Your Future Is Yours To Choose – Life Beyond the CAO

By Steven Galvin - Last update

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Last Friday, thousands of students received their CAO offers. Regardless of what the outcome was, it is important to remember that the CAO is just one path you can take. If your first round offer does not meet your expectations, be sure that there are many other options available. If you don’t get what you want, it’s not the end of the world.

If you did get an offer you want, you have until Wednesday, 16th September so have a good think about it before you make that decision to accept – make sure it’s the right one for you.

And if you didn’t get a satisfactory offer, take a deep breath, don’t panic and consider that there are other ways of progressing your education and career. Whatever you do, don’t stress about it because there are so many opportunities out there for you. Your future is yours to choose.

Let’s take a look at some options that are available for you to pursue to make that dream come true. 

Life Beyond the CAO

Wait for second round offers

Not everyone accepts the offers given to them. This coming academic year, in light of COVID-19 guidelines and restrictions, many students are wary of their college experience being made up of online delivery and limited opportunity to experience college life on campus. As a result some may choose to put their place on hold. As a result, and more than in previous years, there may be far more places on offer in Round 2, scheduled for 23rd September. Points may come down and you may get an offer.

So hang on and see if an offer may yet still come your way.


You might be thinking of appealing. The appeal process this year is really only for students who are looking for an administrative error in the paperwork. There’s no appeal in the actual grades you were provided by your teachers – so it may prove a fruitless road to go down.

Take the postponed exams

Students who receive calculated grades will have the option of sitting actual written exams this year as the postponed 2020 Leaving Cert exams are due to take place during the evening time and at weekends from Monday, November 16th onward.

Students who received calculated grades and choose to sit the written exams in November will be credited with the highest grade from the two. But please remember that you will be using it for next year’s entry to college and not for this year’s entry. Students can use a combination of calculated grades and results from this November sitting to calculate points for future CAO applications from 2021. 

Virtual Education Expo

Many course providers hold open events where you can drop in and talk to trainers, teachers, lecturers and staff about your options. The recent Virtual Education Expo provided the perfect opportunity to chat live online with top training institutions and course providers. Plus it featured a full day of exciting talks, advice and webinars from some of Ireland’s leading course providers.

Take a look and see if there’s something there for you

Look at the options outside of third level

There are excellent further education options outside of third level for students to explore. Further education places are available to the end of September and colleges are recruiting actively. For example, to apply for a course that you are interested in, go to, which lists full-time and part-time further education courses of all types and search for a course or an area of study you are interested in. Or check which features a national database of PLC courses in Ireland among its listings. From there you can apply or inquire about the course or go to that website of the institution offering the course itself.


Consider an apprenticeship.

More and more students are attracted to the “earn and learn at the same time” model when it comes to taking their next step post Leaving Certificate. Apprenticeship numbers are up to 16,000 and rising. It’s no big surprise that combining the option of going to third-level or further education with gaining valuable workplace experience is proving so popular. It can be of tremendous advantage to many students and often puts you ahead upon entering the jobs market.

The range of apprenticeships these days is extremely widespread ranging from the more traditional craft apprenticeships, such as carpentry, bricklaying, electrician or mechanic to providing more contemporary options, such as in finance, Information and communications technology, and hospitality. 


Private Colleges 

There are many private colleges that provide higher level education and professional training that operate outside of the CAO system. The likes of Dorset College, Dublin Business School (DBS) Griffith College, Hibernia College, IBAT, Independent College Dublin, International College Dublin (ICD) Business School and many more offer very specific courses which may be just the thing you are looking for to provide you with that specific training you require to get the job you want. There are a large number of courses that are not listed through the CAO that may provide the necessary training for you to kick start your career. You’ll find information on courses they offer here.


Return as a Mature Student

A mature student is someone who is a student over 23 years of age. Maybe you could decide to work / travel for a number of years and apply for college when you are 23. If you plan it correctly you could find work in the area you intend to study in and not only will this benefit you in your studies, it could also give you a head start on the jobs market once you graduate with qualification and experience.

Many universities reserve a percentage of places each year for mature students and entry is not based on points. It is based on CV, an interview and in some cases an aptitude test.

Studying Abroad

There are also educational opportunities outside of Ireland, often providing easier access to high-points courses in Ireland. If you’re prepared to take on the experience of living in another country, studying abroad might be the best option for you. The lure of lower fees and fewer points required to study in many colleges abroad, from Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy and Denmark is proving an attractive option for post Leaving Certificate students.The Netherlands is particularly strong for Irish students with up to 1000 students a year going there.

The Eastern European countries are very strong in medicine and in veterinary medicine and there has been an upsurge in students taking the opportunity to study Medicine, Dentistry, Physiotherapy, Pharmacy, Nursing and Veterinary through English in Poland. Plus in many of these countries the cost of accommodation and the cost of living is considerably lower than in Ireland.

Ultimately there are so many opportunities out there for you to consider so whatever hand the CAO round of offers dealt you, remember that you are in control and your future is yours to choose.

Steven Galvin

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