Guidance Counsellor: What to do when the points just don’t add up

Guidance Counsellor: What to do when the points just don’t add up
Beatrice Dooley, IGC President.

Interview: Laurie O'Flynn

Beatrice Dooley, president of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors, looks at post-Leaving Cert alternatives open to CAO applicants.

The day that all sixth year students have worked so hard toward has finally arrived — one of the biggest days in their school life.

For some it brings expressions of relief and joy, with celebrations and preparations for the next exciting stage in their education and lives. However, for others it initially brings disappointment, anxiety and uncertainty.

That is until they talk to their guidance counsellor or the Freephone Exam Helpline who will reassure them on alternative routes, so that they can make informed decisions about the choices they faced and their future career paths.

University is not the only route to a good career — there are other paths

There is good news for all, parents and students alike, as there are many attractive non-CAO options pathways after the big Leaving Certificate, such as Post-Leaving Cert (PLC) courses, apprenticeships and traineeships.

These are rated as highly by Irish employers as are graduates from third-level colleges.

PLC/Further Education & Training

PLCs offer a mixture of practical work, academic work and work experience in areas such as Business Studies, childcare, Community Care, Computing and Technology, e-Commerce, Horticulture, Multimedia Production, Sport & Leisure and Tourism. Start with which is a useful link to research and apply for a variety of courses. As application closing dates vary, applications are accepted until all places are filled.

  • Why a PLC course?

  • Full time, 1-2 years’ programmes;
  • Provides a major award at Level 5 or 6 qualification
  • Serves as a back door into Higher Education Institutions;
  • Designed as a step towards skilled employment;
  • Suits students who for financial/health/personal/visa requirement reasons are not in a position to embark on a three-year or four-year programme;
  • Ideal for any student who wants to try a short course as a trial before committing to a longer programme.


With a strong emphasis on practical skills and hands on learning, those students whose preference is not the classroom will know exactly what this means! Apprenticeships open up exciting and rewarding careers, where you can “earn while they learn”.

A formal contract usually spans between 2–4 years, with a minimum 50% on-the-job learning, coupled with being paid by your employer at the same time. Apprenticeships can lead to anything from Levels 5 to 10 in NVQ’s. is the main website with links to specific programmes in the different sectors as there is not one central application system.

Many, but not all, have deadlines for applications from March to May.

Make sure you research your eligibility for each programme that you may be interested in and understand how the application process works for each.

There are now over 40 apprenticeships available in areas such as Accounting, Insurance, Engineering, Logistics, Construction, Electrical, engineering, ICT, Hospitality, Motor with as many more in development in areas ranging from Agriculture and Recruitment.

  • Websites Advertising Apprenticeship Vacancies

  • (for construction jobs)


Traineeships combine learning in education settings with workplace settings and are delivered by Education & Training Boards (ETCs), in partnership with employers. These Traineeships are in areas identified to have skills shortages, such as Business, Construction, Finance and fashion and Beauty.

They are ideal for those not yet ready to commit to a course or job and would like to try something out for a short period of time. The employability of those completing these programmes is very high. provides details on programmes currently open for registration and contains information about both the entry requirements and the application process.

  • Why a traineeship?
  • Lead to an award at Level 4-6 NVQ;
  • Are between 6-20 months in duration;
  • Have at least 30% on-the-job learning;
  • They respond to an identified skills’ need;
  • Combine transversal and technical skills development;
  • Are designed for flexible delivery;
  • Improve employment outcomes for participants.

Is studying abroad popular? Why? is an independent application support service which, for a fee of €28, offers support and advice on the application process for up to eight programmes in Europe.

In Ireland, university registration fees can be expensive. However, a number of European countries offer free university degrees through the English language, such as Germany, France and the Nordic countries. Deadlines for applying vary from country to country, and many programmes are still open for entry 2019, so take your time to have a good look. An added bonus is that the entry requirements are generally lower when compared to the equivalent courses in Ireland.

This is not a reflection of quality — nine Dutch universities are higher-ranked than Trinity College, Dublin. They just DON’T DO POINTS and have availability within their third level system for prospective students.

A large group of Dutch universities are returning to Ireland in October this year, with events planned in Cork (Oct 21), Galway (Oct 22) and Dublin (Oct 23). Booking is necessary to attend these events, which are free, at

  • Why study abroad?
  • Entry requirements are EITHER 6 passes at Leaving Cert (inc l 2 x H4) OR a relevant QQI Level 5;
  • Costs are low;
  • Student finance is available;
  • They are actively looking for prospective students.

Are Irish UCAS applications down?

Yes, UCAS applications are down. UCAS application deadlines were Jan 15, but in the autumn a second opportunity to apply occurs during Clearing.

It is important to research the UCAS site for more information and be sure to first of all talk to your parents/guardians about the feasibility of funding this option.

While the impact of Brexit is unclear, provides information on tuition fees and student finance support for EU nationals hoping to start a course in the 2019/20 academic year.

Gap year / Volunteering

Work experience is an excellent way for students to discover what they are good at and what they really enjoy doing.

Building up work experience, gaining transversal skills, independence and developing as a person are all very valuable potential outcomes of employment.

The follow-on chances of gaining employment are high, as unemployment levels are extremely low right now at 4.5%. If you can afford it, a gap year can provide opportunity to travel and volunteer.

However, volunteering abroad needs careful research, as do the organisations/companies that offer volunteer programmes, as the quality and safety of such programmes can vary significantly.

Don’t forget you can have the best of both worlds — the freedom and adventure of work/travel for a year and the security of a college place to come home to if you defer your CAO place.

  • Some useful websites:
  • for information on learnerships, internships, bursaries;

The value of repeating the Leaving Certificate

The decision to repeat is not to be taken lightly; it requires reflection and professional advice, preferably from a qualified Guidance Counsellor. Any student considering repeating a year should ask themselves, what will I do differently next year to guarantee different results?

If you are repeating to maximise points, then look at your choice of subjects and establish where you can gain points. You cannot combine two Leaving Certificates results for points purposes, but you can use one exam result for minimum entry requirements.

This means that you can take up a new subject, if you think you could get a better grade in it, aside from sitting a required subject again. However, you must be extremely motivated and dedicated to completing a two-year course in one year.

Advice for students

For those students who receive the results they are hoping for, there will celebrations and excitement.

For those who are disappointed, there will be feelings of being scared about the future, we encourage those students to make an appointment to see your guidance counsellor who can help you in two ways, in a private, non-judgemental setting they will give you the psychological space to process how you feel, and guide you through the process of actively focusing on developing a revised plan to secure your dreams and goals.

Advice for Parents

When the Leaving results are announced, it is really important that you remain calm when your child is worried or even panicked.

Telling them you love them, no matter what their results, and listening to how they are feeling is really important. Parent should resist the urge to walk around on eggshells; it is ok to be available to your child.

Create a distracting environment that is filled with days out, trips and other activities that helps them relax, while they settle down, and make sure you are there when they are ready to ask for help.

If your child is displaying concerning behaviour that doesn’t diminish over time you are welcome to call the Exam Helpline for advice.

This helpline is managed by professionally qualified guidance counsellors who offer practical advice and counselling about the possible next steps that are available for your child.

We take calls from students and parents alike. Rest assured, there is something out there for every student.

More on this topic

Lessons in living life to the full for UCC's mature studentsLessons in living life to the full for UCC's mature students

Making Cents: Work out your budget for the college year aheadMaking Cents: Work out your budget for the college year ahead

NUIG team’s grant from Michael J Fox FoundationNUIG team’s grant from Michael J Fox Foundation

If you need to change plans, there are alternativesIf you need to change plans, there are alternatives