Deciding what to Study

If you are trying to figure out what to study, this section will help you explore your options.

Course Options

Adult education courses are available for people in all circumstances and at all ages. We lookk at the many options available...

Financial Support

We discuss a range of financial supports that are available to encourage adults to continue their education.

Who are Mature Students? - old

Adult learners are sometimes referred to as 'mature' students. In general, once you are over 23 you can apply for a college place as a mature student

Mature students decide to return to education for any of a variety of reasons. Some will get a place in college without having taken the Leaving Certificate. So, if you are an adult without a Leaving Certificate, and you want to access college, the good news is that you can!

Entry procedures

Most third-level colleges reserve a small number of places in full-time day courses specifically for mature students.

For some colleges, mature students apply through the Central Applications Office (CAO), in the same way as other students. The CAO processes all applications to first year, undergraduate, diploma and certificate courses. 

If the course you are interested in is offered in a college that requires you to apply via the CAO, applications must be submitted before the 1st February of the year you plan to start the course.

As different colleges and courses operate different entry procedures so you should always check the individual college details.

For some courses, you may be able to apply directly as a mature student. A list of colleges to which you can apply directly is available here from the CAO.

You may be able to take a Foundation Course first, to help you prepare for the college workload [See below].

Visit the Mature Student section college websites through the following links:

Mature Student access AIT - click here

Mature Student access CIT - click here

Mature Student acess office DCU - click here

Mature Student Acess DITclick here

Mature Student access DKITclick here

Mature Students NUI Galwayclick here

Mature Student access GMITclick here

Mature Student access IADTclick here

Mature Student access IT Sligoclick here

Mature Student access IT Tallaghtclick here

Mature Student access LIT - click here

Mature Student Office University of Limerick - click here

Mary Immaculate College MICclick here

Mature Student access NCADclick here

Mature Student access RCSIclick here

Mature Student access St. Angela's Collegeclick here

Mature Student access TCD - click here

Mature Student Application Information UCD - click here

Things to note

  • Specific admission rules may be in place, or requirements for supplementary forms and/or other information - always check the details.
  • A CAO application on its own may not be enough for university access. Application to some courses can include admission tests, aptitude tests and/or interviews.
  • Mature applicants also need to be aware that aptitude tests like MSAP or Hpat have specific, seperate deadlines.
  • Fore mature students applying for Nursing degrees -  it is important to be aware of the role of An Bord Altranais* in the application process.

*An Bord Altranis requirements for mature students are set out in the publication "Nursing/Midwifery  A Career for You" (P.19).  Click here to view.

Foundation/Access Courses

Foundation courses are sometimes referred to as 'Access Courses' or 'Return to Learning'. They are designed for mature students (people over 23 years) who for social, economic or educational reasons, were unable to access third level. Some access courses are aimed at students from disadvantaged areas who are not mature students. Access programmes are for people who have been away from formal education and would like to improve their skills, confidence and knowledge, so that they can get a place on a Third Level college course.

For further information about access courses, contact HEA or phone 1890 200637

Recognition of Prior Learning

It may be possibile to have your prior learning recognised for admission to a college or university in Ireland. Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) is when formal recognition is given for what you already know before starting on a degree programme or module. With recognition of prior learning, the focus is on learning and not on experience as such.  

In general, colleges will take into account your:

  • Educational background
  • Work history
  • Community involvement and
  • Other achievements and interests.

It is useful to find out whether the college of your choice uses this system before you apply. In some cases, you may be asked to sit an entrance exam. 

Remember, always read the information available in the Mature Student section of individual college websites.

Mature Student Directory

Detailed information about accessing third level as a mature student is given in the Network of Irish Mature Student Officers (NIMSO) publication, 'The Mature Student Directory'.

Much of the information continues to be relevant and it also contains some useful case studies.  [Click image to view PDF]

Climbing up the educational ladder

In Ireland courses that lead to internationally recognised awards are placed on the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ). All citizens are encouraged to broaden their education, and course providers help by allowing people to progress their education upwards.

As a mature student, once you achieve an award recognised on the Framework (e.g a Level 3, 4 or higher) you can then use this as a stepping stone to move further up the ladder.

The most common progression pathways include the progression from Level 5 or 6 awards up to Level 7 and 8. Colleges have put in a flexible system of progression pathways to help people achieve their potential, no matter where on the Framework they are at now.

For more information on Progression Routes into Higher Education Institutes: click here

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