Leaving Certificate students are preparing for the final months of study and school before they sit the long-anticipated exams in June. For some, this can be a time of uncertainty and there's that burning question – what do I want to do after I finish school?

The good news is that from courses to colleges, there are plenty of options and opportunities for young school leavers and mature students. In the past year especially, there has been a significant focus by the Department of Education on making third level education accessible for all. The points race is slowing down as alternative routes and pathways are on the up.

CAO 2024. \ Audrey Kane

New apprenticeship courses

This year has seen the first cohort of students apply to the Teagasc land-based apprenticeships in sportsturf management, horticulture, farm technician and farm manager. The applications will open again in September for the 2024 academic year. Teagasc also plan to develop and launch the Assistant Stud Manager (Ordinary Level 7 Bachelor Degree) apprenticeship programme in 2024.

Sustainable food systems

A new course on this year’s CAO is the BSc in Sustainable Food Systems in UCD. Students can apply to the programme under the code DN261.

Programme director, Dr Zoe McKay, says, “This new BSc in Sustainable Food Systems takes a higher-level systems approach to develop a comprehensive understanding of the entire food chain, from on-farm production to human consumption and the scientific principles and policies underpinning its sustainability. Feedback from industry stakeholders is that graduates with such a skill set will be required for the industry to meet the challenges that lie ahead. This new programme aims to educate students in the production of nutritious food for today while minimising negative impacts on natural resources for future generations."


Technological University Dublin (TUD) have developed a new biotechnology programme. Students can apply to the programme using the code TU889. The programme is designed to train industry ready professionals to work towards sustainable solutions to problems of waste, energy and food in different sectors. Biotechnology has a significant impact on a variety of industries, including agriculture.

More veterinary places

In 2023, plans for a new veterinary school were announced in order to increase the number of places for students hoping to study veterinary medicine in Ireland. Every year, a number of students are studying abroad as the entry points in Ireland remain high. It is not yet confirmed where the location of the new vet school will be as negotiations on the national development plan have not commenced with the Department of Public Expenditure, NDP Delivery and Reform.

Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris. \ Philip Doyle

However, Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris says, “I recently held a positive meeting with Minister McConalogue and we have agreed to make a joint bid to the NDP process”.

He also told Irish Country Living, “It is my position that there are far too many students travelling abroad to access veterinary medicine. We are actively working to reverse that trend including examining how we can expand the number of Irish places and the establishment of new veterinary schools.”

Advice for students

Picking the course not the college: It is important when it comes to filling out the CAO application that students select courses that they are genuinely interested in studying as opposed to opting for the college they would like to attend.

It’s easy for students to follow their friend or choose the college because of its facilities. However, if you don’t like your course, it makes it very difficult. Have a look at the course structure, modules and what you are actually going to study. Also consider the job opportunities and careers that the course will lead you to.

Review CAO after exams are complete: One of the best pieces of advice this writer got when studying the Leaving Certificate was to review the courses on the CAO form after the exams are completed. On 1 July 2024, the change of mind facility will close. With the stress of studying off your back, look at your course selection with fresh eyes and review the career pathway you want to pursue. Some subjects might have gone better than you could have predicted and may be a better option for you. Ensure you leave no blanks and check and re-check that everything is in the correct order.

Important dates to remember

20 January: Apply online by this date to avail of the discounted application fee of €30.

1 February: Normal closingdate for applications.

6 February: Online facility to amend course choices

becomes available (€10 fee).

15 February: Paper applicants will be sent a statement of course choices. Contact CAO if you do not receive it.

16-25 February: HPAT Test – Undergraduate Entry to Medicine.

1 March: Closing date for amending course choices.

Completion of mature section of application form.

Final completion of online HEAR/DARE forms.

5 March: Late application facility opens.

15 March: Latest date for HEAR/DARE supporting documentation to arrive in CAO GAMSAT test – graduate entry to medicine.

1 May: Closing date for late applications.

7 May: Online change of mind facility becomes available (free).

15 May: Late paper applicants will be sent a statement of course choices.

5 June: Leaving Certificate examinations commence.

1 July: Change of mind closes.

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