Third Level Education and the Mature Student
Third-level education is becoming increasingly accessible to adults on both a full-time and a part-time basis.
Mature Student Places
Third-level colleges reserve a small number of places specifically for mature students who want to participate in full-time day programmes.
If you are 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, however, so it is likely that you will still have to compete with your peers.
*Generally,you are considered to be a mature student if you are at least 23 years of age on January 1 of the year you enter your course.
If you are interested in a particular college you should check 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 everyday and, you will be assessed in the same way as the other students on your course.
However, if such a model does not suit your lifestyle, 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 in bursts when it is most convenient for you. It has the obvious drawback that it will take longer to complete than a full-time course, but it also 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, which 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.
The UCD modular B.A. degree is a good example of this. If you get a place on this programme you will be expected to attend between 5-6 hours of lectures, seminars and tutorials a week. Each module involves approximately 120 hours of tuition, which is equal to 30 credits. You will need 240 credits to gain your B.A. degree.
The term "distance learning" covers a wide range of learning programmes that take place away from the physical presence of the classroom and the tutor. If you participate in a distance learning programme, it is likely that you will use a wide range of packaged materials and media throughout your course. These could include tapes, videos and the Internet.
Some courses organise periodic classes where students come together for a day, a weekend or a week at a time, in order to study intensively.
Generally, you will need to have completed your Leaving Certificate. 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, in general, the 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). 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.