Going to college

Thinking of going to college

You may be planning to go to college when you leave school or after your Leaving Certificate. Some people work for a number of years and then go to college as mature students.

The Qualifax website has a wide range of information about higher and further education courses, from university degrees to certificates and diplomas in further education colleges and institutes of technology.

You can find more information about further and higher education qualifications which are all included in the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ). The NFQ classifies the level, class of award and type of qualifications in Ireland, from Level 1 literacy qualifications through to Junior Cycle, Leaving Certificate and Level 10 doctoral degrees.

Applying to college

You should check the application procedures and entrance requirements for the third-level courses you are interested in as soon as possible.

You apply for almost all full-time third-level education undergraduate courses through the Central Applications Office (CAO). There are many important dates in the CAO calendar every year so don’t miss any deadlines. You can find a list of the courses on offer and information on how to apply in the CAO handbook.

There are supports available to help you access third-level education if you:

Tertiary education programme

A new pathway to a degree is through the Tertiary education programme. You do not apply through the CAO and you do not need the same Leaving Certificate points. You start your degree programme in a further education college and finish it in a higher education (third level) college or university.

Alternatively, you can apply for Post-Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses directly to the individual colleges. You don’t apply through the CAO.

Studying abroad

If you are thinking of studying in the UK or abroad, you should find out about the application procedures, length of courses, fees (if applicable) and living expenses. You may wish to visit a college before you apply. The application process starts earlier for UK and Northern Irish colleges than in Ireland. This means you should begin looking at courses at least 12 months before you plan to start studying.

Paying for college

You should check whether you have to pay fees for your college course. Most students doing undergraduate courses do not have to pay the fees.

If you do have to pay fees, you may be able to claim tax relief on the fees.

Most third-level colleges charge an annual student contribution. It is also known as a registration fee and it covers student services and examinations. The amount of the contribution varies from one institution to another. Depending on your circumstances, you may qualify for an exemption from the student contribution.

There are means-tested maintenance grants for students doing third-level courses. You can read more about the different grants and supports available for students on the Higher Education Authority website.

Finding somewhere to live

Some students live at home while at college, but you may live too far away to travel to college every day.

Many universities or colleges have residences for some students. These must be registered with the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB). You can check the Student Specific Accommodation Register (pdf) on the RTB website.

The RTB also has information about:

If you don’t find student specific accommodation, you may have to look for a house or flat to rent. Spunout has published some information on how to find student accommodation.

Once you find a place to rent, you should be aware of your rights and responsibilities as a tenant.

More information

You can find a list of higher education institutions on the Higher Education Authority’s website. You can read more about leaving school in our guide for school leavers.

Page edited: 9 July 2024