I’m worried CAO points will soar. Are there alternative options?

Ask Brian: There are often alternative routes to study popular courses which require far fewer points

Many  parents and young people don’t realise that there are alternative entry routes into college courses which require far fewer points. Photograph: iStock

Many parents and young people don’t realise that there are alternative entry routes into college courses which require far fewer points. Photograph: iStock


I’m worried that CAO points for very popular courses will escalate this year. What are the alternative progression routes to pursue my career choices?

It’s fair to say there is a national obsession with “round one” of the CAO offer process in mid-August every year.

As the number of applicants for this round of offers grows, the entry requirements for some has reached dizzying heights; a few have even crossed the 600-point barrier in recent years.

What many anxious parents and young people don’t realise is that this round of offers is, in fact, the third round of the offer season.

Over 6,000 places are offered in the initial round in early July each year, mainly to those over 23 years of age, with a further4,000 places offered in the first week of August, mainly to those who have completed a further education or post-Leaving Cert (PLC) course.

Many high-points courses offer up to 20 per cent of their places to applicants who apply through this PLC route. Many of these students may have secured far fewer points that those entering courses entering directly from school.

If you want to find out what courses offer this entry route, check out careersportal.ie and use their “coursefinder” tool. You can explore the huge range of links between further education and CAO courses (denoted by a link symbol).

Simply select the CAO course you are interested in, click on the “QQI/FET links” tab where you will see the courses that are accepted for entry. Very often this can be “any level five or six major award”. However, for some high-demand courses, it may be that only specific courses can be used for progression. Nursing is a good example, where only three nursing related PLC courses are recognised.

If you click on the “view essential module requirements” tab, it will reveal any essential modules or the number of distinctions that are needed and the number of CAO places reserved for entry via further education.

Outside of the domestic third level system, thousands of Irish students are accessing identical courses/qualifications they desire in continental European universities.

High CAO points scores are generally not required and the courses are often in higher ranked third level institutions and are taught exclusively through English.

For many, it’s a smart option: fees are low to non-existent, entry is trouble-free as an EU citizen, and under reciprocal recognition arrangements within the EU, graduates can return home and have their qualifications accepted by appropriate regulatory bodies. Check out eunicas.ie for more information.

Finally, as Minister Harris has recently announced, Solas (solas.ie) is leading a major expansion of Ireland’s apprenticeship system, across all economic sectors, with excellent career progression prospects, often involving degree qualifications on completion.