Leaving Cert students in a stronger position than they may realise

Ask Brian: Covid-19 is likely to lead a to drop in CAO points for college courses

My son is due to sit the Leaving Cert this summer. I’m worried that he’s underprepared due to the disruption to the school year. Would he be better off repeating and going to third level in 2021?

Despite the uncertainty hanging over this year’s Leaving Cert class, their academic prospects may be quite bright.

Each year thousands of international students take up places in Irish colleges. Due to the Covid-19 crisis, the international market across all European universities has softened significantly. This is driven by several factors such as fear of travelling to countries still in the throes of the virus and difficulties securing visas .

This is likely to be beneficial to Leaving Cert students considering Irish, UK and EU universities.


In some individual courses, international students make up to a quarter of all incoming first-year undergrads. As a result, it seems likely these colleges will have to offer additional places to domestic applicants to replace the missing international cohort, which should in theory lead to a drop in points for some courses – though by how much it is hard to say.

Another change this year is how third-level systems in the UK, the EU (and, potentially, Ireland) will process applications for third-level courses.

Up to 40 per cent of CAO applicants for this year have already sat the Leaving Cert in previous years and should not have a problem meeting basic entry requirements.

This year’s cohort of Leaving Certs don’t as yet know how and when they will be assessed, which is a cause of huge anxiety for them and their families.

For Irish students applying for places in the UK or Northern Ireland, they will have already received predictive grades from their teachers as part of the normal Ucas application process. The UK and Northern Irish colleges may in the end, along with interviews, use these predicted grades to determine admission. (Surprising as it may seem, Ireland's second-level teachers do provide predictive grades when students are applying for college places outside of Ireland. )

For Irish students applying for places in EU universities, most programmes require only successful completion of secondary education. (About 10 per cent of courses such as medical and veterinary programmes operate additional entry requirements such as online assessments).

Although still to be decided by the education ministries of our EU partners, a letter from Leaving Cert students’ own school, indicating that they have successfully completed their education may be sufficient to secure entry to universities within their borders in 2020.

End-of-school exams have already been abandoned in most European countries, and many are using predictive grades, along with course work already completed by students, to determine first-year undergrad offers in 2020.

So, in a strange way, Leaving Cert students are in a stronger position than they may realise.