Study options in Europe for school-leavers

The February 1 deadline for the CAO has passed, and with it comes great relief to many households. While, in many ways, the CAO process is extremely fair, it can mean that students must achieve extremely high Leaving Cert grades to access some of their chosen courses. For those who have passion in a particular area, but are concerned they may not achieve the points, there are other options.

Courses with high points here often easier to access in Europe. In Ireland, points are dictated by supply and demand. Many European universities accept candidates who meet a minimum standard in their school leaving exams – but insist on students meeting high academic standards to continue in their courses of study without the safety net of repeat exams.

A large number offer courses designed specifically for international students and are taught through English. This may be in the areas of business, medicine, veterinary, science or psychology, to name a few. These institutions often rank higher on the world university rankings than Irish universities. As a result any student who feels adventurous enough to travel abroad to pursue their dream course can find a world-class education.

So what is the cost? In reality it may be less than one might first presume. As EU citizens, Irish students are entitled to the same supports in the country in which they choose to study as students who are citizens of that country. Many countries offer free fees: for example, the four Scandinavian countries, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland. Other countries charge much lower fees than Ireland. Most countries offer student loans or grants and Irish students may apply and be considered for any funding available. In addition, if a student qualifies for a SUSI grant they can take this grant to public programmes in Europe. There is the cost of travel and accommodation but students will find that the cost of accommodation in most European cities is often no greater or less than the cost in Irish cities.

Some European countries have been actively recruiting in Ireland: universities from the Netherlands have had an increasingly significant presence at career events in recent years. An event will be held in Cork on March 10 for anyone interested in finding out more about studying in Dutch system, with an opportunity to speak to Irish students who are currently studying in the Netherlands. Applications can be made to Swedish, Denmark and Dutch programmes in March or April depending on the country and course. Some places may also be available during ‘available places season’ this summer. More information on opportunities to study in Europe can be found on

Question: My son is interested in doing a particular course, which we have been told is a waste of time. What do you advise?

Aoife replies: The most important part of choosing a course is to select a subject area that you are passionate about. Some courses have better career opportunities than others but I believe the biggest factor in achieving success is the person themselves and not the course they have done.

I suggest that your son speak to the college and ask them where their graduates work and what they do after they have completed this course. All universities conduct follow up research on employment rates and further education of their graduates. Hopefully this will put your and your son’s mind at ease. It is also important to remember that Level 8 degrees are a gateway qualification, which allow graduates to access a wide range of postgraduate qualifications, therefore even if your son finds that he has limited employment options after his Level 8, it is easy to diversify in a short space of time with postgraduate study. Aoife Walsh, Irish Independent

Author: Francis O' Toole

Francis O' Toole is a Educational Psychotherapist & Guidance Counsellor. I set up this blog page to help students gain as much information as possible to be able to make right choices and decisions regarding their career options. I believe that we will be very successful in our careers if we follow what we enjoy.

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