Ask Brian: My new year’s resolution is to finally get a degree – but where do I start?

You need to prepare yourself for the task ahead in order to succeed

 It is eminently possible for mature students to secure a degree with the right  preparation. Photograph: iStock

It is eminently possible for mature students to secure a degree with the right preparation. Photograph: iStock


Question: My new year’s resolution is to finally study for a third-level degree. It is more than 30 years since I sat the Leaving Cert, so maybe I am being too ambitious, but I feel strongly that I need to do this for my own sense of self-worth. Where do I go from here?

Answer: You have set yourself a major challenge for 2017, but it is one which can come to fruition with rigorous planning and preparation. Firstly, although you do not indicate the area of academic pursuit that you wish to engage with, I presume you have a particular field of study in mind. Just aspiring to securing a college qualification in itself will not sustain you through the many challenges which you will have to overcome in the years ahead. You will ultimately succeed in your goal because you have a deep genuine interest in the field of study to aspire to engage with.

Secondly, you need to prepare yourself for the task ahead. Nobody runs a marathon without months of diligent planning and preparation. It is the same with securing a third-level qualification. You should explore all of the available course providers in your field of academic interest. There are various websites, such as, which can help you to identify every course offered by both further education and higher education providers.

Your ultimate objective may be to attend a university or institute of technology programme leading to a level eight honours degree, but I would caution you to reflect long and hard before launching yourself directly into such an undertaking. You might initially consider a further education or an access programme. Many potential mature students opt for, or are required to take, a preparatory course by colleges before embarking on a degree programme.

These courses reintroduce you to the world of learning, while providing opportunities for gaining various important study skills such as note taking, writing, and research.

There are many different types of preparatory courses on offer to mature students. The course you choose may be dependent on course content, timing (part-time/full-time; day time/evening), cost or where the course is held.

When you have brought your skills levels up to speed with the requirements of the course you have selected, you will in many cases have to apply for a place on it through the mature application process of the CAO ( Some 12,000-plus potential mature learners are going to engage with this process over the coming weeks, prior to the 1st February CAO deadline.

Their applications will be assessed based on their level of their preparedness for the course as well as on their life experience to date, as expressed in their written outline of their case for acceptance on to the programme – and not on any Leaving Cert result they secured in their youth.

If you engage with the process as outlined above your new year’s resolution has every possibility of being fulfilled.