Choosing a CAO College

header1.jpgPutting CAO colleges under the spotlight

Yes, there are rankings for Irish Universities, but like any chart rankings – sometimes the gems don’t make it to the top. Here at, we decided to try to highlight the best Universities in Ireland, whilst looking to the ‘not so obvious’ colleges and what they have to offer. Of course, colleges do have a bearing on course choice and all one has to do is look at the points differences between similar courses in different HEIs to see how popular one college is over another. Yes, when choosing a college, to pursue your course of studies, there are a number of factors you should consider and keep in mind in the decision making process. Going with the flow of popularity or because your friends are going there – well, isn’t that wise a move. Research has shown that students who do their research on colleges and courses, are less likely to drop out in first year.

There are many criteria to address when searching for the college that suits your individual needs but lately another obvious factor comes into the play – the recession. The cost of living in a particular city might not be an option if you are solely dependent on a college grant to survive. Ironically, in comparison, going to a certain college at a geographical distance from your home might ensure you get a grant. Choosing a college that happens to be situated in a popular tourist destination or one that is extremely popular with students – is going to ensure accommodation and living is going to be on the expensive side.

So what should you consider before picking your college? (not all on this list will be relevant to your requirements)

  • What are the number of contact hours for lectures and tutorials?
  • Is there a work placement (if desired)?
  • Is it possible to spend a year abroad (Erasmus)?
  • Is there a tutor/mentor system?
  • The size and location of the college
  • Library Facilities
  • Sport Facilities
  • Clubs and societies
  • What are the support services available?

So, how do you go about choosing the college for you? If you were going to book into a hotel for three to four years – the chances are that you would go onto their website – and delve into their gallery and facilities section. Then you might go onto Trip advisor to read reviews from other guests. So, the same research should go into choosing a college for you. Firstly, it is important to know yourself and reflect on what you want from a college and what is important for you before you embark on your research. For example, some prospective students need to live in a trendy city or live in the capital to feel they are alive – yes there are those of us who need a city buzz like others need oxygen. Whilst others might crave intimate college campuses and settings in scenic locations.

Do ask friends what they think, but don’t follow friends to a college of their choice. You might be close, but let’s face it; we all have different tastes and needs at the end of the day. Branching off the beaten path and moving out of that comfort zone of ‘old friends’ might be a good thing.

Some college applicants also choose colleges according to sports and interests that are important to them whether recreationally or competitively. There are numerous societies and clubs that will enhance your lifestyle or development and add to your college experience.

However, when it comes down to the line, the course you choose is essentially important and you being employable at the end of it. Therefore, make contact with past students and look up the college prospectus. The course co-ordinator is easily contactable by email. Some students pick a course and fail to look at the entire course content. A course title might be endearing but its’ content might not be entirely what you are looking for or what you are able for. RESEARCH! Look also at college’s connections with industries/businesses relevant to your course/career of interest.

The below colleges stood out for us, for a number of different reasons: location, campus, commitment to student well-being, research, innovation – yes, some colleges ticked all the boxes, whilst others excelled in some of these areas. There are a lot more colleges that should have made it to the list – but that is another article for another day!


Dublin City University is a young university situated on an 85 acre campus, only 15 kilometres away from the Dublin Airport. The University was founded to meet national requirements for a highly skilled workforce in the areas of science, engineering, communications, business, and languages. The University emerged with lot of innovative ideas, broke traditional moulds and came to be known as an ‘unconventional university’. Today, the University is known worldwide for its academic excellence.

DCU graduates are highly sought after by employers. A 2011 survey of our most recent graduates (those who graduated with a degree in 2010) demonstrated that nearly 90% of those who responded to the survey were either in employment or in further study. This is a very high percentage and much higher than the national average measured across all Irish universities. A key factor in the success of their students on graduation is their INTRA Internship Programme, where students gain relevant, paid work experience as part of most of our degree programmes. They also run a Generation 21 programme which aims to shape their graduates into rounded individuals who are Creative and Enterprising, Solution-Oriented, Effective Communicators, Globally Engaged, and Active Leaders.

Their recently announced ‘DCU Online’ initiative will introduce on-line elements and technology-enabled learning enhancements to most of our degree programmes over the coming years, thereby ensuring that DCU students experience the cutting-edge of learning developments.

