The CAO is the dominant method of gaining entry to third level education and it is based on a points system: grades attained are converted into points and each course applied through via the CAO is assigned a number of points as the entry requirement. This model has received some criticism as it is based on a supply and demand system.
When demand is high for limited places the minimum level of points required can rise. Unfortunately for some this can mean you may not have sufficient points even if you have tried your best. Many people opt to repeat their Leaving Certificate but this can be time consuming and there is no guarantee you will be able to increase your points next time around, although most people will increase them somewhat. If you really can’t face another year in secondary school then fear not. Education is increasing in importance in modern Ireland and luckily this means there are wider choices for those wishing to pursue further education outside the limitations of the CAO system.
Further Education provides a number of options for school leavers. Most popular amongst these are apprenticeships. Apprenticeships are extremely popular with those who wish to receive qualifications outside the CAO system. Apprenticeships are not only for men and many of the newer apprenticeship options would have plenty of applications from both genders. Apprenticeships offer training for those wishing become Carpenters, Electricians, Plumbers and a variety of other types of trades. Admission is not based on Leaving Certificate performance but you must get a qualified craftsperson or organisation to agree to train you. Apprenticeship schemes provide alternating periods of ‘on the job’ training and ‘off the job’ education which is provided by ETB’s.
Post Leaving Certificate courses are another popular option for those evading the CAO system. They provide an internationally recognised QQI qualification and are one to two years in duration. A pass Leaving Certificate is required but entry is not based on the points system. Instead applications are made directly to the course provider and an interview process will determine candidate suitability. PLC courses offer a very wide range of subject areas and there are currently over 1000 PLC courses available throughout the country. Some examples are Childcare, Business Studies, Fashion and Hairdressing. PLC courses are orientated toward practical employment skills and include practical work, academic work and work experience. Many of these courses offer the option of progression to University or Institutes of Technology. PLC courses in Nursing Studies can help you progress to a Nursing Degree and some Engineering PLC courses are linked to University programmes providing access for those who have insufficient points.
Online courses are also a good way of gaining qualifications outside the CAO system. They do require a good level of personal motivation and it is important to thoroughly check the legitimacy of your qualification before paying any fees. If you feel you need the input of a real, live teacher there exist a number of private colleges who operate outside of the CAO system. An example of this type of college is Griffith College Dublin which offers a large number of courses not listed in the CAO. Instead courses must be applied to directly through the college itself.
These courses do not operate on the points system but they do require the payment of fees which range between five and seven thousand Euro per year. If you would like to attend University but cannot afford this method then a good way of getting around the points system is by applying as a mature student. A mature student is someone who is over 23 years of age. Many Universities reserve a certain amount of places each year for mature students and although some colleges require you to apply through the CAO entry is not based o points. Instead, it is based on your CV, an interview and in some cases an aptitude test.
Yes, the CAO may be the dominant means of gaining further education in Ireland, but it is not the only way.
The points system can cause a large amount of stress to Leaving Certificate students as the points they need may elude them. Thankfully, there are alternatives to the CAO available. These alternatives not only can help you gain new skills but can also help you opt for an alternative route to your dream career.