What course should I do and the application process?

The response to this blog series has been very positive. The College has heard from many adults who are thinking of  returning to study. What was meant to be a three post series has now become a four post series, as we try to answer some of the many questions that  we have been getting on how do I return to study. The third post  looks at the question of what course do I study and how do I start making the application. The reason behind course selection is key; are you looking to progress your career, your academic CV or yourself personally. We explore all this below.

Course Selection


Sometimes it creeps up on you, but one day you decide you are not happy with the career path you are on. You cannot keep doing what you are doing. You decide that you must start to climb the ladder at work, or change your job altogether, but definitely something has to change. Further study is a key way to start the transition.

 If you are studying to advance your current career, then you will need to look at your current situation – job status and qualifications – and consider where you would like your career to go. This will determine the level of course you need to pursue.  If you are a baseline/frontline worker and you want to advance your career, you may need to consider completing a higher-level course than what you currently hold. Usually managerial positions carry a requirement for a minimum of a level 6 – however, you need to check the specifics of your particular career.

If you are seeking to change careers, then you will need to look at the choices available, both in terms of courses available and employment opportunities afterwards. You need to ask yourself is there any point in pursuing a three year degree in an area in which there is no prospect of employment – though admittedly this can be a difficult one given the fluidity of our economy. It can be a good idea to speak to people currently in the sector, talk to adult guidance offices that will have a good sense of current trends. If you want to reach a certain level in your chosen sector, consider if there is a minimum qualification? You may find that entry level is at QQI level 7 on the qualification framework or it may be QQI level 5. In some instances, employers accept applications from people who are currently pursuing the minimum entry-level course at the time of application so do check with prospective employers.

In deciding on a new career path, consider your interests – do you prefer working with people or with computers or with animals? (If you do not like working with people then maybe HR is not a wise choice!). It is always wise to settle on a subject area because you are interested in it rather than the potential employment opportunities. Consider that you may well be working at this for several decades so if you have no interest, this may be quite difficult for you.

When you have an idea of what field you want to work in, speak to someone who is currently working in that field. Enquire about the advantages, the disadvantages, the challenges and the rewards. Speak to more than one person to get a more balanced picture. If you do not know anyone working in the area, contact your local adult education office or Aontas who will be more than happy to talk to you. In addition, you could speak to HR personnel in an organisation operating within your chosen area. Other methods of finding out more information include the company website, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Finding that specific course

Having decided on a particular area to study, you now need to find the course that meets your needs. So where do you do that? You have a number of options here.


  1. You can go to each university/IT/college website and browse their courses. To do this online, enter the college name in your search engine and then on the college home page, click on courses. Most colleges will have grouped their courses under a specific relevant category such as Engineering, Social Studies and Management etc. for ease of searching. All the information you need will be contained here with contact details for further queries.
  2. Alternatively, you can go to the Irish site, Qualifax (http://www.qualifax.ie), which is a national course database. This site is essentially a search engine in which you input the course area you are interested in, plus if you wish, the delivery mode etc., and the site will locate the courses that are relevant. I have used this site myself and find it to be quite beneficial in terms of time saving and scope of the search. However, be advised that almost every course in Ireland is available here so your search may throw back quite a lot of options.This database contains information on courses at all levels on the National Qualifications Framework as well as night classes and other short duration courses that are more hobby oriented. However, on the plus side, you will be exposed to courses that you may otherwise never have found. There is a lot of information on this site so to help you in your search click on the each of the following in turn to get you straight to the search part; Students/ Courses in Ireland/All Courses (in the paragraph at the top of the page). The in the search box (titled Course Title/Keywords) enter the subject area (or course name if you know it).
  3. Other similar options include www.careersportal.ie which has a dedicated section for Adult Learners and www.nightclasses.com which contains information on part time, evening and distant education courses.
  4. If you do not have access to the Internet, pick up a copy of the yellow pages and go to the Third Level Colleges section and start calling. The administration staff will be able to advise you if the course you are interested in is offered at the particular college and if it is, will know whom you need to speak with.[gap height=”30″]

Making the Application

Applications are normally made either through the CAO or directly to the College. While school leavers are considered in terms of their Leaving Cert (or equivalent), the mature student is considered in terms of life experience, qualifications (if any), work experience etc. (a mature student is anyone over the age of 23 on January 1st of the year of entry to the course. So, if you hope to commence a course in September 2015, you must be over 23 on January 1ST 2015 to be considered a mature student). You will need to check with the college as to their specific application procedure. Once you have decided on a course are and found the course you wish to pursue, contact the college directly who will advise you on your next step.

Do not be deterred by closing dates – if you find the course you want and the closing date has passed, enquire anyway. Usually, colleges will accept late applicants (sometime even after the academic year has commenced, provided not too much time has elapsed). Exceptions to this may be where there are only a limited number of places and all places are filled. In such instances, it may be worth your while putting your name on the waiting list as people can, and do, decline places for various reasons.

Your application will usually consist of an application form, photos, supporting documentation – previous qualifications/training, referees and relevant fee that can range from E30 to E100 upwards. On receipt of your application you will be either offered a place, declined or called for an informal interview. Each college has their own procedure – again check with them.
And remember – it you really want this, you can do it! Good luck….

The next post looks at how to survive studying once you get a place on the course you want.

If you are interested in more details on becoming a social care professional and the further education to get you there, you can find more about it here.