Didn’t get the Leaving Cert results you wanted? Ten things to consider

Leaving Cert 2023: There are multiple options aside from repeating if you didn’t get the results you expected

LC Results Generic

Every year, thousands of students take a deep breath, look at their Leaving Cert results – and feel utterly crushed.

These days, however, there are many more options: what was once last-gasp fallbacks such as PLCs are now viable first choices; growing numbers of students ignore the CAO altogether and study abroad out of choice; and it’s less common for students to repeat.

“Every year, in any school, there will be students who didn’t get what they hoped for,” says Alice O’Connor, a guidance counsellor at Stepaside Educate Together Secondary School.

“We run career classes throughout the year and, in these, we cover all the bases. This means not just level-eight courses, but also level sevens, PLCs, apprenticeships and traineeships. And we explain that the CAO round one offers are not game over, as points can fall in subsequent rounds.


“So much has happened for them in the past year: they’ve sat exams, had to make big life choices and left school. We definitely recommend that they try to stay calm, and remember that this isn’t the end. Of course, different people will respond to stress in different ways, but take a moment to absorb the results and, for students who are disappointed or anxious having received their results, take a breath and consider all your options.”

1. Appeal

“There can be human error in the process, so if you don’t think you got the grade you deserved in one or more papers, you can apply to review your scripts,” says O’Connor.

“You can ask your teacher to sit down and go through the script with you, and see what mark they would have awarded.”

From there, you can decide whether to apply online for a recheck. This costs €40 per subject, but it will be refunded in full if your mark is ultimately upgraded.

Last year, one in five subjects that were rechecked were upgraded, with almost 8,500 candidates appealing just under 17,000 individual exam results. The figures were broadly similar in 2019, with no exams in 2020 and many students opting for calculated grades in 2021.

Be aware that there is a chance that you can be downgraded, but this is rare: last year, this happened to just one unlucky student, while only five were downgraded in 2018.

You can apply online to view scripts and request a recheck through Examinations.ie.

2. Remember there are more CAO rounds

“This is just round one, and things may shift in the next few weeks,” O’Connor advises. “There are two more rounds to go, and because some students won’t accept an offer on some courses, points may fall and you may still get the offer you wanted.”

The accommodation crisis has made this more likely, as some students are reluctantly turning down their college offer because they can’t find, or afford, a viable place to stay near their third level. They may, instead, choose a more local option by going for a vacant place, choosing a PLC or apprenticeship or going abroad – more on all of these options below.

If you’re holding out for an upgrade or a later CAO offer, however, it is absolutely crucial that you accept the level-six/seven or level-eight course that you were offered – even if you don’t want it. Otherwise, it is deemed that you have opted out of the CAO process and you will not receive a further offer. In the meantime, you can still pursue other options including repeating, studying abroad, or going for a PLC, apprenticeship or traineeship.

3. Consider the level-seven courses

Guidance counsellors generally advise students to apply through the CAO for both level-six/seven and level-eight courses. Level-six/seven generally take place at technological universities or institutes of technology and, besides being a valuable qualification in their own right, can be a stepping stone up the National Framework of Qualifications towards a level eight.

4. Vacant places

It’s hard to get away from the mistaken belief that high-points courses equal high-status courses. But it’s actually all about supply and demand, and points are high for courses such as dentistry and medicine because there are more applicants than there are places; if this was reversed and there were lots of vacant places, points would be lower.

Every year, there are some courses that don’t get filled, primarily but not entirely in technological universities, institutes of technology and independent, fee-paying colleges such as Griffith and Dublin Business School.

“The CAO will publish which courses still have places,” says O’Connor.

“For these courses, as long as applicants meet the minimum entry requirements, they can apply through the CAO. Available places only become available after CAO round-one offers have been filled.”

5. Apprenticeship, PLC or traineeship

The establishment of Solas, the further education and training agency, has led to major improvements in further education options.

  • PLC: “PLCs at level five or six are a standalone qualification in their own right,” says O’Connor. “They train people for the workforce and provide practical employability skills. They can also be a stepping stone to third level, with a number of places reserved for PLC students to progress into college in various courses, including science, nursing, law and engineering.” See FetchCourses.ie.
  • Apprenticeship: “The range of apprenticeships has increased too. Apprenticeships are more skills-focused than academic-focused, with a modularised approach to learning instead of college, which mirrors the school year. Apprentices learn on the job while earning a wage, and some of the learning may take place on a college campus, giving a taste of the student experience.”

Apprenticeships cover a range of courses including more traditional and familiar areas such as carpentry, plumbing and motor mechanics, alongside newer areas including auctioneering, accounting, biopharma, cybersecurity, insurance, ICT, logistics, recruitment and sales. See Apprenticeship.ie for more information.

6. Traineeships

Traineeships are short and structured programmes aimed at providing students with specific skills to work in high-demand roles. A great option for those keen to get to work and earn money, they can be a start, not an end, to your career.

7. National Learning Network

NLN, the educational division of the Rehab Group, offers flexible and supported training for people with a disability, mental health issues, illness or additional support needs. There are about 70 different courses across more than 50 locations throughout Ireland, helping those who may otherwise find it difficult to gain employment, or just those who need a bit more personalised support, including neurodivergent students who may be autistic or have ADHD.

“Traditional pathways can be daunting for some students, but this is a great option for those who don’t feel they’d succeed going straight into further or higher education, as they have much stronger supports in place,” says O’Connor. “In my experience, they are keen to support students with additional educational needs, and that support can be quite practical.”

These courses can provide a route to higher or further education.

8. Go abroad

Entry requirements in Ireland can be much higher than in other EU countries, where fees are lower and accommodation is not such a stretch. Many veterinary and medicine applicants who miss out here are choosing to study abroad, in prestigious universities where teaching is in English.

The deadline for many of these courses will have passed, but there will still be spaces available.

See Eunicas.ie or Erudera.com for more information and support about European courses, or Ucas.co.uk for information about UK universities.

9. Repeating

Because third-level spaces have expanded in recent years, further education outcomes and progression opportunities have improved, there’s a second set of exams for those who were sick during the main event, and more students now choose to study abroad, repeating is not as popular as it once was.

“If you have done all the rechecks and didn’t get one extra CAO point from it, and if you worked really hard and know you could not have done any more, I’d advise you to be very cautious about repeating,” O’Connor advises.

On the contrary, of course, those who simply didn’t perform as well as they should, and feel they have more to give, might consider this option.

10. Take a break

You’ve plenty of options but don’t forget that you can shun all of them and take a year out to work or travel while you consider your options. However – tempting as it may be – you must have a plan: don’t take a year off to sit around doing nothing, as it’s more soul-destroying than it sounds.