THERE are more than 200 Colleges of Further Education (FE) nationwide, which provide approximately 70,000 places on over 1,900 Post Leaving Cert (PLC) courses for school leavers and adults.
This year, for the first time ever, a link to these courses is available on the CAO website (https://www.cao.ie/options) so that applicants are made aware of the broad range of education and training options available outside of CAO courses.
In recent years, about one in four Leaving Cert candidates has opted to do a PLC and there is a growing number of adults returning to education via the FE route. These courses which result in QQI FET/FETAC awards are generally one or two years in duration and are accredited at level 5 & 6 on the National Framework of Qualifications. It is possible to use these standalone qualifications to go directly into the work place after completing the course in areas of childcare, beauty therapy and office administration. There is an ever-increasing number of students using their qualifications to progress onto Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) annually by applying to CAO as a QQI FET/FETAC applicant through the Higher Education Links Scheme.
Progression to Higher
A quota of college places on lots of CAO courses are reserved each year for QQI applicants in universities and institutes of technology (HEIs) which students can apply for on a competitive basis. This allows students to progress onto and complete undergraduate degrees at level 7 and 8.
In 2021, approximately 20% of applicants to CAO presented a QQI FET/FETAC qualification from further education colleges and centres. Many of these applicants may not have secured their chosen CAO courses directly from Leaving Cert because of not having the required points or entry requirements.
Taking the FE route is another chance to access places in third level. Students who have completed the Leaving Cert Applied Programme (LCA) can also progress into higher education on completion of a PLC or equivalent, which is not possible directly from LCA.
Some high demand CAO courses such as nursing require applicants to have awards from specific PLC courses but there are over 1,500 CAO courses which accept any PLC course. For the latest information on the QQI FET/FETAC links to higher education courses and entry requirements for CAO courses if you plan to progress onto HEIs, check out the relevant section of http://www.cao.ie/
So many good reasons to choose PLC courses
Missing out on a chosen CAO course because of points is not the only reason to apply for FE courses. For school leavers who are unsure about what pathway to take, a PLC offers the opportunity to try an area of interest out and gain work experience before jumping into a 3 or 4 year degree. It also prepares students very well for progressing onto studying that area in more detail, giving a great foundation for further study.
For anyone interested in doing an apprenticeship, a PLC gives a great insight into what is involved and develops key practical skills which is a huge advantage when applying for apprenticeships afterwards.
Second level education has been impacted hugely during the pandemic so many students may not feel ready for the move onto university or an institute of technology. FE colleges are similar in size or a little bigger than secondary school, so getting to grips with independent learning and living, while developing self-confidence as well as key skills in communications, IT, referencing and research in that type of supportive environment makes the transition to third level easier.
Figures show that the drop-out rates in higher education are lower among students who have completed a FE course first.
PLCs also make good financial sense. The €200 fee to apply for PLCs was abolished in Budget 2022 and eligible applicants may avail of the SUSI grant or the Back to Education Allowance.
Applying to Colleges of Further
Applications for PLCs are now open for autumn 2022 to Leaving Cert and Leaving Cert Applied students, adults and mature students. Entry is not based on points and you fill find details of entry requirements on FE college websites. It is possible to apply throughout the summer, but some colleges may have earlier deadlines. It is advisable to apply early as popular courses fill quickly. Begin by exploring the full list of options nationwide on https://www.fetchcourses.ie/
Make sure to use the course search facility on https://careersportal.ie/ and on https://www.qualifax.ie/ to help narrow down the courses that are best suited to interests, skills, aptitudes and career plans.
The Education and Training Boards (ETBs) and individual college websites will also have all the information and contact details you need. You can apply on https://www.fetchcourses.ie/ or on individual college websites.
To look at the broad range of options in Cork, check out the newly branded Cork College of FET on https://www.corketb.ie/fet-cork/ where you fill find links to the various campuses across the city and county. Several campuses will be hosting their open day on March 15 so keep an eye on their social media platforms forms for updates.
Whether you are a school leaver or an adult returning to education, you will gain a recognised and accredited qualification on completing a PLC course which will greatly enhance your employment opportunities if you want to go directly into the workplace. It will also open progression routes into higher education should you wish to continue your journey in education.
Either way, the extensive range of courses in the further education mean that applicants are spoilt for choice when it comes to taking the next step in their career.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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 https://www.mycareerplan.ie/ for details or follow @mycareerplan on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.