How to get to college when you don’t have the means

Many students receive financial help but preparation is key when it comes to securing the correct level of funding

While the emphasis over the next couple of months will be on study and getting those ever sought after points, for many students it is also a time to consider how they will fund themselves through college.

Getting from first year to graduation is possible when you do not have the means and there are a range of financial supports available, but preparation and awareness is key when it comes to securing and receiving the correct amount of funding.

HEAR scheme  
The first port of call is the Hear (Higher Education Access Route) scheme which not only allows students to enter a course on a reduced points basis, but also comes with academic and financial supports. Applying to the Hear scheme is done through the CAO and students must tick the Hear scheme option which will then direct them to a separate Hear application form which must be completed by March 1st.

There is also a range of documentation that must be provided by April 1st. "This is a really good support programme for students that traditionally wouldn't have gone to college," says UCC's budgetary adviser Cian Power. There are a number of eligibility criteria that must be met and those who went to a Deis school, are from a disadvantaged area or who have a long-standing social welfare payment in the home are very likely to be qualify.


The amount of money awarded by Hear depends on the college you are going to (and students should check their preferred institution is part of the scheme) and your own circumstances. "It ranges from each college but for example, if you're from Cork city, [and going to UCC] its about €250 per term while if you're from Kerry or Waterford and coming into UCC it can range up to about €1,000," says Power. (

The next step is applying to Susi (Student Universal Support Ireland). Applications open in April and close in November but applying early is strongly advised due to the volume of applications received and to have a better chance of having funding secured before term begins. The main criteria is income while other factors such as distance from your chosen college also have an impact. Like Hear, there are a number of different grants, ranging from full fees to fees plus a grant or just a grant on its own, the latter of which typically ranges from €305 to €5,915 per year.

"For students starting in 2019, Susi will be looking at gross income for 2018 for parents plus students," says Ruth Killeen, student budgeting adviser at Maynooth University. "Students need to be aware that if they worked in 2018 there can be disregard for some of that income up to €4,500 but you have to tell Susi when you earned it, so two weeks at Christmas, Easter etc. Another area where a lot of students fall down is that its [the income of] your legal guardian plus any maintenance that matters – step-parents' income is not included. All of those details can make quite a big difference [in terms of the amount of grant awarded]."

Susi has access to social welfare and Revenue records and it's important to provide all necessary information regarding income to ensure no delay to your application, along with ensuring the basics such as the correct PPSNs, bank details etc are provided. (

Scholarships and the 1916 Bursary Fund  
Most third-level institutions offers scholarships that can range from hundreds to thousands of euro for talent in sports, the arts, entrepreneurship or sciences – check as early as possible with your chosen institutions about closing dates for applications.

The Department of Education's 1916 Bursary Fund is now entering its second year and is available to students who are under-represented in higher education. Students receive €5,000 per year on top of their Susi grant. Most, but not all institutions, are participating in the scheme and each has different closing dates. St Vincent de Paul also offers education grants and students should contact the charity's regional office to find out more. (

Student Assistance Fund  
Once you're in college, there is still help at hand if you're struggling financially. The Higher Education Authority's Student Assistance Fund is available to those who are struggling to cover the costs of books, rent, electricity bills, food, medical expenses, and a number of other issues, aside from fees.

The money is administered by each college and each has their own system. In UCC, the average is about € 600 per year, which Power says could make a difference between having to get a part-time job or not. Applications usually open in September and early application is advised. (

For those who cannot commute, rent will be one of the biggest expenses. Both Killen and Power advise choosing the smartest option money-wise, be it living with a relative already in the area or going into digs, which is cheaper than staying on campus and will avoid having to make two large once-off payments during the year.

Knowing what your means are and budgeting accordingly will also be key to getting through college and sitting down with one of the college’s finance advisers might help make money stretch further. Finding work, particularly in the summer can go a long way towards rent costs, as can a part-time job during term, but ensuring that the job fits around your academic work and not the other way around must be a priority, as failing exams will only end up costing you more.

The funding options available to students, particularly Susi and the Student Assistance Fund are all designed to get people to college and to keep them there. “It’s very much doable to go from first year to getting that piece of parchment at the end,” says Power. “The main thing is being ready and knowing what is out there for that student and now is time for them to start looking into all those areas.”


January: Inquire about college's scholarship schemes and whether they are participating in the 1916 Bursary Fund. Start thinking about how you will get to college and whether or not you have the option of choosing a course closer to home. If you cannot commute, make contact with the college's accommodation office to find out what options are on offer and how much you should budget for.

February: Select the Hear option on your CAO application form (CAO deadline is February 1st) then complete the separate Hear form you will be directed to by March 1st.

February - March: Gather the information necessary to complete your Hear application such as P21 form, social welfare documents, Form RP50 and post them before the April 1st deadline.

April: Begin your Susi application, following its step-by-step guide and providing all the documentation requested which may include social welfare payments, birth certificates etc (

You will be able to keep track of your application through your online account and can contact Susi at any stage for help or guidance. Once you hear about the outcome of your application, you have 30 days to appeal it so if the amount doesn’t seem correct to you, make sure you challenge it in time.

September: Make contact with your college's budget/finance office about the Student Assistance Fund and inquire about any other assistance they may be able to provide you with. If your circumstances change while you are in college, ie your legal guardians lose part of their income, or you suffer a parental bereavement, let Susi know as this may lead to an increase in your grant. Books and materials will also be a big expense, you won't need every book on your list so ensure you know what the essential texts are. Libraries are usually well stocked so let that be your first port of call, followed by second-hand options.

Student profile

One postgraduate student at Maynooth University studying business management who wished to remain anonymous said:

“I was definitely worried from a financial standpoint before I started my accounting and finance undergrad in Maynooth. I come from a Deis school and not a lot of people from my area went to college. I qualified for the Hear scheme which gave me 60 extra points but also financial support, and the access office here helped me throughout my whole career as an undergrad, putting me forward for things like the Student Assistance Fund.

“I got my fees covered by Susi and I got a maintenance grant but that was only €135/month so I queried that in first year as I knew I should be on a special rate and so I moved up to €263. I commute but between books, food and travel costs it is difficult and I wasn’t able to take on a part-time job as I needed to focus on keeping up with the course load. It is tough but doable.”

Nora-Ide McAuliffe

Nora-Ide McAuliffe

Nora-Ide McAuliffe is an Audience Editor with The Irish Times