HEAR admissions scheme for students from disadvantaged backgrounds

What is HEAR?

The Higher Education Access Route (HEAR) is an admissions scheme for students from socially disadvantaged backgrounds.

The scheme aims to improve access to college for school-leavers from socio-economic backgrounds that are under-represented in third-level education. Under the HEAR scheme a number of third-level places are allocated to school-leavers on a reduced points basis. To be eligible for the scheme you must meet certain indicators (or criteria) related to your financial, social and cultural circumstances – see ‘Indicators’ below.

How the HEAR scheme works

Each of the third-level colleges participating in the scheme has reserved a number of places on its courses for school-leavers who are eligible for HEAR. You can find details of the places available through HEAR on the websites of the participating third-level colleges.

You apply for HEAR through the Central Applications Office (CAO) – see ‘How to apply’ below.

Once you have been accepted as eligible for HEAR, you then compete for the reduced point places based on your Leaving Certificate results. A reduced point place means that you may get a place on a third-level course with fewer than the full CAO points. For example, if you are eligible for HEAR and you get 350 Leaving Certificate points, you may be offered a place on a course that is 360 points through CAO. However, you must meet the college matriculation and any specific course entry requirements.

Additional supports

If you get a place through HEAR you will also be offered a range of supports while you are studying at college, such as an orientation programme, extra tuition, study skills and mentoring. The supports available will vary from college to college.

How to qualify for the HEAR scheme

To qualify for HEAR you must meet certain indicators or criteria related to your financial, social and economic circumstances.

You must also be under 23 years of age on 1 January of the year the course starts.


  • Financial (for entry autumn 2024):
  • 1. Income: Your total family income (that is gross income before tax and PRSI are deducted) for the year 2022 was within the HEAR income limits (see table below)
  • 2. Medical card: You, your parent(s) or guardian(s) hold a medical card or GP visit card on 31 December 2023
  • 3. Social welfare: Your parent(s) or guardian(s) were getting a means-tested social assistance payment for at least 26 weeks in 2022
  • Social and cultural:
  • 4. Group: You come from a socio-economic group that is under-represented in higher education, for example: non-manual workers; semi-skilled and unskilled manual workers; agricultural workers
  • 5. School: You have completed 5 years of second-level education at a school in the DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) programme
  • 6. Area: You are living in an area of concentrated disadvantage and social exclusion with, for example, high unemployment and poverty and few community facilities

HEAR income limits 2024

Number of dependent children* in your family

Family income in 2021

Fewer than 4 €46,790
4-7 €51,325
More than 8 €55,630
Add €4,785 to the total income for every sibling/parent enrolled in a full-time college, university or Post-Leaving Certificate further education course.

*A 'dependent child' is a child under age 16 on 1 October 2023 or over 16 who is attending a full-time educational institution or is medically certified as permanently unfit for work. A dependent can also include a parent attending a full time course in further education and training or higher education.

Fulfilling the indicator requirement

Of the 6 indicators above you must meet the low income indicator 1 and a combination of 2 other indicators. There are 4 different combinations as follows:

A Indicator 1 Plus 2 Plus 4 or 5 or 6
B Indicator 1 Plus 3 Plus 4 or 5 or 6
C Indicator 1 Plus 4 Plus 5 or 6
D Indicator 1 Plus 5 plus 6  

Documentation required

As part of your application you must provide documentation to show that you meet the required indicators. Examples of the documentation required are:

  • Statement of Liability from the Revenue Commissioners for 2022. The Statement of Liability has replaced the P21. You can get a Statement of Liability through Revenue's myAccount service.
  • Statement of welfare benefits received from the Department of Social Protection in 2022 (download this page from your online HEAR application form)
  • Confirmation from your Local Health Office of a medical or GP visit card valid on 31 December 2023 (download this page from your online HEAR application form)

How to apply

To get a college place under the HEAR scheme you must apply online through the CAO. Your CAO application must reach the CAO by 5pm 1 February 2024. Late CAO applications are not considered for HEAR.

When you are filling in the online CAO form you must complete the part of the form to say you wish to apply for the HEAR scheme. You will then be directed to a separate HEAR application form. You must complete this part of your application by 5pm 1 March 2024.

Then on the HEAR application form you must answer questions on your family’s income, your parents’ employment status and the schools you attended.

By 5pm 15 March 2024 your supporting documents must reach the CAO, providing evidence of your circumstances.

No applications will be accepted after the closing dates. The closing dates are very strict because HEAR is an additional application procedure which needs extra processing time.

You will be notified by email or through the cao.ie portal in late June 2024 (after the Leaving Certificate examination) telling you whether you are eligible for the scheme. If you are told you are not eligible you can ask for your application to be reviewed. Your HEAR application does not affect your CAO application, which will be processed in the usual way after you get your Leaving Certificate results.

The CAO helpline at (091) 509 800 can assist school-leavers with their HEAR application. You can find further information in this list of frequently asked questions on the Access College website. You can also contact the access services of the colleges participating in the HEAR scheme.

The HEAR programme runs nationwide information sessions which aim to answer questions that students (or their parents/guardians) may have about preparing the application for HEAR.

You can download an application handbook and information leaflets to help with your application.

You can also access information about HEAR on Facebook.

Where to apply for the HEAR scheme

You apply for HEAR online through the CAO.

Central Applications Office

Tower House
Eglinton Street

Opening Hours: Office Hours 9:30-17:00
Tel: (091) 509 800
Fax: (091) 562 344
Page edited: 24 October 2023