College Drop out Rate in Ireland

by | Nov 30, 2023 | Teen support

Recently, I came across a report regarding the college drop out rate. It’s a scary topic that parents may not want to think about it but it is worth giving it some consideration. First of all let’s try to prevent it and secondly in the future, if it comes to your door, here’s what you can do about it.

What are the numbers?

According to the Higher Education Authority (HEA; the governing body for universities in Ireland), 9% of 3rd level students do not progress into the second year of their courses. They acknowledge that there are many reasons why this happens but there is one statistic that remains constant. Male students who have the lowest academic record (ie, lower CAO points) are the largest group of those who don’t progress. This is irrespective of socio-economic background, course or other factors.

Graph showing college dropout rate in Ireland by Leaving Cert Points level compiled by the Higher Education Authority

Credit: Higher Education Authority

The non-progression rate for Level 6 and Level 7 courses was double that (16 & 18%) respectively) to Level 8 courses (8%)

And the reasons?

Unfortunately, the data from the HEA does not give reasons. But in another national multi-year survey (Student Survey), the students highlighted financial, personal or family reasons for considering dropping out. This does not surprise given the current cost of living and housing crises in Ireland.

But why do so many males with lower education attainment drop out compared to any other grouping? And this group has remained as the largest cohort to do so over the years before housing and inflation became significant problems. My view is that this group are less likely to have the desire to self-direct for study and sit exams. It’s not just a suitable career path for them.

Which brings to mind then, not only career choice as being critical but also the pathway to that career. Finding something that is most suitable for the individual to flourish in. If it’s not full-time study, then maybe an apprenticeship is better. Or working for a few years first to grow up further and find themselves in the world before returning to education as a mature student.

What can we do?

First of all, the good news is the college drop out rates have been decreasing since 2015-2016 from 13% to 9% (under 23 years). But, I believe more can be done by schools and parents to ensure that their teenagers are choosing the right career and pathway for them.

In Irish society, we seem to have a college-only view as a pathway for our children. However, the apprenticeship system has been thoroughly overhauled and restructured, ensuring apprentices complete with a recognised qualification on the National Framework of Qualifications. And a whole host of new apprenticeships are continually being introduced from Level 5 to Level 10. You can check out the website here.

4 upstanding arrows showing pathways to a career.

An alternative is to work in paid employment without a formal qualification. This can seem scary for some parents as the teenager is likely to only get minimum wage. But it is a start! And we tend to forget that teens can find their thing and get professional qualifications through the workplace. For example, professional Drivers with CPC qualifications are always needed and those with specialist chemical handling skills are very scarce and in high demand.

My teen/young adult has dropped out, what will I do?

Pause, take stock, help them work out their next step. A good mindset is key! Take the view that nothing is wasted. Your young adult maybe feeling a bit burned and lost but take the time to evaluate their skills. Maybe take a job locally to give them something to keep them busy but allows them to think about their future. Consider the various pathways above to see if something more suitable is available. Get them to talk to family, friends, or a professional who may be able to suggest other options that have not been considered before.


Your teenager is unique and has their own set of skills. They may be very intelligent yet not suited to academic study. Or they may have average intelligence yet can work very hard to get good grades. You need to view them as they are. Encourage them to follow their passions in a way that suits their abilities. Most parents say that they only want what’s best for their kids and to be happy. Giving them time to find the right path for them is giving them what is best.


About me

I am a Careers Coach for Teenagers and Young Adults. You can learn more about me here.

I coach teenagers to choose their future careers – Learn more about my programme.

I run online courses for parents to help them support their teens through the Leaving Cert year – find out more here.

Image of Helen Dillon Careers Coach for Teenagers


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