Applying to University

Find out more about the many routes into university, whether it be DCU or elsewhere.


There are a wide variety of ways to access higher level education. The CAO, DARE and HEAR schemes and accessing higher education as a mature student are some of the most common ways of getting into university. Learn more about these routes in this post.

application form

Central Applications Office (CAO)

The most common way of getting into third level education in Ireland is through the CAO. This is based on Leaving Certificate examination results. Achieving the required number of points qualifies the student for the course of their choice.

The CAO Application Process

You can apply to the CAO online at Before starting your application, it is advised that you read and understand the CAO Handbook, which can be found here. This will guide you through the application process and give you more information on supplementary admissions such as DARE and HEAR. Your SNA or guidance counselor will be able to go through this with you.

You can watch a video on the CAO process here.

How does the system of CAO offers work?

In the first round of offers, students are offered the highest preference on their CAO Application to which their points rating entitles them.

Once they have been offered their highest choice, the student is excluded from further consideration for any course which is lower than the place offered.

The student may still be eligible for a course of higher preference if a place becomes available later on. 

There are a number of options available to the student if they are not offered their first course choice in the first round of CAO offers. These include:

  • Offer of another course choice further down the CAO list
  • Offer of a similar course at a lower level
  • Offer of their preferred course choice in the second or subsequent rounds
  • Offer of their preferred course choice on successful appeal of Leaving Cert Results
  • Additional available places coming available through the CAO website
  • Other options outside the CAO

When an offer arrives, you should read through the offer and instructions carefully. To accept the offer, you will need to log into the CAO system using an access code and password and submit acceptance of the offer.

Supplementary Admissions

There are other ways that students with a disability or specific learning difficulty can get into third level education. These are called supplementary admissions. Colleges who accept students through supplementary entry schemes realise that a student’s disability may have put them at an educational disadvantage at school.

There are 4 steps to completing the Supplementary Information Form (SIF): 

  1. Complete and submit your Personal Statement (Section A) before the deadline.
  2. If you wish to be considered for the DARE scheme you must select ‘Yes’ to the question ‘Do you wish to be considered for DARE’ on Section A before the deadline.
  3. Download Section B – Second Level Academic Reference as this form must be completed by the appropriate teacher in your school. It needs to be downloaded, completed and returned before the  deadline.
  4. Download Section C – Evidence of Disability Form. This must be completed by the appropriate medical professional (only if you do not already have a report verifying your disability which meets the DARE criteria). This must be returned by post to the CAO  before the deadline.

Students with a specific learning difficulty must provide an educational psychologist report with up to date attainment scores, undertaken within the last three years by your school, or an educational psychologist. 

The Disability Access Route to Education (DARE)

The Disability Access Route to Education (DARE) is the most common way that students with a disability or specific learning difficulty apply for 3rd level courses.  You submit your application with your CAO form. Students on the autism spectrum automatically qualify. A student who applies to college through DARE may enter a course up to 12.5% below the standard CAO points requirement. 

For more information on DARE click here.

To find out more about applying to DCU through DARE, click here

The HEAR Scheme

Higher Education Access Route (HEAR) is a college and university scheme which offers places on reduced points and extra college support to school leavers from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

Eligibility for the HEAR Scheme

HEAR applicants must meet a range of financial, social and cultural indicators. To be eligible for the HEAR Scheme, you must meet Indicator 1 Low Income plus a specific combination of two other indicators.

The indicators are:

  1. Income (you must meet this indicator)
  2. Medical Cards
  3. Means-Tested Social Welfare Payment
  4. Socio-Economic Group
  5. School
  6. Area

Children in Care of the State / HSE / TUSLA can also apply for the HEAR scheme.

To find out more about HEAR, including the combinations that allow you to take part in the Scheme click here.

What are DCU’s Entry Requirements for the HEAR Scheme?

  • Be eligible for HEAR.
  • Meet DCU’s minimum entry requirements: Grade H5 in two higher level subjects and Grade O6 in four ordinary or higher level subjects including Maths and English or Irish.
  • Meet any specific entry requirements of the course you are applying for.
  • Achieve a minimum of 300 points in the Leaving Certificate.

DCU allocates up to 10% of first year places on ALL courses at reduced points entry to students entering through the HEAR/Access DCU routes. 

To find out more about applying to DCU through HEAR, click here.

Applying to University as a Mature Student

DCU has a diverse student body and strongly encourages applications from mature candidates who wish to study towards obtaining a third level qualification. Mature students are those aged 23 years, or above, on 1st January in the year of entry.

Mature students have a wealth of knowledge and experience with which they make a valuable contribution. DCU adopts an ethos of lifelong learning and is continually working towards wider entry routes for mature students in order to increase participation of adult learners.

How do I apply?

All mature candidates (presenting with EU/Non EU qualifications) applying on the grounds of mature years should apply ONLY through the Central Applications Office (CAO), www.cao. Please see special mature application procedures below. This replaces the old supplementary form.

In the case of mature applicants, ‘other’ experience, apart from performance in examinations, may be taken into consideration – this may be work experience, further studies, or other such experience deemed to be relevant to the application. For some programmes it may be necessary to meet specific educational requirements, such as Leaving Certificate Science for science based programmes or higher level mathematics in the Leaving Certificate for engineering programmes. Depending on the programme, mature applicants may have to attend for tests/assessments or interviews, which are generally carried out in March/April each year. Applicants will be contacted directly with further information. The University will inform applicants of the outcome of their application however, official offers will be issued by the Central Applications Office (CAO) in early July.

Additional information and links

If you would like to learn more about DCU’s Autism-Friendly University Project you can click here.