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Tips for Choosing a 3rd Level Course


Before you begin researching 3rd level courses, it is important to understand yourself first.  In other words:

  • What type of person are you…what are your personal qualities, what do you love doing, and what do you prefer to avoid?
  • What skills do you have and what are your strengths?
  • What subjects do you like or dislike in school?
  • What are your hobbies and interests?
  • What type of learner are you, e.g. do you learn by doing or can you easily take in information from books?

Tip: Ask your school Guidance Counsellor about the different learning styles and find out which one you are! 

Once you know more about yourself; your preferences, strengths, and abilities, researching courses will be easier to do and you will be able to make a more informed decision.


Researching Courses

It is important to thoroughly research the courses in which you are interested.  Follow the steps below to get the most out of your research.

1. For courses in Ireland search through the Qualifax website; and the CAO website;  You can also go directly to each of the college or university websites.

2. For courses in the UK search through the UCAS website;

3. Location is a major factor when choosing a course.  Would you be happy about moving away from home and have you thought about the cost of this?

4. Be clear on the CAO or UCAS application processes for your chosen course, i.e. how do you apply and when are the deadlines?

5. Understand the entry requirements for the course:

a. What are the basic admission requirements for the course?
b. What were the CAO points or grade requirements (UK) for entry last year?  Check for last year’s points and for UK grades.
c. Do you need to have studied specific second level subjects for entry to the course?
d. Do you need to make additional submissions (e.g. a portfolio) or complete an interview (e.g. in Music) as part of the entry requirements?
e. If you have a disability or specific learning difficulty you are encouraged to indicate this in your application as it will facilitate the College or University in addressing any specific support needs you may have.

6. Look at the subjects or modules for each year of the course, not just 1st year  (this will be available on the relevant college or university website). You need to make sure that your expectations and the actual reality of the course are in line with each other.  The objective is to enjoy the course throughout your time in college.

7. Also consider the following when you are researching the courses:

a. Will there be work placement during the course?
b. Will you need to pick a specialism as the course progresses, e.g. after first or second year?


8. During your research contact the relevant college or university department with specific questions about the course.  Request a meeting or a tour of the department to ensure you are fully informed about the course.

9. Also talk to your Guidance Counsellor in school about your options in 3rd level.

Tip: If you are not entirely confident of achieving the CAO points (as per last year) for your 1st course preference, you should still put it down as your first choice on the CAO form.  You never know what will happen around demand for the course and availability of places.  However, always have a back-up plan with other course choices.

Researching Careers

It is also beneficial to know what the jobs market is like and to get to know where there is likely to be growth in the future.

According to Ireland’s ‘Expert Group on Future Skills Needs’ (2009) there are no labour shortages at present.  However, there are currently skills shortages in the following areas; specialised high skill areas of IT, Science, Sales/Marketing, Health, Accountancy, Engineering and Management.  Read more on and

You can research different careers on the following websites;

For even greater insight into careers think about;

  • Talking to friends and family members about the jobs they are doing.
  • Work Shadowing – this involves spending a day or more with someone who works in the career area of interest to you.  Observing them in their day-to-day job can help you to decide if that job/career area is for you.


The normal closing date for applications (online or paper) is February 1st by 5.15pm. After the 1st May and until the 1st July you may, if you wish, register a change of course choice. (However, you cannot add a restricted-application course for the first time using the Change of Mind process). You should retain a record of your application information as well as all correspondence with the CAO.