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 Catherine Day from EU Careers to give some advice for people considering this job:

Catherine Day

Secretary General

EU Careers

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Catherine Day
I would advise them to give it a go - it doesn’t mean you have to work there long term. You must know how to speak a language other than your mother tongue reasonably well, as a good proficiency is essential. It’s also important to know and understand the cultural diversity that makes up the European Union.

Our internships are a great chance to come for a short period to determine where your interests lie and taste the experiences. Starting out your career path with the EU gives you a really good foundation of insider knowledge of how the EU works and is so useful professionally, even if you don’t plan on working there forever.

It is also important for young Irish people to consider moving to countries that are not English speaking and working for the EU would be very useful to your long term career.

Not surprisingly, some aspect of the natural sciences will run through the Naturalists interests - from ecological awareness to nutrition and health. People with an interest in horticulture, land usage and farming (including fish) are Naturalists.

Some Naturalists focus on animals rather than plants, and may enjoy working with, training, caring for, or simply herding them. Other Naturalists will prefer working with the end result of nature's produce - the food produced from plants and animals. Naturalists like solving problems with solutions that show some sensitivity to the environmental impact of what they do. They like to see practical results, and prefer action to talking and discussing.
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Applying to College - PLC

Post Leaving Cert (PLC) courses are typically one or two year, module-based programmes of study, covering a wide range of subject areas.

PLCs are flexible and are developed in response to the needs of industry and the job market. Many provide training that will lead directly to specific jobs. Some include work placements as part of the programme.

Class sizes in PLCs tend to be smaller than in universities and Institutes of Technology (IOTs) and lecturers are generally available and quite accessible to students.

PLC courses are available in about 200 schools and further education colleges around the country, mainly offered by Education and Training Boards (ETBs). This may eliminate the need for a students to relocate.

Most PLCs offer a FETAC qualification. This is now widely recognised and is often a job requirement, such as in Childcare.

PLC courses can also serve as an alternative way of accessing a third level degree course. However, there may be no need for further third level study, as qualifications from many PLCs are internationally recognised i.e. The Institute of Certified Public Accountants and City and Guilds. 

How a PLC Course can lead to a Degree Programme

The PLC route to a University or an Institute of Technology (IOT) is via available links or progression routes into particular degree programmes. This route is formally known as the Higher Education Links Scheme (HELS). 

To find out if a PLC course that interests you is 'linked' you can use the CareersPortal PLC Course Finder.

From the available filters, choose 'With QQI Links (HELS)' - The search result will show PLC courses that can be used to progress to Level 7/8 courses, where these courses accept any QQI award. 

PLC progression opportunities are real and not that hard to understand - the system 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.

Some Level 7/8 courses require you to have a particular award. To find out which PLC courses lead to a particular degree programme, search using the particular award code required (for example 5M2102) and a full list of linked programmes around the country will be provided:

When using the  PLC Course Search a green linkbeside the course indicates that this course links to a degree programme.

You can also do a CAO course search and if the college accepts FETAC awards the green link  will appear beside the course detail.

A student who failed to achieve the necessary points in their leaving cert for a particular university course, has the possibility of getting a place on that same course a year or two later via the PLC progression route. Note: Your PLC / QQI award points may be used as a criteria for acceptance [see below].

Searching for PLC Courses includes a searchable PLC course database here: 

To search for PLC courses, simply filter the database in whatever way suits for you. Choose one or more of the filters provided - QQI Award Code, Industry Sector, Career Interests, Region, County, College, NFQ level, QQI Links - you can use any combination.

PLC courses are in demand, with far more applications than places available. There are now some 40,000 places available annually, and it is not just school leavers who are seeking places, but also mature students. Unemployed people who find that their work skills need to be updated are also taking-up PLC courses.

Entry to PLC Courses

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. Application to PLC courses is made directly to the college (as early as January each year). These also courses start filling as early as Easter, so they are worth researching early on.

Understanding the Launguage ...

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 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 are marks can be accumulated over time and some students can study at their own pace to arrive at a full award which has a total of 120 credits. Think of credits 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 Credit Accumulation and Transfer System (CATS) to reach a full certificate award of 120 credits. 

Students shouls note that some Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) do not allow students to progress unless the Award (qualification) was achieved in one academic year.

What are Minor Awards?

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

Example: 5 vocational (mandatory and electives) 2 general studies and 1 work experience module

These 8 components are worth 15 credits each - total available credits of 120 (8 x 15 = 120 credits)

Some courses may include extra components/awards. A minor award can have a credit value of 5,10,15,20, or 30. Even if students take extra awards, they may only use components up to a maximum value of 120 credits when trying to convert their results into CAO points.

Calculating CAO points based PLC results

Your PLC / QQI award points may be used as a criteria for acceptance to a HEI. Just like when students study 8 subjects for the leaving cert - only the 6 best results count.  So, if a PLC 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 PLC / FETAC credits we use a 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 we have a calculator available which will take the pain out of battling with the formula yourself and work out the points for you!

Click here for our CAO Points Calculators - choose QQI /FETAC

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 into, others are easier. There are 75 linked nursing places available this year plus 10% of the places being offered in DCU for PLC students through the HEI Links scheme:  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  
QQI / FETAC Points Calculator
Click here
Progression Information for Nursing Degrees  Click here
CAO Progression Link Tools  Click here

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