There are options outside of the CAO

There’s a growing number of options open to students outside of the CAO, says Guidance Counsellor NIAMH DWYER, in part three of our series, ahead of the Leaving Cert results
There are options outside of the CAO

Niamh Dwyer, Careers Advisor, My Career Plan

NATURALLY, there is a lot of focus on Leaving Certificate results and CAO at the moment, but it is important to remember that going directly into Higher Education is not for everyone and in fact the growing number of options open to students outside of CAO is offering a much greater variety of education and training opportunities to school leavers and to adults.

This year, for the first time ever, some of those options have been highlighted on the CAO website on, to encourage applicants to explore these alternative pathways.

There have never been so many ways for students to realise their potential on leaving secondary school. A key aspect of the pathways outside of CAO is entry is not based on the points a student achieves in the Leaving Certificate. 

These pathways provide education training options across multiple sectors, suit a variety of learners and provide progression routes onto further qualifications or directly into the workplace on completion.

Further Education and Training

The Further Education and Training (FET) sector provides a variety of options across multiple career sectors through what are more commonly known as Post Leaving Cert (PLC) courses as well as apprenticeships and traineeships.

Post Leaving Certificate Courses

Colleges of Further Education (FE) are still accepting applications for courses in a huge variety of subject areas including business, ICT, social care, childcare, law, beauty therapy, art and design, applied science, healthcare, law, engineering, multimedia, sport and much more. These courses provide students with QQI FET/FETAC qualifications which allow them to progress onto colleges and universities here in Ireland, the UK and Europe.

There are lots of students who miss out on their chosen course on CAO and are naturally very disappointed but opting to do a PLC which has a progression route into their preferred course offers a fantastic opportunity to follow their career ambition. But that is not the only reason why opting for a PLC is a great idea.

For school leavers who are unsure about what pathway to take, a PLC offers the opportunity to try an area of interest out before jumping into a three or four year degree. It also prepares students very well for progressing onto studying that area in more detail, giving a great foundation for further study as well as getting to grips with independent learning and living, and developing key skills in areas such as communications and ICT.

Figures show that the drop-out rates in Higher Education are lower among students who have completed a course in a FE college first.

Work experience is an important part of every PLC so students gain valuable skills which build confidence and competence for the workplace. PLCs also make good financial sense. The €200 fee to apply for PLCs was abolished in Budget 2022.

To check out the full range of PLC courses available and to apply, check out

For those who are interested in progression routes onto Higher Education in Ireland, take a look at QQI-FET Applicant section of . Individual FE college websites will provide information about progression routes to the work place and to colleges outside of Ireland.


Apprenticeships combine learning in an education and training institution with work-based learning with an employer, in a company or organisation. At least 50% of apprenticeship learning is completed in the workplace and lead to recognised qualifications across multiple sectors and career areas. They are ideally suited to individuals who want to learn practical and technical skills and who prefer learning-by-doing and on-the-job training. Apprentices are also paid while training, so they are earning while learning.

There are currently 66 apprenticeships available, with 17 more in development. They span across a huge variety of sectors including construction, arboriculture, electrical, biopharma, ICT, finance, insurance, logistics & supply chain, sales, agriculture, hairdressing, engineering, hospitality, healthcare, mechanics, auctioneering and recruitment.

Apprentices are being recruited on an ongoing basis throughout the year across each sector. Typically apprenticeships run for between 2-4 years, depending on the type chosen. For further information on each apprenticeship and on current vacancies, check out and follow @apprenticeirl on social media.


Traineeships are a very attractive option for students who are in interested in work-based training in areas where there is an identified skills need. They combine learning in the classroom and experience in the workplace to improve employment outcomes for participants. 

There are over 75 traineeships available nationally across a variety of industries including business, health and social care, constructions, engineering, transport and logistics, finance, hospitality, fashion and beauty, ICT and more. 

Traineeships start at various times during the year. More details can be found on also from the local Education and Training Boards (ETBs).

National Learning Network

The National Learning Network (NLN) offers specialist training and support services for students and adults who need extra support to progress in their education or into the workplace. This includes young people students who may not want to, or be equipped to, access traditional post-school pathways.

Over 70 courses are available, delivered in 50 centres across the country and are available to students from the age of 16 to 65. The courses vary from centre to centre but cover multiple options such as business, catering, computers, horticulture, art and design, wellness, employability skills and much more.

A key aspect of the NLN is a welcoming and supportive environment, small class sizes and the flexibility for students to learn a pace which suits their needs. More information can be found on

Direct Entry Courses

There are over 150 direct entry courses to various college across Ireland in a variety of areas of study and duration. These can be researched by using the Course Finder facility on

Study outside of Ireland

There are still opportunities to apply for colleges in the UK and Europe. The UCAS Clearing system is open until October 18th which allows students to apply for vacant college places in the UK. See for details.

Applications are still open for some colleges and universities in Europe, where entry requirements are often lower than similar options here in Ireland. See and for more details.

Repeating or taking a gap year

Deciding to repeat can be a difficult decision for students who have had a stressful year but for those who feel they can do better second time around it is well worth considering as a lot of the course content is already covered so it can make it easier to manage time and study a little better second time around, thus performing better in exams.

Taking a year out is also worth considering to learn a new skill such as how to drive, earning some money, travelling, volunteering, getting some work experience, completing a short course and taking some more time to reflect in what pathway they are interested in taking at this point.


The National Parents Council Post Primary helpline 1800 265 165, will open from 2pm-8pm on September 2 to 14, where qualified guidance counsellors are on hand to answer queries from students, parents and guardians. There is also lots of helpful information on and

About the author

Niamh Dwyer is a Guidance Counsellor in Scoil Phobail Sliabh Luachra, Rathmore, and Chairperson of the Kerry Branch of Guidance Counsellors. She is also a Careers Advisor - For details see or follow @mycareerplan on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter

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