CAREERS COLUMN: Employment and education landscape is now a constantly evolving space

Careers advice with Rory White

Careers Column

The myriad of different options available to you means that there really is something for everyone

There is a huge amount of information involved when it comes to thinking about moving into further or higher education and training.  The changing nature of life and the workplace means that the employment and education landscape is now a constantly evolving space. The myriad of different options available to you means that there really is something for everyone. 

School Guidance Counsellors are an invaluable source here for students when it comes to exploring all these options.

Over the course of the next few months I hope to shed light on some of the key areas that should be considered when thinking about and finding a course and career path that suits you.    

Applying to college

In the Republic of Ireland the system used to apply to Higher education courses is the Central Applications Office, more commonly known as CAO.  The CAO handles all the applications for the Universities and Colleges in the country (See below). CAO applications for September 2020 entry opened up recently.

The National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) is the system used to describe the levels of education available in Ireland.  It ranges from Level 1 which signifies initial basic learning, through the Junior Certificate at Level 3, the Leaving Certificate at Level 4/5 right up to a Level 10 PHD.

Higher education courses that can be applied to through CAO are ranked on the NFQ at-

Level 6 - Higher Certificate (2 years)


Level 7 - Ordinary Degree (3 years)

Level 8 - Honours Degree (Usually 4 years, sometimes 3)

All applications are made online at  Applications cost €30 when made before January 20th 2020. (€45 before the February 1st deadline, €60 for late applications up until May 1st).  While your course choices do not need to be finalised at this time, it is important to note that courses marked as Restricted in the CAO handbook must be applied for by February 1st.  A change of mind option opens in early May with the absolute deadline for your final choices then by July 1st 2020.  

Students can insert up to 20 course choices on their application- 10 on a Level 6&7 list and another 10 on a Level 8 list.  Students should always list their choices IN ORDER OF PREFERENCE. CAO will always offer the topmost choice that a student has gained entry onto.  Therefore, if you decide that you actually prefer your 3rd choice more than your top one you will not be offered it.

A couple of tips I would recommend would be to back up a Level 8 choice with a corresponding choice in the Level 6/7 section.  That way, if you do not gain entry into the Level 8, you have the fallback of the Level 6/7 choice which will, more often than not, lead onto the Level 8 anyway.  I would also advise students when applying that, even if you feel your preference at this moment in time is to study away from home, you should also include a course closer to home as this is something that students often change their minds about.  

There is a useful demo facility on the CAO website where students can fill out a sample form online to become familiar with the process.  There are also a couple of handy videos -

Gaining entry onto courses

Everyone knows about the ‘Points Race’ for college and you should be aware that points can either go up or down from the previous year.  A new grading and points system was introduced in 2017 that some people may not yet be aware of. (See table below) Students calculate their points from their TOP SIX results only.  A bonus 25 points are awarded for students achieving a H6 or above in Higher Level Maths while the grades achieved for students studying link modules are also different.

As well as needing points for entry many students often forget that there are also Minimum entry requirements that are needed to secure a place on a course.  

Standard entry requirements for most Level 6/7 courses are- Minimum of five O6/H7 to include F2/O6/H7 in Maths and O6/H7 in English or Irish

Standard entry requirements for most Level 8 courses are- Minimum of six O6/H7 to include O6/H7 in Maths and O6/H7 in English or Irish and a minimum of two H5 grades.  

However, there are many exceptions to these rules.  Many courses in the universities also require a ‘3rd language’, meaning Spanish, French, German or other. Some specific courses may also require grades in certain subjects, or a combination of subjects. (For example, a H4 in Gaelige is needed for Primary Teaching and Higher Maths for some Engineering degrees)  There are simply too many variations of entry requirements to list off here so applicants should check these out with the relevant institution.

Finally, students who will be applying to SUSI for a grant, to HEAR or DARE, mature students or those who have an exemption should all tick the relevant boxes or fill out the additional section on their CAO applications at this stage. 

Rory White is a Guidance Counsellor in Finn Valley College, Stranorlar and a member of the Donegal branch of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors. For over 10 years he has been helping Leaving Certificate and PLC students as well as adults choose a college course or change career path.  His series of articles will offer advice to help make more informed choices in relation to these important decisions.

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