecturers are generally available and accessible.

More often than not, there is no need to relocate, as courses are available in about 200 schools and colleges nationwide, mainly offered by education and training boards (ETB's).

Understanding how PLC courses lead to Degree Programmes

Increasingly, PLC/FETAC courses are being used as an alternative way of accessing a third level course, with progression routes from the PLC course into degree programmes in either a University or an Institute of Technology (IOT's)

This allows students who failed to achieve the necessary points in their leaving cert to enter a specific university course to get a place on the same course a year or two later. 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

This search result will give you a link to all PLC courses that are linked to Level 7/8 where these courses accept any award. 

Some level 7/8 courses require you to have a particular award.  To find out which PLC courses lead to a particular degree programme just remove “any” and put in the particular award code required (for example 5M2102) and a full list of linked 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 search and if the college accepts FETAC awards the green link  will also appear beside the course.

Searching for PLC Courses

CareersPortal has its own searchable PLC course database. These courses are flexible and are shaped and developed in order to respond to the needs of industry and the job market. Many PLCs focus largely on providing training that will lead directly to specific jobs, with several courses including work placements.

PLC courses are in high demand, with far more applications than places available. With nearly 40,000 places available, it becomes obvious that it is not just school leavers who are seeking places, but also mature students, in ever-increasing numbers.

Unemployed people who find that their work skills need to be updated are also flocking to PLCs. Entry to PLCs is based more on interview than on academic results. Unlike the CAO, each individual college handles their own applications. Again, unlike the CAO, there is no universal deadline or ‘change-of-mind’ date. These courses start filling as early as Easter, so they are worth researching early on.

To search this course databsase, just choose one or more sector area/s (there are 33), by area, by college - you can filter the database in whatever way suits you.

Click here

Understanding the Launguage....

In order to understand the system let’s get to grips with some of those FETAC 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 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 studies & 1 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).

If you find the above far too confusing, don’t worry just click on the link below which will work out the points for you!

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. There are 75 linked nursing places available this year plus 10% of the places being offered in DCU for plc linked students :  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. 


Useful FETAC Links:

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