CAO countdown: Mature students need to fine-tune their personal statements

About 12,000 mature students are set to apply for college courses this year

 UCD campus in Belfield:  it is normal for mature students to feel apprehensive about applying for college. Photograph: Alan Betson

UCD campus in Belfield: it is normal for mature students to feel apprehensive about applying for college. Photograph: Alan Betson


Of all the CAO applicants this year, about 60 per cent will be students sitting the Leaving Cert for the first time who will succeed or fail based on the points they secure in the exam.

A further 25 per cent will include deferred applicants who sat the Leaving Cert in recent years and will be assessed on the same basis as this year’s school leavers.

However, a sizeable number of mature applicants – about 12,000 – will be judged on other factors.

Their success will depend largely on the quality of their personal statement in the application, and the interviews they may be invited to after the February 1st application deadline.

These applicants, who must have been aged 23 or more on or before January 1st, have to apply for a college place through the CAO.

What are colleges looking for?

If you are thinking of applying as a mature student, you need to consider the kind of information colleges want in assessing your application.

This includes your highest academic qualification to date, any studies you are engaged in, any non-certified courses you may have taken, your employment or voluntary work history to date, any references you hold, your hobbies/interests and, most importantly, why you are interested in taking the course.

Admissions pathways

For almost all course choices, mature applicants simply complete the online CAO application process, but there are a multiplicity of variations to this rule in colleges across the country (which are outlined fully at

It is important to research courses thoroughly before making applications to any college. There are lots of sources online (such as and

The CAO has produced a very useful set of supporting guidelines for mature applicants (

Many colleges hold information events in the form of open days before the CAO deadline of February 1st each year. These are usually listed on the qualifax website.

Some colleges also use some basic assessments for prospective mature students. The “mature students admissions pathway” is a test which consists of a written English module and multiple-choice modules.

UCD, UCC, NUI Galway and UL use it for a variety of different courses. It involves registering with a special website (

The test date is Saturday, March 4t, and the test fee is €78 if you register by February 5th, rising to €113 by February 19th. The test locations are in Cork, Dublin, Galway and Limerick.

How will I be assessed?

During March and April, mature applicants may be called for an interview as part of a college’s assessment process of an application. Candidates typically find out if they have been successful in the first week of July.

Remember: it is normal to feel apprehensive about applying. I co-ordinated and lectured on a graduate course in UCD for almost 20 years. The most insecure applicants were always the mature adults.

Universally, they turned out to be the glue that helped the class bond and find their feet. Their life experience provided them and their less mature classmates with invaluable resources as the two-year programme unfolded.

As an adult, do not be overwhelmed by the prospect of returning to study. You will bring far more to the dynamic of your chosen course than you realise.

Tomorrow: Reduced entry requirements for applicants with a disability or from socially disadvantaged backgrounds