While thousands of Irish students prepare to go to college for their first year, many others will be looking at other options.

College does not always suit everyone. Maybe it’s unaffordable, maybe you didn’t get the points needed for your course of choice. Or maybe, college just doesn’t appeal to you.

Andrew Brownlee, CEO of SOLAS, the further education and training agency, says it’s important that we get the message across to students that there is life beyond the Leaving Certificate and that “their future is what they make it. Gone are the days when the results of these exams were the be-all and end-all - there are lots of different ways for students to get where they want to be in 2022.”

With these words in mind, here are some options for further education for those who still have academic pursuits in mind.


Post Leaving Certificate options (PLCs) are great for those looking to bypass the CAO. A good example of a PLC course is the Level 5/6 in agriculture you can complete through Ballyhaise, Mountbellew or Gurteen Colleges.

PLC course options are varied, ensuring students can find a course which appeals to them. They are typically one to two years in length, with qualifications usually at a Level 5 or 6. They are fully accredited, are recognised by colleges and employers, and can act as a bridge between school and third level education.

Their structure (assignments, research, placement and end-of-year exams) emulates college courses. As these programmes are run through various educational spaces throughout Ireland, they are an accessible option for rural dwellers.

PLCs are delivered through 16 Education and Training Boards (ETBs), as well as through other providers.

Available places facility

The CAO’s available places facility opens on Friday 9 September. This is to show places on courses which remain unfilled after first round offers. This facility is open to not only CAO applicants, but to new applicants as well (for a fee of €45). Applicants must check the entry requirements for each course for which they apply.

Don’t forget your passport

Have you considered studying in the UK – or Europe? The UK version of the CAO is UCAS (ucas.com). It has a similar portal to the CAO. It is called “clearing” and remains open until 18 October. EU countries welcome students from Ireland on any courses taught in English, but options for these may be limited. Information on courses available can be found on eunicas.ie. Studying abroad can carry additional expenses.

Private college

Private colleges – like Griffith College or the Dublin Business School - are another option. While some offer their courses through the CAO, others have programmes which are direct entry and points are not taken into account with these. Careersportal.ie has a filter for direct entry courses in its course finder section.

Alternative access

Some Irish colleges offer alternative access through one-year foundation courses. Technological University (TU) Dublin runs an Access Foundation Programme, although the latest you can apply for this is 9 September. Trinity College Dublin has a similar programme, although it is closed for the coming year. However, it is still worth noting for those planning a gap year.

Time to think

Speaking of which, how about a year out? You can gain work experience which will benefit you later. You might even get a job related to your desired course. This is also a chance to travel and gain a unique perspective.


Apprenticeships are another great option and in 2021 the CAO offered a link to apprenticeships through its portal. SOLAS is the State agency responsible for handling apprenticeships. There are many apprenticeship programmes in the realms of finance, healthcare or cyber security (just to name a few). It is worth checking out solas.ie and also keeping an eye out for the five new agricultural apprenticeships being planned by Teagasc.

Round two?

You may not like the idea of spending another year in second-level education, but if you didn’t get the course you wanted, you can always repeat the Leaving Cert. However, you are not guaranteed to get the points you want regardless of how many times you sit the exam.

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