The advantages to being a mature student at third level

There are also challenges for over-23s applying for and attending university

If you are over 23 and thinking of applying to third level through the CAO, don’t be intimidated by the prospect of sitting in a class of 19-year-olds.

In any class at university level, mature students hugely enrich the learning experience and bring a range of life skills to the entire group, which is hugely supportive of the younger students in the class.

Eleven per cent of students in Irish universities and 20 per cent in institutes of technology are classified as mature, so you will not be alone.

According to the Higher Education Authority, more than 10,000 students in full-time education in Ireland are over 30.


There is one huge advantage to being a mature applicant to the CAO: colleges do not decide on making you an offer based on your best Leaving Cert result. After the age of 23, the entry criteria change completely and your application considers how well prepared you are to take on the course.

Another lesser-known advantage is that if you started college previously and dropped out, you can start again without substantial fees, if you have been out of college for five years. This suits mature students who may have made a bit of a mess of things the first time.

Older students face challenges not faced by school-leavers. You may have been absent from formal study for years and may question your ability now.

You need to provide supplementary information with a CAO application, such as a CV, personal statement, documentation of previous courses or exam results. Personal statements are required for all programmes; and expect interviews to back up your written application.

Drop-out rate The drop-out rate among mature students who choose the wrong course is much lower than among school-leavers, because they tend to be more experienced and sure of what they want to do and they have to make sacrifices to get there. The financial pressure, though, of funding yourself through college as an adult can also be considerable.

Many adults returning to third level do so with a back- to-education allowance, but cannot also access a Susi (Student Universal Support Ireland) grant, even if they meet the income criteria.

Before you commit yourself to a three- to four-year course, make a financial plan to see you through.

Many third-level colleges have year-long evening access programmes before starting a full-time degree. Maynooth University has a certificate in return to learning and one in science and engineering (about €1,000 each).

UCD’s access to science and engineering costs €1,800, and arts and human sciences €850. Students who finish with more than 60 per cent are offered reserved places in many but not all UCD degree courses (they apply through the CAO as a mature applicant).

Applicants for arts, law, science or agricultural science in UCD, arts in UCC and NUIG or health science in UL, have to sit the mature students admissions pathway (Msap) test on March 7th, which assesses reasoning and thinking skills and abilities rather than particular subject areas. (Fee €75 up to February 15th; €110 until February 20th). Details on

Mature applicants for medicine, in addition to a CAO application, must also register with HPAT-Ireland at

All mature applications are via the CAO by February 1st. (Fee €25 before January 20th, €40 until February 1st.) Details at


For more on courses, entry requirements, CAO applications, mature scholarships and practical supports

, UCD’s mature student open evening is tomorrow, from 5pm-7pm, at UCD Belfield in the O’Brien Centre for Science.

NUI Galway’s mature students open evening is on Thursday next from 6pm in the Aula Maxima, Quadrangle. Register at

Tomorrow: studying abroad