Reduced points and extra supports available to school leavers facing extra obstacles

HEAR and DARE offer reduced points and extra supports to school leavers. Career advisor NIAMH DWYER, of My Career Plan, tells us more about these pathways to further education
Reduced points and extra supports available to school leavers facing extra obstacles

The Higher Education Access Route (HEAR) and the Disability Access Route to Education (DARE) schemes aim to improve access to third-level education.

GETTING into college is a challenge for many students, but it is more difficult for those who have faced extra obstacles. There are two schemes that can be applied for through CAO applications, which offer reduced points and extra supports for school leavers. They are in place to level the playing field for students applying to higher education, taking account of disadvantages and challenges they have faced.

The Higher Education Access Route (HEAR) is targeted at students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds while the Disability Access Route to Education (DARE) supports students who has had their 2nd level education impacted by illness, disability or learning difficulties. In the case of both schemes students must meet the minimum entry requirements and specific course requirements for the particular colleges and courses. 

Over the years I have seen the enormous benefits for students who avail of these and other access routes and the support of staff in access offices in the Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) is invaluable to applicants and parents.

Disability Access Route to Education.

Students can apply for DARE under the following categories - Autistic Spectrum Disorder (including Asperger’s Syndrome), Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD and ADHD), Blind/Vision Impaired, Deaf/Hard of Hearing, DCD – Dyspraxia, Mental Health Condition, Neurological Condition, Speech & Language Communications Disorder, Significant Ongoing Illness, Physical Disability, Specific Learning Difficulty.

To be deemed eligible for DARE students need to meet the Educational Impact Criteria and the Evidence of Disability Criteria.

The reduction in points for DARE places can vary each year. There are lots of other supports available to students once they are offered their place in the college. 

Students don’t have to be eligible for DARE to access these supports. 

All students with a verified disability, regardless of whether they have come through DARE or not, can avail supports which may include some of the following – orientation programmes, learning support, assistive technology, library support, exam accommodations, educational support worker and academic tuition.

Niamh Dwyer, Careers Advisor, My Career Plan.
Niamh Dwyer, Careers Advisor, My Career Plan.

Higher Access to Education Route

The HEAR scheme is targeted at groups who are under-represented in higher education and as well as offering reduced points it also offers a number of academic, personal and social supports throughout the student’s journey in college. 

Many applicants do achieve the required points each year. 

To be eligible, applicants must meet a range of financial, social and cultural indicators. Students must meet Indicator 1 (low income) and a specific combination of two other indicators which include – medical/GP visit cards, means-tested social welfare payments, occupation status of parent of guardian (socio-economic group), disadvantaged status of the school (DEIS) and local area.

Other factors considered include young people who are in the care of the State, HSE or TUSLA.

Students and parents sometimes confuse the HEAR scheme with the student grant. Students who are eligible for grants (and who may or may not be eligible for HEAR) must apply separately to

Supports provided to eligible students include an orientation, extra tuition if needed, study skills & exam preparation, one-to-one meetings with student advisors, social gatherings (when permitted) and mentoring and extra financial assistance when available as well as advice regarding grants and scholarships.

Deadlines & Application Process

The first step for both schemes is to apply to the CAO on by 5pm on February 1 deadline. Once this is done HEAR and DARE applicants have until March 1 to indicate that they wish to be considered the schemes and to complete the relevant forms through their CAO account. Then all supporting documentation must be posted to arrive with CAO by 5pm on March 15. 

All deadlines are strict and non-negotiable so it is important to start applications well in advance of the final dates, to avoid unnecessary stress.

In the case of DARE, this supporting documentation is used to establish whether or not an applicant meets the eligibility criteria and it is used by the colleges and universities to determine the kinds of supports that might be needed on entry to college. There are two sections to be completed. The Educational Impact Statement (EIS) must be completed by the school, indicating how the illness, disability or learning difficulty has impacted on the second level experience of the applicant. The Evidence of Disability documentation needs to be provided by the appropriate professional. This means sending an existing report with the diagnosis, some of which may be required to have been completed in a particular timeframe, or a completed Evidence of Disability Form 2022, which can be downloaded from www.cao.ietarget="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> or

The supporting documentation required for HEAR applicants will depend on the individual circumstances of the household. It is important to keep photocopies of all documents being posted, put the applicant name and CAO number on each document that is sent and as well as getting proof of postage.

The HEAR and DARE schemes seek to widen opportunities in higher education for students who have a significant challenge in terms of their participation, experience and learning in secondary school. Supports offered through the schemes not only assist students to get in to college but also help them to settle in and get the course. 

This ensures that students who have faced personal and educational disadvantage and challenges get every change to achieve their qualification and progress onto successful careers.

Information sessions for HEAR and DARE took place earlier this month and the recordings are available to watch back on where you will find all the details about both schemes as well as contact details for Access staff in the colleges.


Niamh Dwyer is the chairperson of Kerry Branch of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors. She is also the founder of My Career Plan, a careers advisory service for teenagers and adults. See for details or follow @mycareerplan on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

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