choosing a college

Third Level Options

Third level education has become almost essential for many career choices in contemporary Ireland. Trying to choose the right option can be as daunting as first learning your ABC’s, instead you are confronted with CAO, PLCs, BAs and Ph.D.’s.

This wide choice is an advantage as there is bound to be a course which meets your individuals needs, skill and interests. Not all third level education takes place in universities! Apprenticeships are an option which allow you to develop a specific trade, such as carpentry, while also getting paid and require you to be ‘taken on’ by a qualified tradesman in order to learn your skill. More information is available at

Further Education courses (also known as PLC courses) are a good option if you haven’t achieved the points for a CAO course or if you find a more suitable further education option as they provide QQI level 5 & 6 qualifications. Admittance is not based on the points system but a Leaving Certificate is required and often an interview process will determine candidate suitability. In the case of applying to a course in Art and Design for example, a PLC portfolio preparation course can be extremely helpful in gaining admission. Many colleges also provide access courses in order to aid school leavers and adults returning to education who face difficulties due to a variety of social and economic factors, such as low family income or long-term unemployment.

Universities and Institutes of Technology are a popular option for those wishing to enter full-time education and offer higher levels of qualification. The National Framework of Qualifications ranks qualifications from 1 to 10. Some examples of this scale are apprenticeship qualifications at Level 6, the Honours Bachelor Degree at Level 8 and the Doctoral Degree at Level 10. It is important to consider this scale when choosing a course as it allows transparency and ease of comparability between courses. Institutes of Technology generally have a practical orientation and operate on a ladder system of qualifications with the highest rung of the ladder being a degree after four years. This may be useful if you wish to leave the four years required to achieve a degree after two or three years as you will still have received a qualification.

Universities offer degree programmes and often require the highest points. Unlike Institutes of Technology these programmes, usually four years in duration, do not operate on a ladder system. Degrees in University can range from the very theoretical realm of Philosophy to more profession orientated courses like Nursing. Arts Degrees can be useful if you are unsure what you would like to do as they allow you to try out four subjects in first year and then take two to degree level. These courses can also help gain admittance to denominated courses like Psychology and Law, but competition for these places can be fierce.

Degree courses can lead onto Masters courses which are usually 1-2 years in duration and can either be taught or involve research in your chosen field. The highest end of the scale is a Doctorate but this can take many years of dedication to attain. Being an Irish Scholar today can mean a multitude of things due to the wide variety of courses available and ways in which they can be studied. What is clear is that more and more people are embracing education and choosing 3rd level education.