If it wasn’t for the Disability Access Route to Education(DARE), I personally would not have gotten into the Food and Agribusiness course in University College Dublin.

When I was completing the application, I didn’t fully understand the benefits it would have in helping me to secure my college place. I applied for DARE as I was lucky enough to have a guidance teacher in school, who knew I would qualify for it.

Some students might not be as lucky. Just because you have a learning disability (dyslexia in my case) or come from a disadvantaged socio-economic background, doesn’t mean you wouldn’t be able for college or shouldn’t get into a course.

These access routes provide support to students who need it and ensure the barriers to third level education are removed. Students, parents and teachers should make themselves familiar with the HEAR (Higher Education Access Route) and DARE applications as it could be the difference between you getting your dream course or not.

What is HEAR?

HEAR is a third level alternative admissions scheme for students and school leavers in Ireland who are under represented at higher education due to their socio-economic background. Applicants must meet a range of social, financial and cultural indicators to be considered for a reduced points place and extra college support.

Eligibility criteria

1 Income – your family income falls on or below the HEAR income limit for the year 2022.

2 Medical/GP visit card – your family has a medical card or GP visit card that was in date on 31 December 2023.

3 Means tested social welfare – your family received a means-tested payment from the Department of Social Protection for at least 26 weeks in 2022.

4 Socio-economic group – you belong to a group that is underrepresented in higher education based on the occupation and employment status of your parent(s) or guardian(s). The underrepresented groups are the non-manual workers group and the semi and unskilled manual workers group.

5 DEIS school attendance – you completed five years in a second level school that takes part in Delivering Equality of Opportunity Schools (DEIS) scheme, run by the Department of Education and Skills.

6 Area profile – you live in an area where there is concentrated disadvantage and a high level of unemployment and poverty or where only a small proportion of adults have attained third level education.

Indicator 1: The HEAR income limit is calculated by how many children there are in your family and how many people in your family are in full time education.

You must meet Indicator 1, the HEAR Income Limit, plus a correct combination of two other indicators to be eligible for HEAR.

The combinations are:

1+2+ 4 or 5 or 6

1+3+ 4 or 5 or 6

1+4+5 OR 6


To speak to a HEAR representative you can find them in the Access Office of each of the participating institutions.

Alternately, you can visit https://accesscollege.ie./

What is DARE?

DARE is the third level alternative admissions scheme for students under 23 as of 1 January 2024, that have had a negative impact on second level education due to disabilities.

The system offers reduced points places for students who have experienced additional educational challenges during their time in secondary school.

Students must meet both the DARE educational impact criteria and the DARE evidence of disability criteria.

Eligibility criteria

Disabilities DARE considers are:

•Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

•Autistic Spectrum Disorder (including Asperger’s Syndrome)

•Blind/vision impaired

•Deaf/hard of hearing

•Developmental Co-ordination Disorder (DCD) – Dyspraxia

•Dyscalculia/significant numeracy difficulties

•Dyslexia/significant literacy difficulties

•Mental health condition

•Neurological condition (including a brain injury and epilepsy)

•Physical disability

•Significant ongoing illness

•Speech and language communication disorder

If you qualify for DARE and meet the application criteria, you might secure a spot, even if your Leaving Certificate points fall below the requirements for your course.

How do I apply?

1 Review the DARE / HEAR handbook and the application timelines.

2 Check criteria that are relevant to your application.

3 By 1 March 2024, complete the online application form through cao.ie. There are videos and supports available to help applicants with the process.

4 Gather together your completed educational impact statement and the relevant evidence of disability for the DARE application.

For HEAR, the online application process will generate a supporting document checklist based on your answers. Ensure that you have copies of all supporting documents needed.

5 By 15 March 2024, you need to submit copies of supporting documents to CAO by post.

Additional college support

The supports don’t stop during the CAO application process. Many colleges have a programme in place for students that come into a course under the HEAR or DARE route.

It is essential for anyone at a disadvantage or who qualifies to apply for the schemes in order to obtain any additional supports they are entitled too, not only in helping to secure a college place but also to ensure they get additional help during their time in college.

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