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CAO Offers and Starting College

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    Since early August, when the Leaving Certificate results were released, emotions have no doubt been running high all over the country. Whether you are thrilled or disappointed now is the time to get clued up on your options in terms of picking a course as well as getting all the information you need on starting college.

    First round offers arrive soon after and applicants who have filled out both sides of their CAO form and attained sufficient points will be offered two places; one for a level 7/6 course (previously known as diploma courses) and another for a place on a level 8 degree course. These students can only accept one of these offers.

    Round two CAO offers arrive in late August. This means that students, who missed out on their first preference in round one, may be offered a place for a higher preference course if a place becomes available, regardless of whether or not they have accepted a place on another course. If a student feels that their results are unfair, they have the option to view their scripts by returning an application to their school. Appealed results are then available by mid-October and if an appeal is successful, the CAO may offer a place to any student who has secured the required points.

    Don’t panic if you did not get an offer through the CAO on the first round, you may get an offer in the second round and if not, there are many other options available such as; travelling abroad to study, taking a PLC course, taking a vacant college place (many of which are available in the private college sector) or repeating.

    If you get an offer of a place but would like to defer taking it for a year, then you need to get agreement from the appropriate college. All colleges will consider an application for a deferred entry but it is strongly advisable to check with the admissions office of the college you have applied to about the conditions on which a deferral entry might be granted. All communication regarding deferrals must be sent to the appropriate college and not to the CAO. When you are taking up the place the following year, you must then reapply for the course through the CAO and indicate that the place is a deferral by ticking the appropriate box on the application form.

    When it comes to college accommodation there are usually two main types if you are living away from home; digs and college residences. Digs are ideal for first years that don’t want the hassle of cooking or cleaning but still want the independence of living away from home. Two main factors to bear in mind are what the landlord/lady is like and also the quality of the accommodation. It’s also worth looking into whether or not you will be sharing a room, if you will be able to study there and if you are able to stay there at weekends.

    College residences are ideal for their location and living on campus obviously means you are at the centre of college life and nearer the student bar! It’s worth remembering that because of their handy location, college residences do tend to be more expensive than digs. It’s best to get looking for somewhere as soon as you have accepted a college place and you know where you will be based. While it can be daunting moving away from home for the first time, there will be many other students in the same position as you and it is a great opportunity to make new friends.

    Most undergraduate students attending publicly funded third level courses do not have to pay tuition fees. In order to qualify for free fees you must be undertaking a full-time undergraduate course of at least two years duration or shorter courses in certain institutes of technology. You must also be a first time, full-time undergraduate and in general you must not be repeating a year due to failed exams or change of course. There is no application for free fees, your suitability will be determined based on the information you give when you apply for a college place. An annual charge, called a student contribution, is payable to colleges to cover the cost of exams and student services, this can vary from college to college but it is usually no more than €2,500.

    Student grants provide financial support to eligible students. There are two elements to the student grant; a maintenance grant and a fee grant. A maintenance grant is a contribution towards living expenses and a fee grant can cover all or part of your tuition fees, all or part of your student contribution and the cost of essential field trips. You may also be able to claim tax relief on tuition fees. Families who pay tuition fees for more than one student in a year can also claim tax relief on the second and subsequent student’s fees.

    Starting college is an exciting opportunity to learn, make new friends and have great fun. There are options for everyone no matter what their situation, so take time to decide what’s best for you.

    Fiona McBennett