Further education: a five-point checklist

Tailor your questions to suit your interests and needs

If you are considering pursuing a course in the further education (FE) sector you should certainly take the time to review the various options available to you.

Whether you are thinking of an apprenticeship or a course to avail of one of the places reserved by some third-level colleges for applicants who have successfully completed a level-five FE award in that specific discipline, there are thousands of opportunities to consider.

To help you make an informed decision about what course to study and what institution to attend, we have compiled a five-point checklist to help you reach that decision.

You may not have decided on what college you would like to attend, or what specific course would best suit you, but even if you already know what you would like to do, engaging with guidance counsellors and attending college open days can only be a help.

Top tip: It is worth preparing a list. Tailor your questions to suit your needs and interests: ask about the courses on offer, what are the academic requirements, what courses will make you more employable?

1. Consult a guidance counsellor

Students in second-level schools should always seek the support of their guidance counsellor when considering their career progression options. If they don’t raise options outside of the traditional CAO ones, then ask them directly whether locally based FE opportunities exist which would consolidate your learning in your specific area of interest prior to taking on a third level degree in that discipline.

Adults who have completed their schooling can seek the advice and support of the Adult Education Guidance Service (AEGI) which operates as a distinct unit within each Education and Training Board (ETB) throughout the country. Alternatively, they could seek an appointment with a guidance counsellor who works privately, igc.ie.

2. Research all available courses

There are two support services that offer details on FE options available throughout the country. Qualifax.ie has a dedicated database of post-Leaving Cert courses and a search engine that allows a prospective learner to explore all the suitable options on offer. Solas also has a dedicated website, fetchcourses.ie, suitable for such searches.

3. Research the course provider

Having narrowed down your course options, log on to each FE college’s website to get an overview of both the college itself and the specific course you are considering. All FE colleges are very welcoming to all potential applicants and operate open days on a regular basis. Most will also offer those researching their learning options the opportunity to visit the college relatively quickly after your initial contact.

4. How to apply for an FE programme

Each FE college operates on a direct online application basis, and most have no initial application fee. Your application will receive an immediate acknowledgment followed by an invitation to an interview to determine your suitability for the programme.

Unlike in the CAO, there is no requirement for applicants to have attained specific educational qualifications, but interviewing teachers will advise an applicant who may need some support from bodies such as National Adult Literacy Association if they feel that an applicant, particularly an adult who may have had a negative schooling experience, needs some initial support prior to undertaking their desired programme.

5. Next steps – what will I do with my award?

Most FE students undertake their programme with a specific goal in mind, which helps them to sustain their studies. School-leavers tend to fall into two general categories: those seeking to secure a reserved CAO course place on the basis of their award and those seeking immediate employment in an occupation such as hairdressing, nails and beauty, fire and ambulance etc.

Adults on the other hand can undertake an FE course for a whole variety of reasons, returning to employment following a period away from the labour market, upskilling with a view to securing a more challenging job, a change in career direction following retirement or in mid-career, or simply to develop the skills for a prospective hobby.

No matter what your motivation, FE colleges are a very welcoming and non-judgmental environment to explore the next stage of your career journey.

Brian Mooney

Brian Mooney

Brian Mooney is a guidance counsellor and education columnist. He contributes education articles to The Irish Times