Are Tertiary Degrees the right choice for your teenager?

by | Feb 22, 2024 | Teen support

When I was a teenager leaving school, we had few options to get qualifications but this is changing with the recent introduction of Tertiary Degrees.

Back then, we could go to university to study for a degree or an RTC (Regional Technical College) to do a ‘Cert’ or a Diploma in our chosen field. We could do nursing or accountancy which had their own stand-alone pathways (like an apprenticeship). Or, indeed, an apprenticeship for a trade. Otherwise, it was work if you were lucky to find a job or most likely emigrate.

New pathways

These days, the pathways are much more diverse, yet modular. Any government funded training is guaranteed by the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) scheme. You can see that each course is given a level. For example: Level 5 is awarded for one year Post Leaving Cert (PLC) course after secondary school or Level 8 for an Honours Degree. This means that qualifications can be stacked until the student gets to the level that is right for them. They can also gain a range of qualifications including Honours Degrees or higher through the Apprenticeship system.

However, despite the diversity of pathways available to students, mindsets within society have remained very focused on university qualifications. Parents tend to see them as the only acceptable route to a “good career”. And our entry system onto those courses in universities is so brutal. It’s based on a system where Leaving cert grades are converted into points. Places on courses are allocated to those with the most points. That means for the most popular courses, demand exceeds availability therefore pushing points required to get a place into the stratosphere. If you don’t get the points, that’s it. No place. Or pushes you to take a course you might not want so much. This in turn makes teenagers have to study very hard with huge pressure to get the points they need for the course they want. Until now!

Tertiary Degrees

Well actually, last year, 2023.

As a pilot scheme, Tertiary degrees were introduced in 2023 as a way to reduce the pressure on Leaving Cert students. And what’s brilliant about them is that they are outside the Central Applications Office (CAO) where all Leaving cert results are processed and university places allocated. These new degrees are a lot less stressful and much easier for students to get the qualification they desire.

Image of students walking into college wearing backpacks

Credit: Photo by Stanley Morales:

So how do they work?

Simply put, they are a combination of a PLC and a university degree course. The student applies for to their local participating College of Further Education for their course. By meeting the minimum Leaving cert grades required and passing an interview, the student can access the course. The student studies at the local college for 1 or 2 years after which they get awards of Level 5 and 6. The students can then progress with automatic enrolment to the collaborating university for the final element of the degree.

And no CAO points in sight! Yet they are fully linked to the QQI framework in terms of quality of the qualifications. They have been designed for those from less well off families in mind to reduce the financial burden of third level education. And the courses are aimed to close the skills gap in Ireland such as Nursing, business and IT skills among others.

This year in 2024, the scheme was expanded to include more courses in engineering and science and to include more participating colleges and universities.

The hope for 2025 and beyond, more universities, especially the traditional ones, will come on board to further expand the offerings in these new degrees. And here’s more good news…


In the long-term, these new type degrees will benefit everyone. Even those who want to continue studying in a more traditional and academic route. If more people choose the new tertiary degrees, they themselves will have less stress than trying to compete for CAO places during their Leaving Cert year. And those who wish to still use the CAO for entry into traditional universities, they will have less competition and therefore points for a lot of those places should fall to more reasonable levels.

What’s more, your teenager will be only one of twenty students in the class which enables the lecturers to give each student more attention. And after each year of study, the students get an award so if they have to withdraw earlier than planned, they will still have a qualification to help gain employment.

If you think a Tertiary Degree is the right route for your teenager, check out the National Tertiary Office website. You will find all courses are listed there. Your teenager will have to apply directly to your local participating College of Further Education. But bear in mind that entry requirements differ between courses and not all courses will be available near you.

So good news all round! I’m sure these will be a brilliant choice for your teenager.

Chat soon,

Helen xx

About Me

Find out more about me here and my careers coaching programme for teenagers here.


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