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I’m hopelessly confused over study options for my son after the Leaving Cert. Can you help?

It’s the beginning of my son’s final year at school and we’re looking at all his options for 2024. I’m hopelessly confused at all the information and options out there. Can you advise us on where we can find reliable information on courses that might be suitable for him?

You are well ahead with your planning and it’s a good idea indeed to look at all options and information resources.

First of all, your son should discuss his options with a guidance counsellor at school, if he has not done so already. This will help him to work out what areas he is interested in and whether he’d like to explore options in higher, further education, employment or an apprenticeship.

A good place to start your search for course options is the newly-revamped Qualifax website (qualifax.ie).

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The site contains free, comprehensive and trusted information about course options and links to other resources. It covers CAO options, further education courses such as post-Leaving Cert (PLC) courses and apprenticeships right through to postgraduate levels and adult education courses.

I find tools such as the calendar of college open day events can help with planning visits to experience the reality of college life, as well as the “subject requirements option” to search for suitable courses based on the subjects you are sitting for his Leaving Cert.

There is also a “previous points history” feature, so you can build a picture of the entry requirements for previous years.

Alternatives to the CAO application process ]

When searching for the right course, there are some important tips worth keeping in mind:

First, check timelines for applications for CAO and any other courses your son is interested in. For example, the CAO opens from November 5th until the initial cut-off point on February 1st next year. There is then the May-June “change of mind” window next followed by the final course choice deadline of July 1st.

Secondly, visit any colleges of interest on their open days as well as checking them out online to get a sense of what is offered, timelines and what campus life might be like.

Thirdly, get familiar with how courses are described. All the different levels – six, seven and eight, etc – can be confusing so check out the National Framework of Qualifications (nfq.ie) for more information.

Also, get your son to talk to friends or family who have gone to college already about how they are getting on.

One final thought: what about considering the option of securing a QQI award in a further education programme to access higher education?

Many further education (FE) and apprenticeship programmes allow students to explore skills-based options before committing to a college course. The Qualifax database shows which FE courses have links to university programmes.

Enrolling on an apprenticeship programme also allow participants to “earn and learn” across almost 70 separate options from the traditional construction trades to finance, insurance and IT.