So you’re looking for alternatives to the usual college route. These days there are lots of options out there. You could, for example repeat your Leaving Certificate and reapply if you didn’t achieve the points for the course of your choice this time around. You could also apply to do an Access course as an alternative means of entry onto your ideal course. Maybe you might decide third level isn’t for you at all, and go a completely different route. These are all viable options, however if none of them feel like the right option for you, then why not consider Further Education.
What is Further Education?
Further Education, (often referred to as PLC or Post Leaving Cert) is really two things: it is the gaining of a valuable qualification in its own right and/or the bridge or stepping stone between second and third level education.
All further education courses lead to a QQI (Quality and Qualifications Ireland) Level 5 or 6 award, which is a nationally recognised qualification. A valuable qualification in its own right, in the case of some careers it is all you need to get a foot in the door. If you want to work in a crèche for example, obtaining the QQI Level 5 qualification in Childcare means you are qualified to do so.
Maybe you never really wanted to go to third level, but applied due to family or peer pressure. If what you really want to do is become a hairdresser, then choosing a further education course in this area is the ideal route for you.
If however you are really disappointed because you didn’t get a place in Art and Design at GMIT or NCAD this year, then signing up for a further education course in design or portfolio preparation is a wise move. You can spend the year learning your craft and getting a stunning portfolio of work together at the same time and then reapply to NCAD next year. If you didn’t get Commerce why not consider one of the many business courses available for the same reasons. Most further education colleges and courses have links with specific 3rd level qualifications and colleges themselves, so completing the course may be another route in.
You may have heard of the National Framework of Qualifications, which is a ten point scale on which all Irish qualifications are placed. Further Education courses are placed at Level 5 on this framework, and if you consider that 3rd level courses commence at Level 6, then the value of pursuing further education is clear. By passing your Leaving Certificate you are already at Level 4 or Level 5; so by successfully completing a further education course you can step onto Level 5 or 6 and from there onto third level.
What does being on a Further Education course involve?
The courses are usually of one year’s duration and are available across the spectrum of disciplines. They are different to third level, particularly in terms of class size and their hands on approach to learning. All include a work experience and communications module for example, and most will include some aspect of IT. This is in addition to the modules specific to your chosen field. If you sign up for a Sound Engineering course, you could spend the year in an actual studio learning how to be a Sound Engineer, developing your IT skills, gaining real work experience and getting a national qualification at the end of it. From Business Studies to Fashion Design to Beauty Therapy, there is more than likely a further education course to suit you.
Most further education courses are run by ETBs (Education and Training Boards). There are generally no tuition fees for these courses, although in some cases you may be charged a small registration or materials fee. Private college also offer PLC courses and these will generally be more expensive. Just like third level you are also eligible to apply for a means tested maintenance grant.
If you are interested in pursuing a further education course, it is worth going online to check out the range and scope available to you. However you need to move quickly if you have already completed your Leaving Certificate. Most courses will start in September and if you wish to be considered for a place you need to contact them as soon as possible. Preferably further education colleges should be contacted in Spring or early Summer to facilitate the interview procedure and enable students to find out more about the college and location.
* Further Education Courses are also available to mature students who do not have a Leaving Certificate. Contact your local college for more information.