College Choice: Exploring the alternative routes to college

The CAO is not the only route to further education, as many students discover

Leaving Cert points are not the only way to progress to college

Leaving Cert points are not the only way to progress to college


More than 30,000 students enrol on Post-Leaving Certificate-Further Education (PLC- FE) courses every year to gain a qualification in a vocational area such as hairdressing or security studies.

An increasing number of these students are using their results from these courses instead of their Leaving Certificate points to progress to a degree course.

This option will allow you to apply again to the CAO next year, presenting the result of your PLC course as your method of entry. You may also progress directly within the PLC sector, if you wish to obtain degrees.

PLC colleges throughout the country have progression arrangements with colleges and universities both within the Republic and in the UK, with reserved places for these students. As with CAO programmes, full details of all PLC courses are available on the website.

PLCs are open to Leaving Cert Applied students. A student in Cavan Institute who did the Leaving Cert Applied and then completed security studies at level 5 and level 6 has worked as a licensed security officer at a range of major events in Ireland. She has since completed a BA in criminal justice studies, gaining a 2.1, and is now planning to do a master’s in human resources.

Many Leaving Certificate students select PLC courses in preference to progressing directly to the CAO when they are unsure that they want to spend three to four years studying a particular subject.

For example, by completing a nursing, business or computer PLC-FE course, you can find out in a year-long course if you are really interested in nursing rather than enrolling on a four-year degree course.

PLC-FE courses are all based on continuous assessment and not a final examination. They also contain a mandatory work placement in the area the students are studying so students can see what life is like in that career area.

Colleges offer placements throughout Europe to students on PLC programmes under the Leonardo da Vinci programme.

PLC courses are available in all counties and are reasonably priced – a €200 Government levy is the minimum charge plus course fees, but nothing as expensive as a CAO course.

Repeating the Leaving
The number of students repeating the Leaving Cert has been dropping considerably in recent years and is now well below 2,000 a year. The advent of the HPat test in medicine has taken many high-points students out of the repeats process. Having said that, for students who for various reasons consider that their performance in June and the result they received this day last week was not a fair reflection of their ability, they should seriously consider repeating.

There are a number of VEC colleges who offer targeted repeat Leaving Certificate classes as well as some other colleges in the second level and private grind schools sector.

In Dublin, CDVEC offers this programme in four colleges – Rathmines College, Plunket College, Pearse College and Ringsend College.

Online education
For Leaving Certificate students and adults alike who may wish to further their education, the cost and time commitments involved may make this option very difficult if not impossible to achieve.

The growing availability of online education is transforming how students learn in the modern world. Many learners are abandoning the traditional “bricks-and-mortar” college life experience and availing of the opportunity to engage in technology-enhanced online learning tools including multimedia presentations and electronic whiteboards, which online education now provides.

An individual at any stage in their life journey now has the option of studying online for internationally recognised degrees from accredited colleges, both in Ireland and throughout the world, combining the benefits of flexibility, accessibility and affordability.

Online education strips away all the overheads accumulated when attending a third-level college. Today’s students have grown up in the world of digital technology, they use it as an everyday tool and higher-education institutions have responded.

All of our colleges and universities are introducing online learning into the product mix when redesigning their courses. However some institutions such as Hibernia College specialise exclusively in online education. They offer online undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in teacher education, health sciences, business, management and computing.

They offer an internationally recognised and accredited University of London degree in business, computing or management, without all the costs associated with studying on-campus.

Although most people have never heard of them, another Irish company growing rapidly in the field of online education is, the world’s leading free online learning resource for basic and essential workplace skills.

Alison has recently been nominated for an international award for its work in online education at the forthcoming world innovation summit for education, which is in Qatar in October this year.

If you want to further your education without leaving your home, the solution to your dilemma may lie on your PC or laptop.