Is it difficult to secure a college place in Ireland from abroad?

Ask Brian: Students from other jurisdictions can apply through the CAO system

Students from other jurisdictions can apply for college courses in Ireland  through the CAO system. Photograph: iStock

Students from other jurisdictions can apply for college courses in Ireland through the CAO system. Photograph: iStock


Our family has been based abroad for several years, but my daughter is keen to go to college in Ireland. She is sitting the US college-based AP program this year. Can you advise how this translates in to applying to the Irish university system?

In Ireland we have a Central Application Operations (CAO) system through which potential students nominate their college courses of choice.

Following the opening of the college application process on 5th November next, your daughter should register with the CAO ( and submit her application.

Over the coming months she should research all the courses offered through the Irish third level system. Qualifax ( is a good start. The site is easy to navigate and she should be able identify programmes that meet her needs, both in terms of content and progression opportunities.

I would advise her to study every programme in some depth to ensure she is familiar with all aspects of its delivery.

She can complete her initial list of course choices on her CAO online application by 1st February next.

She will have an opportunity to amend those choices up to 1st July next during the months of May and June next.

When her application is being considered by each college, she will be offered the highest course on each of the two lists for which he/she secures the necessary grades in whichever terminal exam she completes.

As your daughter is taking the US college-based AP programme, she should tick the ‘other school leaving exams’ box in the qualifications & assessments summary section of the online application form.

She must then provide details of her school leaving exams and the years they were completed.

Make sure she describes the examinations briefly and submit certified A4 photocopies of any certificates, with translations if the certificate is not in English, to CAO, Tower House, Eglinton Street, Galway, Ireland.

If she is sitting their examinations in 2020, she must submit certified photocopies of their results to CAO as soon as they become available.

If she has any queries about how her application will be assessed, she must contact the admissions office of any college for which she has listed a course. There is no uniformity in how Irish third level institutions treat applications from other jurisdictions and nationalities.

In the case of some colleges, they may require the applicant to submit applications directly to the admissions office of the institution in question as well as or instead of to the CAO.

Therefore, it is vitally important that your daughter not only identifies each course for which she wishes to be considered, but also checks with that colleges admissions office that she fulfils all their application requirement for her unique circumstances.

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