Applying to an Irish university
Applying for undergraduate study in the Republic of Ireland is not too dissimilar to applying in the UK. Unless otherwise stated by the university, applications are submitted to the Central Applications Office.
The CAO provides an application pack with a handbook, which lists all the courses on offer and information on how to apply to each one. Applications may be submitted online, which makes the job even easier.
Academic Entry Requirements
Entry requirements for courses may vary from year to year, depending on the number of places available on each course and the number of applicants, so there is a great deal of competition for the more popular programmes. Irish students compete for entry based on results achieved in the Irish Leaving Certificate Examination. Students are graded on their six best subject scores. Irish universities are familiar with applicants with A levels/GCSE, the International Bacculaureate (IB) and other qualifications.
How it works
Prospective students register with the CAO on their website www.cao.ie, receiving an application number that they can use to log in to their account via the ‘My Application’ page.
As well as personal information, applicants will need to submit their Qualification and Assessment Details. This is the section where you’ll need to provide your school qualifications. Irish universities are familiar with other country’s school leaver qualifications – just tick the relevant box under Qualification & Assessment Summary when first registering to apply.
If you are applying for assessment based solely on your GCE/GCSE qualifications, you must provide details of examinations already taken and any examinations yet to be taken in the year of application. Supporting documentation must also be provided to CAO.
If you have any other types of qualifications you wish to include you can do so, or if you wish to apply on the basis of mature years you should tick the relevant box.
For mature applicants, you will be asked to enter details of employment, provide contact details for two referees, and complete a Statement of Interest. You have 1,500 characters to explain how your life/educational experience are relevant to your application. Applicants are also advised to include their educational goals.
There is a separate box for your hobbies. Candidates have 500 characters to indicate any hobbies related to their application. This information is only required if you are applying on the basis of mature years.
After fulfilling all of the above, applicants are able to include their Course Choices. You choose by course code and are able to include a maximum of 10 choices on both course lists (Level 8 and Level 7/6 courses). Find out the course code using the CAO course search facility - http://www.cao.ie/courses.php
*Normal applications for the 2016 application cycle closed on 1 February. CAO opened on 5 March for late applications and will close on 1 May at 5:15 pm – a fee of €50 applies for late applications.
Round A – early July
- deferred applicants
- mature applicants
- applicants who have completed an access course
- some graduate entry pathways
- applicants who may be required to make visa arrangements
Round Zero – early August
- applicants not competing with students receiving school leaving exam results later in the month e.g. Graduate Entry Medicine applicants, deferred and access applicants.
Round One – 22 August 2016
- the main body of offers are issued in the week following the release of the Irish Leaving Certificate Examination results
Round Two – 1 September 2016
- another round of offers issued
Offers are issued on a weekly basis until mid-October to fill any remaining vacancies.
If accepting an offer you must do so by the reply date on the offer notice.
English Language Requirements
Instruction is in the English language in universities in Ireland with a handful of exceptions where courses are run through the medium of the Irish language. Non-native speakers* of English will need to provide evidence of English language speaking and writing ability in order to be admitted to Irish universities.
Non-native English speakers can provide evidence of ability via one of the following qualifications:
- Irish Leaving Certificate in English
- GCSE English Language
- University of Cambridge – Use of English Examination
- Cambridge Proficiency
- Cambridge Advanced
- ARELS oral examination
- PTE Academic
Universities set their own standards for English language ability so please contact your university of choice for confirmation of how you can provide evidence and the minimum score you’ll need.
*Non-native speakers are defined as those who do not use English as their first language.
Applications for postgraduate courses are submitted directly to the university.
Undergraduate – if applying to do a Medicine degree at undergraduate level you’ll need to do the Health Professions Admission Test (HPAT) assessment. This is a selection test designed to assess a candidate’s potential aptitude to study in the Allied Health Professions.
Postgraduate – if applying to Graduate Entry Medicine Degree you’ll need to do the Graduate Medical School Admissions Test (GAMSAT).
Next page: Tuition Fees in Ireland
Up to 80,000 people will seek a third-level place through the CAO this year. Most of those will sit the Leaving Cert for the first time and will succeed or fail based on the points they secure in the exam.
However, a sizeable number of mature applicants – about 12,000 – will be judged on other factors. Their success will depend largely on the quality of their personal statement in the application, and the interviews they may be invited to after the February 1st application deadline.
These applicants, who must have been aged 23 on or before January 1st, have to apply for a college place through the CAO.
If you are thinking of applying as a mature student, you need to consider the kind of information colleges want in assessing your application.
This includes your highest academic qualification to date, any studies you are engaged in, any non-certified courses you may have taken, your employment or voluntary work history to date, English language proficiency (if applicable), any references you hold, your hobbies/interests and, most importantly, why you are interested in taking the course.
Admissions pathwayFor almost all course choices, mature applicants simply complete the online CAO application process, but there are a multiplicity of variations to this rule in colleges across the country (which are outlined fully at cao.ie/mature).
UCD, UL, NUIG and UCC have introduced a mature students’ admissions pathway for some faculties. This test takes place on on Saturday, March 5th, 2016. The fee this year is €75 per candidate during the registration period up to February 7th, 2016; it rises by a further €35 between February 8th and 21st, 2016.
For all applicants, including adults, it is important to research courses thoroughly before making applications to any college. There are lots of sources online (such as qualifax.ie and careersportal.ie). Many colleges also hold information events in the form of open days before the CAO deadline of February 1st each year. These are usually listed on the qualifax website.
Access and foundation courses also exist in many colleges. These aim to prepare people who are applying to higher education. You will need to check with the college to which you are considering applying to see if an access or foundation course is suitable.
Twelve colleges in the Dublin region have come together to produce a very useful set of supporting guidelines for mature applicants, which is also available at cao.ie/mature.
InterviewsDuring March and April, mature applicants may be called for an interview as part of a college’s assessment process of an application. Candidates typically find out if they have been successful in the first week of July.
Remember that it is normal to feel apprehensive about applying. I co-ordinated and lectured on an evening course in UCD for almost 20 years. The most tentative and insecure applicants were always the mature adults. Universally, they turned out to be the glue that helped the class bond and find their feet.
Their life experience provided them and their less mature classmates with invaluable resources as the two-year programme unfolded. As an adult, do not be overwhelmed by the prospect of returning to study. You will bring far more to the dynamic of your chosen course than you realise.