Many of you reading this will be in your final year of post-primary school, looking ahead to June next year when you will finish second level, and for the first time, will not be returning to school in September. The big question is - what next?
The various options are presented in the menu items on this page. It is worth taking some time to explore and consider the pros and cons of each, paying attention to how you feel about them as a possible career pathway for you.
Further and Higher Education
Higher Education is the pathway most commonly taken by students after the Leaving Certificate. The vast majority of students apply to what are known as 'undergraduate (first time entry) courses' through the CAO system. This means doing some course research, making your course choices, applying to the CAO and getting to college using your Leaving Cert points. Higher Education Courses last from two to five years, sometimes even more.
Some undergraduate courses accept applications from outside the CAO system and are known as Direct Entry courses. Applications to these courses are made directly to the college, and don't use points to decide who gets a place.
The second most popular pathway is the Further Education route. These are either one or two years in duration, and are not part of the CAO system. Applications are to the college directly.
One increasingly popular route to higher education is the option of studying abroad. The UK is the most popular destination for Irish students, but many now study in Europe and further afield.
Your Leaving Certificate is awarded by the State Examinations Commission - an internationally recognised body that ensures that your results are awarded fairly and to a particular standard. When you go to college, you will most likely want to ensure that your course is equally recognised internationally, so it is important you know the types of awards available, and who is legitimately allowed to accredit them.
Other Access Routes to College
A significant number of students recieve special encouragement to continue to Higher Education even though they have particular difficulties. The government operates two schemes to support such students, HEAR (access route for students whose families’ economic circumstances (such as low income) make it difficult for the student to go to college) and DARE (access route for students with a disability or specific learning difficulty). These special routes to Higher Education make it easier for such students to access college.
If going to college is the choice you make, there are different types of funding opportunities available to help you along the way. All students are eligible to apply for some grants or funds, while others are specific to certain students, e.g. students with disabilities or with particular talents.