Third level education in Ireland is made up of four sectors, the Universities (7 colleges), the Institutes of Technology (14 colleges), the Colleges of Education (5 colleges), and independent Private colleges. The first three are substantially State funded and take part in the government free fees scheme, whereas Private colleges are all fee paying.
In exploring whether a course meets your needs, it is helpful to know what qualification is awarded at the end of the course. It is also helpful to know who is the awarding body for that qualification, and what progression routes are available after completing the programme.
Qualifications in Ireland are included in the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ). Third level courses (undergraduate) can lead to qualifications at 3 NFQ Levels depending mainly on the time needed to achieve the required skills and knowledge for the award as follows:
NFQ Level 6 – Higher Certificate, two years full time
NFQ Level 7 – Ordinary Bachelors Degree, three years full time
NFQ Level 8 – Honours Bachelors Degree, normally three or four years full time, sometimes more.
- The Universities are the awarding bodies for themselves, and mainly offer NFQ Level 8 awards.
- The IoTs (Institutes of Technology) offer awards at NFQ Levels 6, 7 and 8. IoT colleges may make their own awards under Delegated Authority from HETAC* or may issue HETAC awards. Some IoTS also offer awards via the Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC), for instance Foundation Programmes.
- DIT (Dublin Institute of Technology), like the Universities, makes its own awards.
- The Colleges of Education generally grant awards that are validated by HETAC or FETAC.
- The Private colleges make awards, some of which are validated by foreign universities and some of which are validated by HETAC or FETAC. Some of their awards are not validated by any outside body, and may not be recognised internationally.
* HETAC (Higher Education and Training Awards Council) is a statutory agency, independent of the colleges. HETAC is responsible for the quality assurance processes & procedures across the IoT sector, both in the validation of new programmes and in awards arising from them.
All University, HETAC and FETAC awards are internationally recognised. Progression opportunities allow students to climb up the NFQ Levels with ease. Students with a NFQ Level 6 award can easily continue to a NFQ Level 7 award within the same discipline, for example. Further progression to Fourth Level is offered in all Universities, most Institutes of Technology and a range of private and professional organisations.
Entry to Third level courses typically include school leavers with Leaving Cert (Established) or Leaving Cert Vocational (LCVP), students with a FETAC award from a PLC course, mature students and international students.
Applications for almost all full-time undergraduate courses is through the Central Applications Office (CAO). The CAO provides an applications pack with a handbook that lists all the courses on offer and gives information on how to apply.
The closing date for applications from Irish and other European Union nationals is normally 1st February at 5.15 pm each year. Late applications are allowed up to 1st May at 5.15 pm of the same year (Note: certain exceptions exist - check with the college for details). You can also submit a Change of Mind form to amend your choice of courses from 1st May until 1st July. Decisions on offers of places are normally made in August and September, after the results of the Leaving Certificate have come out.
Students who have taken the Leaving Certificate examination are allocated points for the results they get in their 6 best subjects, at a single sitting of the Leaving Certificate. The points awarded depend on the level of achievement in the subject. The number of entry-level points needed for any course depends on the number of places and the number of applicants for those places so the entry level varies from year to year. Higher points are awarded for Higher-Level papers than for Ordinary-Level papers.
You can find out what points were required for admission to courses in previous years using our Course Finder.
A student must also have the particular academic entry requirements (also called matriculation requirements) for the course he/she wants to take. Details of these requirements are available for each course in Qualifax - the National Learners Database which can be easily accessed through this sites Course Finder facility. This information can also be found on the different University, Institutes of Technology and Colleges of Education websites.
All colleges have minimum entry requirements for courses offered to first time applicants directly from school. Individual courses may have higher requirements; these must be checked out individually when researching courses.
The entry requirements for mature students, FETAC applicants and foreign students differs from school applicants and should be checked out for each course being considered. Note this information is readily available within the Qualifax courses database under the ‘FETAC Applicants’ and ‘Mature Applicants’ sections for each course.
Minimum Entry requirements - Universities
- National Universitys of Ireland (UCDublin, UCCork, UCGalway, Maynooth): The minimum entry requirement for the universities that are part of the National University of Ireland (NUI) is 6 subjects, including English, Irish and a third language. In 2 of these subjects, students must have achieved grade C at Higher Level.
- University of Limerick: The minimum entry requirement is 6 subjects, including English, Irish and a third language. In 2 of these subjects, students must have achieved grade C at Higher Level.
- Trinity College Dublin: students need a minimum of 6 subjects, with grade C on 3 Higher-Level papers and a pass in English, maths and another language.
- Dublin City University: all students applying for courses in Dublin City University must have 6 Leaving Certificate subjects, with a grade C on 2 Higher-Level papers and a pass in maths and either English or Irish.
Minimum Entry requirements - Institutes of Technology
- Level 8 (Honours Degree) courses: students generally require a minimum of grade C in 2 subjects at Higher Level and grade D in 4 other subjects, including maths and Irish/English.
- Levels 6 and 7 (Higher Certificate and Ordinary Degree): students require 5 grade Ds, including maths and Irish/English.
Minimum Entry requirements - Colleges of education
- Colleges of education require a minimum of 3 grade Cs on Higher-Level papers, including Irish, and three grade Ds, including maths and English.
We provide a step by step wizard to help find undergraduate courses used by the CAO here.
Learnabroad.ie is an Irish company that works to support the ever increasing numbers of Irish students seeking to access places on university programmes, taught through English, in Europe or further afield, in Australia, USA or Canada.
British universities If you are prepared to go abroad to study, you will find UCAS (the British University and Colleges Admissions Service) allocates thousands of places through the process known as Clearing. All UCAS applicants who have been unsuccessful in getting a place are entered for Clearing and the onus is on them to contact the institutions for a place. Anybody may apply for a place in Clearing, even people who have not applied to UCAS so far. Courses with vacancies are listed on the UCAS website once the process of Clearing has started. Britain's 'Daily Telegraph' newspaper also publishes vacancies from the same dates. Application may be made online through the UCAS website, www.ucas.co.uk . Speed is of the essence in applying to Clearing. UCAS advises applicants to be available to speak to admissions offices. Applications to Clearing may be made up until late September, although the later you leave it, the fewer places will be available.
For information on studying in the EU go to eunicas.ie
There are also approximately 1,700 institutions open to students who wish to study in the US. In order to apply for courses and funding in the States you need to network and be proactive as possible. Many lectures and professors in Irish universities may have spent time in the US and therefore know people you can help you. It is recommended to start an application process to the US at least 18 months in advance. For information on studying in the US go to petersons.com and fulbright.ie