The access option: A valuable pre-university course

Another route for committed students who did not achieve the results they wanted

Jason Sherlock (22) is about to start a Master’s degree in international finance.

Jason Sherlock (22) is about to start a Master’s degree in international finance.


Another option for students who didn’t get the results they wanted is the college access route. NUI Galway, TU Dublin, UCD, Trinity College and Letterkenny IT are among the third-levels that run a pre-university foundation access course.

At NUI Galway, the programme is open to students from disadvantaged backgrounds including Travellers and people living in direct provision. Imelda Byrne, programme manager, explains that the course runs for 21 weeks on a full or part-time basis.

“We interview students about their eligibility and support them through the application process,” she says. “The focus is on reaching out to people who might have had challenging personal, family or financial circumstances. The programme runs over one academic year and students can focus on science, arts, health, engineering, business or law. Depending on the course, they need at least a pass to then secure a place in university.”

Byrne says that the foundation course helps build up the confidence of students and that those who go on to university do just as well, if not better, than their peers.

Jason Sherlock (22) is among the students who have passed through NUI’s access course.

“I’m an Irish Traveller and, by the end of school, was the only Traveller in my year,” he says. “It was a challenge to finish the Leaving Cert, particularly as people would make fun of Travellers. Not everyone knew I was a Traveller. I wanted to do well in education but didn’t get the points. My guidance counsellor told me about the NUI Galway course, so I did the arts and humanities foundation year. It really helped to build up my confidence and my skills, helping me to mature.

“When I did get into the arts course at NUIG, the access office did offer support but I felt isolated as a Traveller – until I met Owen Ward, a fellow Traveller who offered me mentorship and support. I felt comfortable talking to him and we set up a Mincéir [Traveller] society on campus. It helped me stick around as it was a safe space for us to meet on campus.

“Now, I’ve finished my arts degree (BA in economics, sociology and political science) and I recently graduated from the Washington Ireland Programme class of 2021. I’m about to start a Master’s in international finance. I want to do well in life, help others and be the best person I can be.” 

  • Applications for NUI Galway are open until September 17th, with programmes running on the main campus and outreach centres at An Cheathrú Rua in Ballinasloe and St Angela’s College in Sligo. For other third-level foundation courses, contact the access office in your third-level of choice for more information.