Alternatives to the CAO

Alternatives to the CAO

The CAO is the dominant method of gaining entry to college in Ireland (Click here to view online points calculator). The system used has come in for some criticism as it is based on a points system as entry requirement which can cause supply and demand issues. When demand is high for limited places the minimum level of points required will rise. Unfortunately for some this can mean failure to secure a desired course placement even though aptitude for the course might be high. So what are the alternative options when the desired course is not available?

Many people opt to repeat the Leaving Certificate. This can be time consuming and there is no guarantee you will be able to increase your points next time around (although most people will increase them somewhat). It is an option probably best suited to those who really did not give it a good enough shot first time round and feel that they can do much better if they give it their full attention and dedication. If you really can’t face another year in secondary school then fear not, education is increasing in importance in modern Ireland and luckily this means there are wider choices for those wishing to pursue further education outside of the CAO system.

Post Leaving Certificate courses are a popular option for those alternating from the CAO system. They provide an internationally recognised qualification and are one to two years in duration. A pass Leaving Certificate is required but entry is not based on the points system. Instead applications are made directly to the course provider and an interview process will determine candidate suitability. PLC courses offer a very wide range of subject areas and there are currently over 1000 PLC courses available throughout the country. Some examples are Childcare, Business Studies, Fashion and Hairdressing. PLC courses are orientated toward practical employment skills and include practical work, academic work and work experience. Many of these courses offer the option of progression to University or Institutes of Technology. PLC courses in Nursing Studies can help you progress to a Nursing Degree and some Engineering PLC courses are linked to University programmes providing access for those who have insufficient points. View PLC courses on

Solas is a government body which promotes education and training for all. The most popular Solas training programme is the Apprenticeship Scheme. Apprenticeships offer training for those wishing become Carpenters, Electricians, Plumbers and a variety of other types of occupation. The scope for apprenticeships has widened in recent years to include fields such as finance, ICT and hospitality. Admission is not based on Leaving Certificate performance but you must get a qualified professional or organisation to agree to train you. Apprenticeship schemes provide alternating periods of ‘on the job’ training and ‘off the job’ learning. Solas also provide training in other areas and it is a good idea to check out the options which are available. More information on apprenticeships is available at apprenticeship website,

Online courses are also a good way of gaining qualifications outside the CAO system. They do require a good level of personal motivation and it is important to thoroughly check the legitimacy of your qualification before paying any fees.

If you feel you need a more structured system, there are a number of private colleges who operate outside of the CAO system. An example of this type of college is Griffith College Dublin which offers a large number of courses not listed through the CAO. Instead courses must be applied to directly through the college itself. These courses do not operate on the points system but they do require the payment of fees which are usually upward of 5 thousand Euro per year.

If you would like to attend University but cannot presently afford it then a good way of getting around the points system is by applying as a mature student. A mature student is someone who is over 23 years of age so if planning to go this route a younger student might decide to work for a number of years and save money. This can be of particular benefit if work can be gained in the area of study that the student plans on pursuing further down the line. Many universities reserve a certain amount of places each year for mature students and although some colleges require applicants to apply through the CAO, entry is not based on points. Instead, it is based on CV, an interview and in some cases an aptitude test.

Yes, the CAO may be the dominant means of gaining further education in Ireland, but it is not the only way. The points system can cause a large amount of stress to Leaving Certificate students as they try to gain access to desired courses. Thankfully though, there are other options available. These options can have the benefits of offering employment options as well as helping gain entry to a wide variety of CAO courses further down the line. So, for those who don’t achieve the desired Leaving Cert results, why not consider an alternative route to your dream career.