Not everyone gets the points they want in their Leaving Cert. As a Guidance Counsellor, I can assure you, this does not have to be the end of the road for you educationally. There are other entry routes you should now explore. Firstly, you should take a look through the Vacant Places offered by the Central Applications Office (CAO). Those offers will be online on Friday, 16th August (the day after Round 1 offers which will be released on Thursday, 15th August).
Secondly, you should look at Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) Colleges (more on this below). A wide range of courses are available including pre-university courses in Teaching (primary and secondary), Science and Engineering. The courses on offer vary by location so check out www.qualifax.ie or www.careersportal.ie for local information. Applications are often accepted up until late August and even early September, but places fill up fast after the Leaving Cert results are out, so do not delay. SUSI grants are applicable here and for those who are not eligible for a grant, course fees are usually in the region of €300-€600 per academic year.
If traditional third level education is not your thing, then you should strongly consider traineeships and apprenticeships. Those that know are predicting a healthy growth rate in the construction sector but a shortfall in qualified workers: enter apprenticeships. The Earn While You Learn model proves very effective and is a fantastic way for people to learn in a hands-on way and get paid for it. Traineeships follow this model but are shorter (usually 6-20 months, while apprenticeships have seven phases and usually last 4 years) and cover a much wider range of industries. They have recently been rolled out in a variety of employment sectors including financial services, accounting and IT and Tech Support. Check out www.traineeships.ie and www.apprenticeships.ie and www.fetchcourses.ie for detailed information on your options.
Colleges of Further Education and the Higher Education Links Scheme
As mentioned above, PLC Colleges can provide you with an alternative entry route into third level. Through the Higher Education Links Scheme (HELS) it is possible to complete a course in a PLC college and then apply through the scheme for a place on a third level degree. The process is still a competitive one, but it is strongly worth considering. The courses are also stand-alone qualifications in their own right. Furthermore, it can provide many students with an extra year to help them transition more comfortably form a school setting to a third level environment.
Perhaps you are an adult reading this and thinking ‘I’d love to go back to education’? The really great news for you is that you do not need a Leaving Cert to go to third level. If you are over 23, you qualify as a Mature Student and your entry is based on a written application and an interview. But the best route is to apply for an Access Course or Foundation Course. Almost every third level institution runs their own. Access courses prepare people academically for third level with offerings including essay writing skills, study supports, plus a range of subjects from different degree courses to whet your learning appetite. You can even opt for a STEM-based Access course if your maths would let you down but you still want to pursue a course in engineering or science.
Springboard courses are also a terrific way for adult learners to access third level education. The focus is on IT, Business and Pharma but everyone should check out their website, www.springboardcourses.ie.
So, where do you start? As with many important things in life, you should seek professional advice. And here’s the great news is, it’s free. A nationwide Adult Guidance Counselling Service is available through your local Education Training Board. A full list for every county is available here at www.etbi.ie or www.aegai.ie. Your local Guidance Counsellor can walk you through your options on returning to education, what your choices could be, grant applications and funding and anything else you might need. There is no referral process, just contact your local service and arrange an appointment. It’s one of the best moves you’ll ever make.
Seona Hyland is an Adult Guidance Counsellor with the Kildare and Wicklow ETB Adult Guidance Service. Seona has been working as an adult guidance counsellor for 16 years and was elected to the AONTAS Board in May 2019. She is also a member of the Adult Education Guidance Association of Ireland (AEGAI), a national body of adult guidance counsellors in the 16 ETBs around the country.