My son is exempted from languages. Can he still go to third level?

Ask Brian: Rules vary across colleges and individual programmes

Language requirements for entry to third level vary, but exemptions are available. Photograph: iStock

Language requirements for entry to third level vary, but exemptions are available. Photograph: iStock


My son is exempted from Irish and on the advice of his school did not study any other language other than English. He is now finalising his CAO course choices. Could you advise on what courses or universities are now off-limits?

The rules differ across universities and colleges, as well as some of their individual programmes.

Generally speaking, anybody applying to the National University of Ireland (NUI) who was born in Ireland and had all their education in the Republic must have English, Irish and a third language to gain entry to a degree course.

There are four universities in the NUI (UCD, Maynooth University, NUI Galway and UCC) as well as several colleges which operate under its umbrella (Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland, Shannon College of Hotel Management, National College of Art and Design, St Angela’s College and the Burren College of Art).

However, the NUI provides exemptions for languages for those with specific learning difficulties affecting language acquisition.

Trinity College requires applicants to present two languages (Irish is not necessarily one of them).

Other third-level colleges have language requirements for some of their individual courses, but usually only where a language is part of the course content, which I presume would not be among those your son will apply for.


If he is applying to the NUI, he should complete the exemption form, which is on the home page of the NUI’s website, over the coming weeks.

The application should be accompanied by a copy of the Department of Education’s certificate of exemption, signed by the principal of the school and the relevant professional psychologist’s report.

If your son has not received a certificate of exemption but is certified by a professional psychologist as having a learning disability, his application should be accompanied by a certification form signed by the psychologist and the psychologist’s report.

If Trinity is one of the colleges he is considering, you should contact its admissions office to secure and complete their exemption form.

One last thing: if he is considering the NUI, under new EU data protection rules you also need to give the CAO permission to share your data with NUI.

To give permission, you will need to return to your CAO application form and complete the “exemptions from minimum entry requirements” section.

You will see a prompt “modify NUI exemption status”. This will lead you to a section where you can tick the box for “I would like CAO to provide my details to the NUI”.

You should do this as a matter of priority. It is the responsibility of the student to ensure this information has been correctly recorded on the CAO record.

If you do not do this, CAO will have no record of your NUI exemption and you may not receive an offer. The only other way to make the CAO aware of your NUI exemptions would be by sending a letter to the CAO.