Frequently Asked Questions
1. HOW MANY SUBJECTS SHOULD I TAKE AND AT WHAT LEVEL?
Your school will probably offer you the option of studying seven subjects. Your best six grades, achieved in one sitting of the Leaving Certificate or its equivalent, will be used to calculate your point score for entry purposes to college courses.
If you are taking more than one ordinary level paper from the beginning of your two-year Leaving Cert programme, you may want the option of having six higher-level papers for point's purposes.
You can only achieve this by taking an extra subject either inside or outside school. You need to be very careful before considering this option. There is no such thing as an easy higher level paper and every subject requires considerable time commitment and effort on your part. Eight subjects are a major undertaking. If the additional subject is being studied outside school, you should factor in the time travelling to and from such a grind. All this time and effort eats into the time available to you to work on the seven subjects you are studying in school.
2. ARE THERE ANY SUBJECTS I HAVE TO CHOOSE?
Unless you are exempt from any subject, students must choose English, Irish and Maths. Other than these subjects, it is important to check any subject requirements there are for your preferred college course.
3. SHOULD STUDENTS TAKE ON EXTRA SUBJECTS OUTSIDE SCHOOL?
If there are timetable restrictions that make it impossible for you to take a subject you particularly enjoy, you could consider taking it outside school, provided you factor in an appropriate amount of study time to cover all your other subjects. Alternatively, you might consider changing schools at the beginning of fifth year, to ensure that you get your desired subject choices.
4. WHAT HAPPENS IF I DO NOT TAKE HIGHER LEVEL IRISH?
Apart from ruling out a number of honours degree programmes which have Irish as a core entry requirement, the main consequence of dropping higher level Irish is that you are precluded from studying to be a primary school teacher in any of the education training colleges in Ireland.
5. WHAT HAPPENS IF I DO NOT TAKE HIGHER LEVEL MATHS?
There are many Level 8 degree programmes you can’t take if you don’t get a minimum grade H3 / H4 in maths (i.e. engineering, computer science, science, information and computer technology courses and many degrees that include maths as a core subject).
If you are interested in any of these areas, you could start your third level journey with a two-year higher certificate programme, which will require a grade O6/H7 in maths. Provided you secure a minimum of 60 per cent in your various examinations, you can then progress on to ordinary degree level and from there to an honours bachelor's degree. This process may add one or two extra years to your studies, over and above those who secure a place on an honours bachelor's degree programme, immediately after the Leaving Cert, but it it still a good option.
6. WHAT HAPPENS IF I DO NOT TAKE A LANGUAGE OTHER THAN IRISH AND ENGLISH?
The colleges of the National University of Ireland (NUI) have traditionally required a pass in a third language for entry to many courses in the NUI colleges at Maynooth, Dublin, Galway and Cork, and to a range of associated constituent colleges, all of which are listed on the NUI website.
More recently, NUI colleges dropped their third language requirement for engineering and science programmes. UCD also dropped the third language requirement for their agricultural programmes.
Nursing at NUI colleges never required a third language. A third language must be included for arts, human sciences, law, social science, commerce, medicine and health sciences and some other degrees.
[For full details see NUI Matriculation Regulations]
Trinity College Dublin accepts Irish as a second language requirement. UL, DCU and the Institutes of Technology do not require a continental language for entry purposes to most of their courses, apart from those which involve the study of such a language. Students may qualify for an exemption from these requirements if they have a learning difficulty or if they were born outside of the state.
The Institutes of Technology generally expect students to have grade O6/H7 in English and Maths - not choosing a language should have no impact on a candidate's ability to get place in one of their programmes.
PLC colleges do not require students to have taken a language.
A modern European language will also be required for application to cadetships in the Defence Forces for the army or air corps.
So, while not choosing a language will not affect entry to the majority of third level institutions, it will restrict choice to some extent.
7. WHAT IS THE EASIEST SUBJECT IN THE LEAVING CERT AND WHAT’S THE HARDEST?
No Leaving Cert subject is easy, but studying something you are really interested in will make it seem easier and, as a result, you will probably get higher marks in it. If you dislike a subject, you will need to work harder to achieve a good grade and your motivation will need to be strong.
8. WHAT COMBINATIONS OF SUBJECTS WORK?
You should attempt to select a balanced range of subjects that will leave your further and higher education options open for as long as possible. Most students study Irish (unless exempted), English and Maths. A large majority of students also study a continental language, or for those students coming originally from outside the EU, a native language approved by the State Examination Commission (SEC).
In selecting your remaining three subjects, you should consider what third level courses you might be interested in when you leave school. If you have specific courses in mind, check that your subject choices and levels match the entry requirements for these courses.
[Tip: Go to CAO CourseFinder, select (click) the CAO course that interests you, and follow the information links to Qualifax or the College Website to find the specific entry requirements.]
You may also want to check what courses you may be excluded from if you take or don't take a particular leaving cert subject. You can find this information by looking at the 'Third Level Entry Requirements' section for each of the subjects listed in the Leaving Cert Subjects area on this page.
Unless you have a specific career or course interest that is guiding your remaining subject choices, the advice is to spread your final three choices across the entire spectrum of business, scientific, humanities and practical subjects.
You should also be mindful of the results of previous examinations and aptitude test results when making these choices.
9. IF I DON'T KNOW WHAT I WANT TO SUDY AT THIRD LEVEL YET, WHAT SUBJECTS SHOULD I CHOOSE?
It is advisable to take a good mixture of subjects, a language and a science subject are important. Choose what you enjoy and what you are good at. Reviewing previous aptitude and interest profiler results will help you in determining the career path that might suit you.
Next, go to ... Quick Guide to Leaving Cert subjects or
Adapted from Irish Times article by Guidance Counsellor Brian Mooney
Detailed Guide to Leaving Cert subjects