Third-level courses for mature students
Who is a mature student?
Generally, you are considered to be a mature student if you are at least 23 years of age on 1 January the year you start your course and you are starting college for the first time.
Sometimes, if you started but didn’t finish your course, you can still be considered a mature student if you are aged 23 or over. However, you won’t get a student grant unless you have completed a full break in studies of at least 5 years. You should ask the college where you want to study how it defines a mature student.
Depending on your course and circumstances, as a mature student you may qualify for a student grant or help with fees. See ‘University access programmes’ and ‘Fees for mature students’ below.
Study options for mature students
Third-level colleges reserve a small number of places for mature students who want to do a full-time day course. If you are aged over 23* you can apply for one of these places. This means that you will compete for your place on a different basis to those who are just leaving school. The number of places reserved for mature students are limited, so it is likely that you will still have to compete with your peers.
*You should check with the college where you want to study how it defines a mature student.
If you opt for a full-time course in this way, you will be expected to attend classes or lectures every day and you will be assessed in the same way as the other students on your course.
Many colleges and universities hold information events for people who want to study as mature students.
The Qualifax website has a calendar of career events that run throughout the year.
If you don’t want to study full time, there are other options available including part-time courses, modular programmes and distance learning.
If you choose to study on a part-time or modular basis, you can spread your studies over a number of years. This gives you the opportunity to organise your time and to study when it is most convenient for you. It will take longer to complete than a full-time course, but it has the advantage that it allows you to work at your own pace, gradually building credits towards your qualification.
A modular programme is made up of separate modules - these are self-contained units within a course. You can study and complete each module separately at different stages during that course. Modular programmes can take place in regular classroom settings or can be part of a distance learning programme. Modular courses are available at degree level in some universities.
Distance learning takes place away from the physical classroom and the tutor. It covers a wide range of learning programmes. If you take part in a distance learning programme, you may use different learning materials and media throughout your course.
On some courses students may come together to study for a day, a weekend or a week at a time.
University access programmes
University access programmes aim to increase the participation of under-represented groups at third-level. They support young adults and mature students to study at third-level colleges.
You may qualify for a student grant, if you are attending an access or foundation course on the Department of Education’s approved list. However, you will not qualify for a grant if the courses is not on the approved list.
If you are getting a social welfare payment, you may be able to take part in an access or foundation course and get the Back to Education Allowance.
You should check access programmes with the university of your choice or local Education and Training Board.
College entry requirements for mature students
Generally, you will need to have completed your Leaving Certificate to attend third level education. However, if you are applying for a place as a mature student, you will not be asked to meet the usual entry requirements.
Different courses operate different entry procedures, but, usually, colleges will take into account your educational background, work history, community involvement and other achievements and interests. This system is known as the Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning (APEL) or Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL).
It is useful to find out whether the college of your choice uses the APEL system before you apply.
In some cases, you may be asked to take an entrance exam.
Fees for mature students
If you qualify for the Free Fees Initiative, you will not have to pay fees in a publically funded college. However, you will have to pay the student contribution unless you also qualify for the student grant.
If you are getting a social welfare payment, you should find out if you qualify for the Back to Education Allowance.
You cannot get the student grant and the Back to Education Allowance at the same time, but if you are eligible for both, you can check which you would be better off applying for.
You can apply for tax relief if you are paying for the course from your own income or another person can claim if they are paying fees on your behalf. To qualify for the tax relief on your fees, your course must be an approved course at an approved college.
Part-time, modular and distance education
You usually have to pay fees for all part-time, modular and distance education courses. The costs vary from course to course. However, you may apply for tax relief if you are participating on an approved course.
How to apply as a mature student
To apply for a third-level course as a mature student, you should first contact the college of your choice directly. The Admissions Office or Mature Students Officer will have information about any specific requirements or extra information you need to provide when applying for your course. Some courses have different age requirements, so you should check if this applies.
The college will also tell you if you need to submit an application to the college directly or use the CAO application process or both.
If the college wants you to apply through the CAO and you wish to be assessed as a mature student, you must make your CAO application before 1 February of the year you start your course.
You will be in competition with other mature students for a place on the course so make sure to include as much detail as possible regarding your educational background, work experience and other interests.
Applying for part-time and university access programmes
Contact the university of your choice or local Education and Training Board for information about university access programmes and part-time courses.
You can find detailed information about college requirements and supports for mature students in the Mature Student Directory of Irish Third-Level Institutions (pdf).
Where to apply as a mature student
You can apply directly to private colleges for full-time, part-time and post graduate courses.
If you are applying for a course at university, technological university or institute of technology, you should contact the college about their application requirements.
Many colleges also require you to apply through the CAO.