I’m in my 40s and thinking of college next year. Should I apply now?

CAO applicants required to submit extra paperwork should start preparing now

I lost my job recently after 20 years in the hospitality sector. I never went to college and am thinking of applying to third level. Also, my eldest daughter, who has dyslexia, is due to sit the Leaving Cert in June and hopes to go to college. Have you any advice in terms of our applications?

The most important action for both of you is to apply immediately to the CAO. I give this advice to all prospective applicants, but particularly to those applying under the mature application route and those who are seeking places using special entry routes.

The Dare scheme (Disability Access Route to Education) for example, applies to students such as your daughter who have a designated disability, while Hear (Higher Education Access Route) applies to those from socially disadvantaged backgrounds. Mature students are generally considered to be those over 23 years of age.*

The CAO has already noticed an increase in early applications – up by 1,000 based on the same date last year – so it looks like people are getting organised early. For schemes that require supporting documentation, the CAO is urging applicants to submit such documents well in advance of the published deadlines.


I offer this advice every year but it is particularly important this year given the uncertainty around future Covid-19 restrictions which may cause difficulties or delays in getting access to vital documentation to support your application.

CAO closing dates for the submission of documents are agreed with the colleges and these dates are final and cannot be extended as there is a huge amount of work entailed in processing the data once it is received.

In a normal year there is very little room in the processing schedule after the closing dates, as all must be completed in time for the offer season, so the timely receipt of documentation is essential.

In the case of both mature and Dare/Hear applicants, the success of your application often depends on third parties to provide information to support the application. For example, applicants to Dare will require their “educational impact statement” to be completed and signed by their schools, medical consultant reports may also be required, etc.

For the Hear scheme, applicants may be required to obtain documents from Revenue and the Department of Social Welfare.

In the present environment, when there is still great uncertainty as to whether normal services will operate in organisations central to third-party information required for such applications post-Christmas, it would be extremely important that all applicants complete their mature, Hear and Dare applications without delay,

By submitting all supporting documentation well in advance of closing dates, and as early as possible, you will have the peace of mind of knowing that the cases both you and your daughter present to secure an offer under the mature and Dare schemes will be fully considered.

* This article was amended to correct an error which occurred during the editing process.