Dare, Hear, mature applications: some alternative routes to college

For students with a disability or from a disadvantaged background, applying for college isn’t as straightforward as just listing course preferences, but there are excellent supports

DCU’s campus: the university supports students through Dare and Hear

DCU’s campus: the university supports students through Dare and Hear


Those who live in a disadvantaged socio-economic area, who have a disability or who are applying to third level as a mature student need to be aware that their CAO application differs slightly and will require some extra time to complete. Knowing deadlines and what’s involved is key to a stress-free application.

Taking the Dare route

Dare (Disability Access Route to Education) offers places on reduced points to school-leavers (aged under 23 on January 1st, 2016) with disabilities. On average, the points reduction is 10 per cent lower than the published CAO points, but students still need to meet the matriculation and specific entry requirements for their preferred course.

The scheme is not available in all third-level institutions, but 18 offer it, including the seven universities, some ITs, the RCSI and some teacher-training colleges.

Being aware of CAO deadlines and getting your paperwork in order are two of the most important elements of applying to the scheme, says Lorraine Gallagher of the Association for Higher Education Access and Disability (AHEAD).

“With Dare, there’s a lot of dates for paperwork and people really need to stick to those dates. If the paperwork is late, their application is null and void so it won’t be processed. People also need to be aware that even though there is change-of-mind option available, you have to select the part of the form to say you have a disability before that, otherwise you won’t be considered.”

There are a large number of disabilities eligible for Dare including ADD/ADHD, autism, blind/visually impaired, a mental health condition and dyslexia/dyscalculia. A full list is available on ahead.ie.

To apply for the scheme, students need to apply to the CAO by February 1st. By March 1st they need to have disclosed their disability/learning difficulty, said Yes to applying to the Dare scheme and have filled out a supplementary information form.

By April 1st, they must submit their educational impact statement, along with reports from the relevant medical professional that details the student’s disability. All of this takes time, so it’s important you know exactly what information you need and that it’s up to date.

For example, depending on the disability, some of the medical reports, such as those required for dyslexia, have age limits, so the report submitted to the CAO can’t be more than three years old.

Dare applicants will find out by the end of June whether they have been successful or not. One of the limitations with Dare, however, is that there is a huge lack of transparency around how each college operate it. There is no published information on how they allocate points and each has different quotas for Dare students. It means not everyone who has been accepted for Dare will get a points reduction, even if they are within the 10 per cent range.

While some candidates will secure their preferred course through Dare, every year Gallagher speaks to students who think that because they qualified for it, they will automatically get their course.

“If your course was 400 points, and you got 280, you’re still outside the points range. There’s only a 10 per cent margin between the actual points and what you can get with the reduction. If you’re too low they’ll say you don’t fit the criteria for the course, regardless of being a Dare candidate.”

For details on how the Dare scheme works, visit accesscollege.ie; cao.ie; ahead.ie or contact Lorraine Gallagher from AHEAD on (01) 716 4396.

Applying through Hear

Hear (Higher Education Access Route) offers places on reduced points and also gives extra college support to school-leavers from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. Students who apply for Dare may also be eligible for Hear, and can apply to both.

Some 15 institutes participate in the Hear scheme, including the seven universities, some teacher training colleges, the RCSI and just one IT (DIT). As with Dare, you apply through the CAO and must confirm you are applying to Hear by March 1st and submit all of your supporting documentation to the CAO by April 1st.

The documentation you need to supply will be listed after you complete Section 7 of the online Hear application form. Examples include a P21 form or a Department of Social Protection form or statement. Late submissions won’t be accepted, so it’s best to start gathering the requested information as soon as possible.

There are six indicators to determine if you are eligible for Hear, three financial and three social, says University of Limerick’s Access Office.

“Financial indicators would be level of income [the Hear income limit depends on the number of dependent children in the family]; having a medical card; and the applicant’s parent or guardian being in receipt of a means-tested social welfare payment.

“Social and cultural factors include the occupation and employment status of the parent; attendance at a Deis school, or living in an urban or rural disadvantaged area.

But students need to meet a combination of all six, not just the financial indicators. Everyone needs to meet the low-income indicator. After that, they need to tick two other indicators to be considered eligible. An easy-to-follow breakdown of these indicators and combinations is on accesscollege.ie.

Applicants find out by the end of June whether they have been successful. Like Dare, each institution operates its own Hear scheme and the number of Hear students accepted and the points reduction varies from college to college.

‘It’s brilliant’

Gaining access to the Hear programme was a dream come true for Ben Clarke from Gorey, Co Wexford, a first-year computer applications student in DCU.

“I wouldn’t have got my course without Hear. I applied because my father is on social welfare. The whole process was really simple, you knew exactly what documents to get. I found out I was accepted four weeks before the results came out and it was a big relief. I got 50 points off my course, I needed 400 but only got 350.

“When I arrived in DCU I got so much help. I get financial assistance which takes the pressure off a bit as well and if you ever need help with anything you just contact the Access office.

“For the past few weeks they organised a PhD student to come in and do maths grinds with small groups of us. They will also help with your course, for example with programming. I asked for a personal tutor to be assigned to me, which will be organised by the Access office. It’s brilliant.”

Mature students

Mature students (aged 23 on January 1st, 2016) can’t avail of either the Dare or Hear scheme, but supports are available to mature students with disabilities.

One advantage of returning to third level as a mature student is that you don’t have to compete in the points race. Your application is largely based on how well-prepared you are to take the programme based on your work experience, certified or non-certified courses you have taken, and your reasons for wanting to return to education. However, some courses, for example engineering, usually have specific subject requirements, such as grade C or higher in honours maths.

Emer Sheerin, the mature student officer at Maynooth University, says it’s very important to contact the college you are interested in applying to, to find out their exact application criteria.

“Generally, all mature students have to fill out the CAO form and meet the February 1st deadline, the same as school leavers. But some higher education institutes, such as Trinity, might ask them to fill out a supplementary form as well. It varies in each college, so it’s very important to check what their specific application procedure is.”

Starting on the CAO form as early as possible is also key to a successful application. “You can’t just sit down the night before and do it. You need to give yourself time to get any certs or documents needed. When filling out the application, the first few pages are the same as any school leaver but when they tick the mature student section of the form, 11 other sections open up.

“It’s really looking for details on their education history, their highest qualification to date, how far they went in formal school, any current studies they are pursuing, cert or non-cert courses completed since leaving school formally and anything else they have done. There are also sections on their employment or voluntary work.”

The personal statement is a very important part of the application and there is guidance in the CAO handbook. You only get 200 words to give your motivation for applying but some institutes accept a longer statement supplied in additional documents to the CAO.

Once the college has received your application from the CAO, they start the selection process. Again, this can vary from college to college. You could be called for an interview or have to complete a written assessment, or both.

Applicants for arts, law, science or agricultural science in UCD, arts in UCC and NUIG or selected education, and health sciences in UL, have to sit the Mature Students Admissions Pathway (MSAP) test on March 5th. Those applying to medicine have to register with HPat Ireland, along with completing their CAO application.

The number of places reserved for mature students varies from college to college with most allocating 10-15 per cent on all courses.

Along with making sure you’ve done extensive research on your intended programme, be aware of any funding available to you.

“There are fewer and fewer financial incentives for adults going back into education,” says Sheerin. “There are cutbacks all the time and there are particularly disappointing developments in the back-to-education allowance, with not as many people getting it. They should check studentfinance.ie, their local citizens information centre or susi.ie to find out what they are entitled to.”

For more information, visit cao.ie/mature or contact the Mature Student Officer in your intended college.

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