CAO countdown: Advantage of Hear and Dare schemes

Supports available for applicants with a disability or from disadvantaged backgrounds

The Dare scheme has moved away from the exclusive use of medical criteria towards a holistic one. Photograph: iStockphoto

The Dare scheme has moved away from the exclusive use of medical criteria towards a holistic one. Photograph: iStockphoto


Third-level admissions schemes can play a crucial role in providing access to college for students with disabilities and those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

Most colleges allocate reserved places to be competed for at reduced CAO points by those who are deemed eligible.

The two main access schemes are the Disability Access Route to Education (Dare) and Higher Education Access Route (Hear), for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Whether you secure a Hear or Dare place depends on the number of applicants to each programme. If there are four Dare places for example, and four qualifying applicants, all will secure a place on reduced CAO points.

If on the other hand there are 40 eligible applicants, the four with the most CAO points among those who do not secure a place within the mainstream CAO system secure the places.

While most colleges participate in Dare and Hear schemes – about 20 in all – not all do.

However, colleges outside of these schemes still offer a range of supports including disability support services. Whether you get a place through Dare or not, you are still entitled to avail of disability-related supports once you have a verified disability. A list of participating colleges is available on


Disadvantaged students who apply through Hear must meet a combination of financial and social indicators.

On the financial side, your total family income (gross income before tax and PRSI are deducted) for 2016 must be below €45,790 (there are higher income thresholds for families with more than four dependants).

Add €4,670 to the total income for every sibling/parent enrolled in a full-time college, university or Post-Leaving Certificate course. Applicants must also meet a combination of at least two of five other indicators, ranging from whether a student’s parents are medical card holders or welfare recipients.

Susi maintenance grants are there to assist applicants from low income backgrounds, many of whom may not necessarily meet the full Hear criteria. Applicants to Hear should also apply to Susi.


Students with disabilities who are applying to the Dare scheme need to meet two criteria relating to evidence of disability and educational impact.

The scheme has moved away from the exclusive use of medical criteria towards a holistic one which recognises the impact that having a disability can have on a student’s experience of second-level education.

The educational impact criteria involve both an applicant and school statement. This details how the applicant may have been educationally impacted because of their disability in secondary school.

For students applying on the basis of dyslexia or dyscalculia, applicants are required to submit a full psychological assessment report of any age in which their diagnosis is clearly outlined.

Applicants will also be required to submit attainment scores, either from school-based testing or from testing administered by a qualified psychologist, which have been carried out within the previous two years.

As with all other disability categories, an education impact statement must be included in the application to Dare.

Application dates

If you are interested in applying to the Dare or Hear schemes, you must apply to the CAO by February 1st and complete the online application in the “my application section” of your CAO application by March 1st. You need to post the required documentation by registered post to the CAO by April 1st.

For anyone interested in applying to Dare or Hear, advice clinics are being held nationwide on Saturday, January 20th, see for more information.

According to the Association for Higher Education Access & Disability (Ahead), approximately five per cent of students attending higher education in Ireland are registered with disability support services.

For further information about access and the supports available contact the colleges you are interested in attending.