Moving to Ireland for third-level education

Third-level courses

If you are moving to Ireland in order to study or if you wish to enrol a child into a third-level college, you will need to explore the full range of options available to you.

The third-level education sector in Ireland consists of universities, institutes of technology, and colleges of education - collectively known as higher education institutions or HEIs. Third-level qualifications are Levels 6-10 in the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ). The Framework is a system of 10 levels which allows national and international educational qualifications to be compared.

Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) has taken over the functions of the following 4 bodies: National Qualifications Authority of Ireland (NQAI), Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC), Higher Education and Training Awards Council (HETAC) and Irish Universities Quality Board (IUQB). Education providers can apply to QQI for an International Education Mark based on their compliance with the Code of Practice for the Providers of Programmes of Education and Training to International Learners (pdf).

University sector

Most universities in Ireland are State-funded, but they are generally autonomous. The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) is a private university.

The universities in Ireland are:

Technological sector

The technological sector includes technological universities (TUs) and institutes of technology (ITs).

TUs and ITs provide programmes of education and training in areas such as business, science, engineering, linguistics and music to certificate, diploma and degree levels.

There are 5 technological universities:

There are 2 institutes of technology:

Colleges of education

There are several colleges of education providing specialised training for primary school teachers.

Private colleges

In addition to the State-funded colleges, there are a number of fee-paying third-level educational institutions offering courses, mainly in professional vocational training and business. Some of these colleges are linked to universities or professional associations and their qualifications may be accredited accordingly. Others offer Quality and Qualifications Ireland accreditation. It is important to check out the accreditation on offer before you choose your course.

Picking a course

The Central Applications Office (CAO), which is based in Galway, operates a centralised applications procedure for all third-level colleges. The CAO website has a listing of all of the third-level courses on offer through their system. You can also check the Qualifax website for lists of higher education courses. If you have identified some courses that are of particular interest, you can obtain more detailed information about them from the relevant colleges.

Accessing third-level education

The points system

Entrance to third-level education in Ireland is generally decided by competition. At the end of their secondary school education, students sit the Leaving Certificate exam and their grades are converted into numerical points based on scores in their 6 best subjects. These points are calculated and third-level places are awarded on that basis. You can find more information in our document on applications procedures and entry requirements.

Recognition of qualifications from other countries

If you have taken your secondary school exams under another system in another country, you will need to check whether your qualifications will be sufficient to secure a place in the Irish third-level course of your choice. You can do this through the Qualifications Recognition Service. You should then contact the college directly to confirm this before making your application.

English language requirements

English is the language of instruction at all third-level colleges in Ireland (some colleges also instruct in the Irish language) so you will need to show that you are proficient in the language before you will be accepted on a course. Colleges’ requirements differ but generally they look for an acceptable English language proficiency test, for example the TOEFL or equivalent. You may be able to take English courses at the college of your choice, but if these are not available there are a number of private English language colleges around the country.

Mature students

A small number of places are retained for mature students, those over the age of 23. These places are designed to improve access to third-level for adults who may not have sufficient points from their Leaving Certificate to compete with school-leavers. If you are interested in applying for one of these places, you should first contact the college of your choice. Some colleges require you to apply through the Central Applications Office and you must apply before 1 February of the year you start your course.

There are a number of part-time and modular courses and distance education options available if the full-time education option does not suit your circumstances.

Student visas and permission to remain

British students

See ‘Residence rights of UK citizens’ for more information.

Non-EEA students

Non-EEA nationals coming to study in Ireland must be enrolled in an eligible full-time course listed on the Interim List of Eligible Programmes (ILEP) for student immigration purposes. You can find out more in our document on the immigration rules for non-EEA students.

If you are travelling from a country that requires a visa to enter Ireland, you need to apply for a student visa. If you are not required to have a visa to enter Ireland, you do not need a student visa to study in Ireland but you should have your letter of offer of a place at the school, or educational institution and your other documentation ready for inspection at immigration.

All non-EEA students must register with their local immigration officer to get permission to remain in Ireland. The website of the Immigration Service Delivery (ISD) has details of what evidence is required. Non-EEA students coming to Ireland for the first time may not get permission to remain in Ireland if they have their children with them, or intend their children to join them later on. There is more information about the children of non-EEA students on the ISD website (pdf).

EEA students

Students from the EU/EEA and Switzerland do not need a student visa nor do they require permission to remain in Ireland.

Third level graduate scheme

Non-EEA students who have graduated with a Level 8 degree may be permitted to remain in Ireland for 12 months. Those with a degree at level 9 or above may be allowed to remain for 24 months. The Third Level Graduate Scheme allows them to find employment and apply for a General Employment Permit or Critical Skills Employment Permit. They must be legally resident in Ireland. Under the scheme, they should apply to their local immigration registration office and, if they are granted permission to remain, they will get stamp 1G.

Tuition fees

Each higher education institution sets its own tuition fee rates. In general, they also charge a separate student contribution. You should contact the ones you are interested in to find out what they require. You can find a list of higher education institutions on the website of the Department of Education and Skills.

Free fees: If you are an EEA or Swiss national and you have been normally resident in the EEA or Switzerland for at least 3 of the 5 years before beginning third-level education, you will not be charged fees for approved full-time undergraduate courses in State-funded universities and institutes of technology. Other people such as those with refugee status may also be eligible for free fees. You may be eligible for a maintenance grant. Funding is not awarded where students already hold an undergraduate degree or are repeating a year.

EU fees: If you are an EEA or Swiss national who is not eligible for free fees or if you have been tax resident in the EEA or Switzerland for a number of years you may be eligible to pay fees at EU rates.

Non-EU fees: If you are applying for a place at third level as an overseas student and you are not eligible for free fees or EU fee rates, you will be charged full tuition fees and you will not be eligible for a maintenance grant.

If you choose to enrol in a private college, you will have to pay fees. These vary from college to college.

You can find more detailed information in our document on third-level student fees and charges.

Tax relief: You may be able to claim tax relief on third-level tuition fees.

How to apply

Apply to the Central Applications Office (CAO) using a CAO application form. Make sure that you enclose the appropriate fee with your application.

For participating higher education institutions, application can be made on-line through the CAO.

Application deadlines for EU/EEA nationals

Your application should be submitted by 1 February of the year you wish to start the course.

If you miss the February deadline, you can submit your application up to 1 May. You will have to pay an additional "late fee".

Application deadlines for non-EEA nationals

If you are now, or have been in the past, resident outside the EEA, you may be required to apply directly to the higher education institution (HEI). You need to contact the admissions office of the HEI to enquire whether you should apply through the CAO or directly to the HEI.

You should make your enquiries well before the closing date. If you are applying to any other HEI you should apply through the CAO.

Further information

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: 6 July 2023