Not everyone is going to the college course of their choice. For some, they missed out on the points they need, while others always had a further education or apprenticeship course in mind. But where do they go from here?
1. Where can I find information on further education?
Until a few years back, there was no centralised place where students could find course details and it could be confusing to sift through the pile of options in the adult and further education institutions. That changed with the introduction of FetchCourses.ie in 2016, which boasts well over 4,000 further education and training courses and was developed by further education and training agency Solas in conjunction with Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI).
The site is very user-friendly and gives information based on course type and location, as well as information about grants, allowances and other sources of support.
Students interested in apprenticeships, meanwhile, can check out Apprenticeship.ie, which contains a breakdown of entry requirements, any college fees and the salary that the apprentice can expect to make as they learn.
Fergal Scully, guidance counsellor at Rathmines College of Further Education, says these websites are a good starting point for students but that, once they have seen them, they should go to directly to the websites of the colleges of further education (CFEs).
2. How do I know if a further education course is the right choice for me?
First up, look at the post-Leaving Certificate courses on offer in your local college of further education – you'll find a full list at ETBI.ie. These are usually full-time courses, one year long and leading to a QQI level 5 certificate, or a second year leading to a QQI level 6 award. They include as diverse a range of options as you'd find in higher education, including animal care, arts and humanities, business, computers, construction, crafts and trades, healthcare, journalism and PR, science and more.
“Do any of the courses seem like something you’d be interested in doing for a year?” Scully asks. “Go up to the CFE and see what is available with your results. Talk to someone there – they are very open to answering your questions.”
3. But I wanted to go to college, not further education. Should I still consider these courses?
"There is usually a link between most further education courses and higher education in a college or university" says Scully. "For instance, if someone had arts on their CAO form but missed out, they could study liberal arts here in Rathmines, or a similar course in Liberties College. They'll do a similar range of subjects to those offered at a university. Then, if they want to move on to higher education after a year, they need to meet the minimum entry requirements before they will be considered for entry. This varies from institution to institution: UCD, for instance, requires applicants coming from further education to have achieved five distinctions in nine of the subjects they have taken."
Students who successfully complete a year or two of a further education course may be eligible for advanced entry into a college course; it is possible, for instance, to start studying journalism in Rathmines and then move to a level 8 degree in a linked college.
But, Scully warns, moving from further to higher education is not a guarantee and different third-levels will have different rules and pathways. “Bear in mind that, for instance, the majority of students on further education pre-nursing courses won’t be admitted into higher education. If you’re thinking of taking this step, for whatever course, it’s really important to look up the progression routes. You’ll find them on the student resources section of QQI.ie or you can ask the college of further education to which you’re applying.”
4. If I’m not going to use the further education course as a college launchpad, what’s the point?
“Many students will go on to employment, not further study,” says Scully. “Further education courses provide useful qualifications in their own right by equipping graduates with the workplace skills they need and many CFEs, including ours, offer workplace experience. Students leave our courses with communications and computer skills and are more employable than someone with just a Leaving Cert. They’re going into all sorts of different industries: businesses are looking for administration staff from some of our courses, while some of our computer graduates are moving into network administrator jobs.”
It’s worth adding that students who move straight from a further education course to the workplace don’t have the college door closed to them: after a few years in the workplace, they may decide to return to further education, start a third-level course (perhaps as a mature student) or do a goal-oriented training course. And the fees, usually below €500, are significantly less than the €3,000 you’ll pay at third-level.
5. Is an apprenticeship for me?
Apprenticeships have tended to be synonymous with carpentry, plumbing and motor mechanics, but these courses have changed radically in recent years and now include options such as accounting, insurance and commis chef. They’re built around a block of on-the-job learning and college courses, providing students with the best of both worlds. Best of all, perhaps, is that these courses are paid, making them a highly attractive option to people who want a tangible degree qualification but can’t quite afford the full costs of college.