Whether you are fresh out of secondary school or entering third level education in Ireland as a mature or international student, this is an exciting and enriching time that should be enjoyed. However, there is also much to consider, and many important questions that need to be answered. This detailed guide will provide many of those answers.
Options for third level education in Ireland
When it comes to selecting the third level institution in Ireland that best meets your needs, there are many options to choose from. Ireland’s relatively compact size also means that even those students living in rural locations shouldn’t be too far from a third level institution. However, much like students in Europe and North America, it is common for Irish students to leave their hometown to pursue their own collegiate path. Aside from our dedicated study section, Education in Ireland also offers detailed information on studying in Ireland.
Universities in Ireland
In total, Ireland is home to eight distinct public universities, following the establishment of the Technological University Dublin (TU Dublin) in January 2019. Each of which offers a wide range of diploma, degree and postgraduate courses. There is also a range of other constituent and associated universities attached to these larger educational bodies.
Dublin is home to the highest number of universities in Ireland, with four options for prospective students to choose from. Trinity College Dublin is the oldest university in Ireland and considered among the elite universities of Europe, while University College Dublin (UCD) and Dublin City University (DCU) are also well-respected Irish universities, offering an extensive range of courses from law, medicine, humanities and science, and everything else in between. TU Dublin is the latest addition to the list of universities based in Ireland’s capital city and has been established following the merger of Dublin Institute of Technology, Institute of Technology, Tallaght and Institute of Technology, Blanchardstown.
Outside Dublin, there is a university in each of the Republic of Ireland’s three next largest cities, where students have access to almost all of the same courses offered in Dublin. University College Cork (UCC) serves many students in Cork and throughout Munster, while the University of Limerick (UL), located just outside Limerick city, is one of Ireland’s most modern campuses. In Galway, the National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG) is the main academic hub in the west of Ireland. In addition to these three universities, there is also Maynooth University, which is situated in the small, picturesque town of Maynooth, just outside Dublin.
The universities covered in this section offer degree and postgraduate programmes, including master degrees and post-doctorates. A range of certificates, diplomas and other academic qualifications can also be obtained.
If you would like more detailed information on universities in Ireland, please visit our dedicated page.
Institutes of Technology
In addition to Ireland’s seven universities, there are now 11 distinct institutes of technology dotted around Ireland, including in cities such as Dublin and Limerick, as well as in smaller towns such as Carlow, Athlone and Tralee. Prior to January 2019, this total was 14, however it reduced to 11 following the creation of the Technological University of Dublin. All institutes of technology in Ireland come under the umbrella organisation of the Technological Higher Education Association.
Much like universities in Ireland, all Irish institutes of technology provide a range of degree and postgraduate courses. In addition to the more traditional taught and research courses offered, they also cater to the needs of students often looking for a more practical, hands-on third level education in Ireland. The range of courses offered depends on the particular institute of technology in question, but if you are interested in pursuing a career in social science, manufacturing, art or computing, for example, then it may be the case that there is a course that fits your needs perfectly.
For further information on all you need know about life in any of Ireland’s institutes of technology, please visit our dedicated page.
Private and independent colleges in Ireland
The primary point of differentiation between private colleges on the one hand, and public universities and institutes of technology on the other, is that undergraduate courses in the latter are free for students eligible under the Free Fees initiative, while fees are applied to students attending private colleges. Typically, the cost associated with taking the private route through third level education in Ireland typically ranges from €4,000 to €7,000 per year.
There are a number of varied private and independent college options in Ireland, from the Galway Business School in the west of Ireland to the Griffith College network located in Cork, Dublin and Limerick. There is a variety of courses offered by private colleges, with courses in law, psychology and journalism proving particularly popular.
Entering university or an IT: The CAO and the Leaving Certificate
The majority of Irish university or institute of technology students in Ireland enter the third level education system directly from secondary school through the Leaving Certificate exam. The process by which students gain entry to their desired third level courses however is determined by the Central Applications Office, or CAO as it is more commonly known.
The CAO system allocates points to students depending on the results they receive in the Leaving Certificate, with third level courses such as medicine, law, mathematics and accounting typically being the courses with the highest point requirements. However, there are many third level options open to students regardless of how many points they receive in the Leaving Certificate. Students are encouraged to fill out a ‘top 10’ of the courses they would be interested in taking in their CAO form — that way, if they don’t get their first choice, they are still likely to have plenty of alternatives.
For more detailed information on the Leaving Certificate and CAO process more specifically, please visit our dedicated CAO page.
One of the most important things to know about third level education in Ireland is that it is free for eligible students, in theory at least!
The Free Fees initiative means that the Department of Education and Skills pays the tuition fees to the respective third level institutions instead of the student doing so. The good news is that this means the majority of students from EEA countries (including Ireland) attending third level education in Ireland can do so without being burdened with fees. However, there is a mandatory student contribution fee of approximately €3,000 that is unavoidable, leaving many student unions and other bodies to question the legitimacy of the “free fees” claim.
International students coming from a non-EEA country are not eligible under the Free Fees initiative. Though their studies in Ireland may be covered in part or in full through a scholarship, non-EEA international students typically pay higher rates to study in Ireland.
In addition to the issues around the student contribution fee, for an applicant to be eligible for the Free Fees Initiative, they must have been living in an EEA member state or Switzerland for at least three of the five years before starting their course. Generally speaking, you must also be a citizen of an EEA member state or have a family member who is an EU/EEA national, and have permission to live in Ireland. These guidelines mean that many returning Irish citizens who have lived abroad in a non-EEA country for more than two years in recent do not qualify and must pay EU or international student fees, depending on the situation.
For more detailed information on tuition fees for third level education in Ireland, including establishing your eligibility for a student grant from Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI), please visit our dedicated page.