01 Oct 2022

Leaving Cert: Other options if you didn't get the CAO points you need

Leaving Cert: Other options if you don't get the points you need

If you are finishing school after the Leaving Cert or as an early school leaver, it can be difficult to know what your next step should be. 

However, there are plenty of options out there for you, and it’s worth taking time to consider all of them before you make up your mind.

Some students will exceed their expectations and others will be disappointed with their results. 

It is important that students do not panic. Regardless of your Leaving Certificate results and CAO points, there is a route for everyone towards their chosen career path. 

CAO Vacant Places

If you do not receive an offer from the CAO, you can check out the list of vacant places on the CAO website under the heading “Available/Vacant Places”. 

These are programmes which have not received sufficient applicants to fill the number of places on offer from the college in question. People who have not applied to the CAO may make an application online for a vacant place. If you have applied already, you simply go into your record in the CAO website and place the vacant course at the top of your CAO application list (free of charge).

Post-Leaving Certificate Courses (PLC)

Students apply directly to PLC courses. Minimum academic qualifications for these courses are normally five passes at Leaving Certificate. These courses are designed as a step towards skilled employment and are closely linked to industry and its needs.

A PLC course will provide you with an excellent opportunity to gain entry to a university or an Institute of Technology, as it will allow you to apply again to the CAO the following year, presenting the result of your PLC course as your method of entry. Many students who earn distinctions in their exams can progress on to higher education. 

Private Colleges

There are a number of private or independent colleges, which apart from offering courses through the CAO also offer programmes for which students may apply directly to the college involved. Many of these courses are validated by bodies outside the State, such as universities in the UK.

UCAS Clearing

Clearing is how UK universities and colleges fill any places they still have on their courses between July and September each year. It's an ideal way for you to find another course, and is similar to the CAO’s Vacant Places.

Studying abroad

More and more Irish students are going abroad to study. Many third level institutions across mainland Europe are struggling to fill their courses. Entry requirements are very reasonable, programmes are taught in English and the fees are surprisingly low. 

Even as late as August there are still places available on courses in countries such as the Netherlands, France, Sweden, Spain, Italy and Norway. The quality of your education combined with an international experience will impress local and global employers. More information at


Students who have reached the age of 16 years and who have, as a minimum obtained grade D in any five subjects in the Junior Certificate, are eligible for an apprenticeship. An Appenticeship comprises on-the-job training with the employer and of-the-job training in a Solas Training Centre or the local Education and Training Board. You can apply directly to local firms for an apprenticeship.

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