Drawing up a plan to get into art college


IT seems there should be a health warning on applications for third-level art and design courses.

While we have heard of no fatalities, the number of sighs, moans and gasps of dismay from parents and prospective students each year is indicative of both nervous and physical exhaustion. Weary parents complain of arduous portfolio toting duties while students, sublimely unappreciative of the efforts of their chauffeur/porters, talk of the strain of compiling portfolios, attending interviews and completing drawing tests.

Art and design covers a range of areas such as photography, fine art, ceramics, visual communications, design communications and film and television. The main problem with applying for these courses is the lack of a centralised applications/assessment system. Yes, prospective students do apply to the CAO for most courses but after that first step, things rapidly become "curiouser and curiouser".

This column will help you navigate the applications maze but the question must be asked - why the need for this confusion? Why do students have to traipse around at a time when they should be studying for their exams? Is there no way a centralised system could be put in place to case the pressure on students and parents?

Such a system would cut down on shoe leather, the expense and the nervous tension which thousands of students experience each year shuttling to and fro clasping awkward portfolios. Surely, portfolios and projects could be sent to one location and a small number of assessors could instead make a single journey.


Let us begin with the National College of Art and Design, which offers three first-year courses, two of which are in the CAO/ CAS system. The first-year core programme - which is the first year of the four-year degree courses in craft design, fashion design, textile design and visual communication - is not in the CAO/CAS system.

Applications must be made directly to the college and the minimum academic standard is two subjects at grade C3 in the Leaving Certificate and four D3s on ordinary level papers including a language (Irish, English or Continental). There is no Leaving Certificate points system. Places are allocated on the basis of a portfolio. Completed application forms and portfolios must be in by January 31st.

There is no need to deliver these personally but many students, understandably, want to make sure that their creative baby is properly treated and reaches the college in pristine condition.

To give NCAD its due, portfolios are assessed with great efficiency and are usually available for collection two weeks later. Unfortunately, for students who want to maximise their chances by applying to two or more colleges, this is only the beginning of the great portfolio marathon.

Experienced parents and students know that for each college submission, there is the corresponding collection before the next submission date.

Applicants to NCAD's BA in art and design education must apply through the CAO/CAS, with a closing date of February 1st. Mature students should apply directly to the college. All applicants to the course are offered an interview - usually early in May. Before the interview, they will have been sent a brief for a drawing test.

They must bring the completed test and a portfolio of work with them to the interview. The minimum academic requirements are the same as for first-year core and again, a Leaving Cert points system is not used.

NCAD's third offering, the BDes in industrial design, is offered jointly by the University of Limerick and NCAD. Students spend first year at UL and three years at NCAD. The course appears under UL in the CAO/CAS handbook.

Interviews are held in the week beginning April 28th. Students must bring a portfolio and places are allocated on the basis of the portfolio and interview. A minimum of two grade C3s at higher level and four D3s at ordinary level is needed and there are specific maths/science/engineering requirements as there is some engineering content in the course.

As with the BA in art and design education, mature applicants should contact the college directly.

NCAD is included in the free fees initiative. Students are also eligible to apply for HEA grants and VEC scholarships.

All of the following colleges are in the central applications system and almost all are listed by the CAO as restricted entry courses. No late applications (after February 1st) will be accepted for any of the restricted courses so it is important to check the CAO/ CAS handbook.

Dun Laoghaire College of Art and Design:

In March, applicants are requested to submit a portfolio which is assessed on a fail/pass basis. Successful applicants are then called to an interview/port- folio assessment in April which carries a maximum of 600 points (the portfolio can be further developed between March and April). These are then added to the Leaving Cert points to allocate places.


There are six art and design courses offered by the Dublin Institute of Technology. Students must submit a portfolio on either Thursday February 20th or Friday February 21st (by 4.30 p.m.), to DIT Mountjoy Square, Dublin. After assessment, slightly more than half of the applicants will usually have been weeded out. The remainder are called for interview. Last year, 1,200 people applied and about 500 people were called for interview.

A maximum of 600 points are awarded for portfolio and interview. These points are then added to Leaving Cert points to allocate places. Candidates are scored separately for each course for which they have applied.

Regional Technical Colleges:

It is here that another form of assessment enters the harassed would-be art and design student's vocabulary. Interviews, portfolios and drawing tests are joined by the project.

In theory, this project is a form of centralised screening procedure for the RTCs - with the CAO/CAS facilitating the process. But in fact, not all RTCs participate in the project. Among participating colleges, it may be used as a pass/fail screening test or it may be allocated a mark. Often, it is combined with some other form of assessment. Each year, a new project is designed and used by all participating RTCs.

Athlone RTC participates in the CAO project assessment system. If an applicant passes the project, he or she is asked to attend a portfolio assessment and information session at the college. The idea of the information session is to meet staff to discuss she candidate's suitability for the course. There are points available for the portfolio and these are added to Leaving Cert points to allocate places.

Carlow RTC does not require a project or portfolio for its industrial design course. Places are awarded on the basis of Leaving Cert points alone. It is not a restricted application course so late applications will be accepted by the CAO.

Cork and Limerick RTCs operate within the CAO/CAS admissions process for the project section with the project scored on a pass/fail basis. Those who are successful in the project are called for a portfolio assessment/ interview. A maximum of 600 points is available for the portfolio/interview, which are then added to normal Leaving Cert points.

To facilitate students, Cork and Limerick RTCs operate a combined portfolio assessment/ interview so students applying for both colleges need attend only one interview. Both colleges offer similar courses - national diplomas followed by add-on degrees.

Galway RTC operates within the CAO/CAS project system but here, the project is scored and this score is added to normal Leaving Cert points to allocate places.

Letterkenny RTC applicants for graphic design and industrial design courses must go to the college for a portfolio assessment/ interview in March or April. A maximum of 600 points is available for this and students' scores are added to Leaving Cert points to allocate places.

Sligo RTC applicants for national diploma in fine art can avail of an early portfolio assessment procedure. Students who submitted a portfolio by December 1st will be notified before the CAO closing date (1st February) as to whether their portfolio was passed.

The closing date for applications for the fine art course is the CAO February 1st deadline. Portfolios can be submitted by post, usually up until the end of March. The portfolio is scored out of 600 and the score is added to the Leaving Cert points to allocate places.

No portfolio is required for the college's industrial design course. Places are awarded on the basis of Leaving Cert points alone. This is no longer a restricted application course.

Waterford RTC's art diploma requires the submission of a short project to the college which is assessed on a pass/fail basis. Students who pass then compete for places on the basis of Leaving Cert points only.

If you feel exhausted just reading through the intricacies of the system, perhaps you should consider investing in some kind of restorative tonic before the portfolio/project/drawing test marathon begins in earnest.

A telephone helpline will be available from Monday to Friday for the duration of this column from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Students and parents are invited to telephone us on (01)679 8031 with their queries about colleges, courses and careers.

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