Routes to College

The Leaving Cert is not the only way into college

Not everyone has to enter college in the traditional way by completing the Leaving Certification. There are several ways to get into college.

Here are some of these entry routes, with links to their websites to help you along your journey to college. Before you begin your journey, you should check and see where you are on the National Framework of Qualification.

The National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) is a system of 10 levels. Each level is based on nationally agreed standards of knowledge, skill and competence. Every accredited course you do will be on a level of the National Framework of Qualifications.

The frame work outlines qualification levels starting at levels designed for learners of any age who have no previous qualification, continuing on to Junior Certificate, Leaving Certificate/ QQI FETAC Level 5, Higher Certificate, Pass and Honours Degrees, Masters and Doctorates. This link provides a description of each level

Higher Education Access Route (HEAR) is for school leavers. You must be under 23 on the January 1 of the year you would like to start college. You must also reside in Ireland.

HEAR can allow you to get on the course of your choice even though you have fewer points than that required on the CAO (Central Applications Office) form. HEAR can also give you extra supports for your time in college like:

  • Academic support like help to develop writing skills
  • One-to-one support like coaching or mentoring
  • Financial assistance (when available).

To apply to HEAR, you must meet certain financial, social and cultural conditions. These are based on:

  1. Your household income
  2. Whether or not you have a medical card
  3. Whether or not you receive a social welfare payment based on your income
  4. The school you attended (a DEIS school – a designated disadvantaged school)
  5. The area that you are from.

If you want to check and see if you meet the requirement for the HEAR programme, check the HEAR eligibility criteria.

Disability Access Route to Education (DARE) is for school leavers with a disability. You must be under 23 on January 1 of the year you would like to start college. DARE may allow you to get on the course of your choice even though you have fewer points than that required for the course.

DARE can also offer extra supports for your time in college like:

  • Assistive technology like screen reading software and digital scribe pens
  • Exam supports like extra time during exams or doing an exam in a quiet room
  • Academic supports such as extra support in course requirements

To qualify for DARE, you must apply when completing your CAO college application, complete all related forms and supply supporting documentation. You must meet Evidence of a Disability and Educational Impact criteria which is outlined on the DARE website.

Education can play a vital role in a person's development. Education can give people an opportunity to reach their full potential and motivate others to reach theirs. As we are aware when people have access to education and avail of the opportunity our society can grow.

The Irish Refugee Council know designed an information handbook for people who are in the protection process. The main points of the information handbook are;

  • Accessing college
  • Routes to college
  • Grants and scholarships that are available

Irish Refugee Council: Education in Ireland 

Mature students are classified as being at least 23 years old on or before January 1 of the year when they would like to start college. Colleges welcome mature students because they bring life experience and unique perspectives to the campus college that they choose. Colleges across Ireland use different ways to select mature students.

The following table shows basic information on how mature students can get a place in the college of their choice. Mature students can apply under a number of categories depending on their qualifications, i.e., they can use leaving certificate, QQIFETAC Level 5 and apply as a mature student.

The CAO web site is a great resource and worth looking at. It provides information on the CAO application process, and the possible pitfalls that can happen when applying.

If you have any other questions, contact the Access Office/Admission Office in your college of choice.

Some mature student choose to complete and access course/ foundation and preparatory. These can to help to find out what you want to study in and college and what subjects you are good at.

If you would like to enter college and do not have a Leaving Cert, or did not get the points needed for a specific course, you can go through the Further Education and Training entry route.

To enter college this way you will need to have been awarded a full Major QQI Award at a minimum level 5.This will require the completing of 8 minor awards. College courses may require specific minor awards within the Major Award. You need to think about what college course you want to progress onto and then pick the right level 5 course.

It is important to know that each college has a set amount of reserved placed for student who have completed the requirements for a specific course in college. There is not a universal set of reserved places and it is important to contact the college that you are hoping to attend to know the amount of reserved places set aside for someone who has completed a further Education and training course.

Here is the NFQ diagram to show you where a level 5 sits on the framework.

If you do not have a level 5 qualification and would like to go to college, please contact your local Education and Training Board (ETB) to find out how to get one. Tell the Education and Training Board (ETB) you would like to meet with its adult guidance service.

Here is a map to show your local Education and Training Board. Enter ‘adult guidance service’ in the search box of the relevant website.

These courses are primarily aimed at adults who have been away from formal education for a number of years and would like to improve their skills, confidence and knowledge so they can access a third-level course. They are for students who for various reasons have not yet realised their educational potential, but who have a deep desire to continue their education at third level. They may wish to do so either full-time or part-time.

These courses familiarise students with the structure and requirements of third-level education. They cover a range of subjects that gives students the opportunity to explore potential or specific areas of further study. They enables students to develop their academic skills. Courses might include:

  • A college tour
  • Academic writing and study skills
  • Maths
  • Time management
  • Information technology (IT) – Moodle (a software learning system)
  • Group work
  • Presentations

Preparatory courses can suit both mature students as well as young people who are returning into education.

Examples of access, preparation and foundation courses are:

The access course in AIT has been running for over 25 years. The course covers science, engineering, maths, business, social care, information technology, communications and career guidance. Students are supported with their college CAO application and grant/ scholarship applications.

AIT Contact details: Theresa Ryan,, 0906468123.

This Certificate level course is designed as a stepping stone for those who wish to return to study but have not studied in any formal way for a number of years.

Participants are given an opportunity to sample a number of academic subjects so that they can make a more informed choice when selecting subjects later.

Students who obtain final grade of 60% or above will automatically be offered a place on the Bachelor of Arts degree programme in Maynooth University.

MU Certificate in Returning to Learning contact details:

The Maynooth University Certificate in Science is a Level 6 foundation programme for mature students who wish to undertake a foundation year in preparation for degree studies in the science and engineering areas. In this one year full-time programme of study, students undertake modules on mathematics, engineering science, computer science, experimental physics, mathematical physics, biology and chemistry. There are a maximum of 25 places on the course each year, and students benefit from the collegial and supportive learning environment provided by the group.

MU Certificate in Science contact details:

The ‘Think About Teaching’ course hosted by Maynooth University is a one year pre-university foundation course which will prepare students who have experienced educational inequality for entry to teaching degrees here in Maynooth University.

Think about Teaching contact details: