A course by any other name

Ask Brian: I can’t find a third-level course in the area I’m interested in. Can you help?

My daughter is fascinated with animals and hopes to study zoology at third level. We’ve checked all the colleges online to see who offers it but have drawn a blank. Can you offer any advice?

You are correct: if you try entering the term "zoology" in the advanced search field of a course listings website such as qualifax.ie, it won't return any matches. That is because there are no undergraduate programmes titled "zoology" offered through the CAO.

However, there are at least seven undergraduate programmes which enable students to graduate with a major in zoology.

This is true of many other areas: often key elements of course content are not reflected in a programme’s title. This is why it is vital to research thoroughly the content offered in any programmes you are considering.


The good news is that all this information is out there if you know where to look.

Advanced search

The “advanced search” facility on qualifax is a useful tool for researching CAO options.

By selecting the “keyword & title” tab, you can instantly identify what you are looking for across every single course prospectus published by every college operating within the CAO system.

In the case of zoology, undergraduate programmes which offer it as a major include Trinity (sciences-biological and biomedical), UCD (agricultural-environmental sciences), UCC (biological and chemical sciences; and biological earth & environmental sciences); NUI Galway (science) and GMIT (applied freshwater & marine biology), which is a level seven, or ordinary degree, programme.

To enable your daughter to determine the full extent of zoological content on offer through each of these seven programmes, all she needs to do is to search for these courses on qualifax.ie using the advanced search facility for CAO courses.

A similar search under postgraduate programmes will identify six masters and PhD options in NUI Galway, Trinity and UCC for her to explore.

Qualifax also allows you to explore the extent to which zoology can be studied within each programme by clicking on each individual programme and reading the full text of “course content” and “subjects taught”.

Your daughter will need to click on the “expand” tab to download the full text of data, which is everything that each college publishes on their programmes.

Entry requirements

It is also important to examine the CAO points entry requirements over the past three years (listed at the bottom of the course data page) and, most importantly, the minimum subject entry requirements for each course.

You would be surprised how many students fail to check this. Each year I come across many students with stellar points but who miss out on college places on this basis.

It is both amazing and disappointing that thousands of students complete their CAO applications each year without carrying out this basic research on the options open to them in the areas in which they have a genuine interest.

If they were to do so, the drop-out rates from college would decrease substantially.

Email queries to askbrian@irishtimes.com