DCU also caters for those students who want a campus to deliver on entertainment outside of the lecture theatre – and with over 100 Clubs and Societies along with The Hub Student Centre; there is no shortage of opportunities for excitement and entertainment. Yes, there is a real buzz around this campus, which features multiple bars, restaurants, bright, modern campus residences, and the world-renowned Helix theatre.


Dundalk Institute of Technology has undergone enormous change over the last five years. These changes are most visible in the transformation of the physical appearance of the campus, most particularly with the Wind Turbine, the T. K. Whitaker building, the Nursing and Health Studies building, Faulkner Student Services building and further expansion to the Regional Development Centre. The new ‘Black Box’ theatre’, opened in 2007, is a welcome addition to performance venues in the Institute.

Dundalk Institute of Technology is a 90 acre modern day campus situated between Dublin and Belfast (each approximately 50 miles away). Of course, US Company, PayPal, recently gave Dundalk town a massive endorsement by their announcement to create a new centre in the town, employing 1000 people. Good news for the graduates of this institute as well!

Along with the Institute expanding physically, the range and level of the programmes offered has been extended.

There are four Schools in the Institute as follows:

  • School of Business and Humanities
  • School of Engineering
  • School of Informatics, Music and Creative Media
  • School of Nursing, Midwifery, Health Studies and Applied Sciences

While the Institute continues to offer programmes in areas that it has traditional strengths such as Engineering, Science, Technology and Business, it has also more recently diversified into Humanities, Arts, Music, Social Studies and Health. The Institute has also grown its research capability in line with developing programmes at honours degree and postgraduate degree level. There are now research centres in the following areas:

  • Entrepreneurship
  • Software Technology
  • Smooth Muscle
  • Renewable Energy
  • Freshwater Studies

This Institute recognises the importance of students getting involved in clubs and societies.  Their Student Activity Awards is acknowledgement of this. Their awards night is to recognise students, staff and or individuals for their involvement and contribution to Student based activities at DkIT. The awards, which is a Black Tie event is held every year in late or early April. They also actively run various awareness weeks – including: Fitness For Life, Health Awareness and Sexual Awareness Week amongst others.

This is an holistic Institute with an awareness of students’ needs. They are extremely pro-active in ensuring that students’ needs are catered for, both inside and outside the lecture hall.


Now to NUIG, the university, that opened its doors to 60 students in 1845. Today it is an award winning, internationally recognised university, catering for the educational needs of 17,000 people. First up, it is hard not to mention the fact that NUIG has an unrivalled and enviable location. This university is a few minutes walk from the Galway City Centre; you travel over the Cathedral Bridge and take a right down a leafy walk-way and you are on campus.

NUIG recently was awarded a 5 Star rating awarded from QS – the World University
Stars Rating System. Three Irish universities competed for the first ever global university rating system and NUI Galway joins University College Cork in securing the overall five star rating. NUI Galway was rated five out of five overall, receiving maximum ratings in several key areas, including research, teaching, internationalisation, facilities, engagement and innovation. We decided to see for ourselves why NUIG deserves five stars. Since the University opened the doors of the Quadrangle in the nineteenth century, the campus has always been developing to accommodate ever-increasing numbers of students. From the majestic Arts Millennium Building to the Marine Science Institute, and the Cairnes Graduate School of Business and Public Policy, Galway’s large campus and buildings reflect the many disciplines and students that are catered for. The campus offers high class facilities for teaching and research and a wealth of amenities for a rich and fulfilling student life. Students can take part in many sports and recreational activities in the Student Centre. There are 82 student societies and 41 sports clubs. The on-campus Sports & Leisure club adds to NUIG’s attractive campus, where the old meets the new in a friendly, laid back campus atmosphere.

NUI Galway has a distinguished reputation for teaching and research excellence in the fields of arts, social science, and Celtic studies; business, public policy and law; engineering and informatics; medicine, nursing and health sciences; and science with an excellent Adult Education Programme on offer to prospective adult learners. The University’s approach to innovative programme development means that courses are developed to reflect the ever-changing needs of the job market and the economy.

Unique courses include:

BSc Marine Science

BSc Podiatry

BE/MEng Engineering Innovation

BE/MEng Sport and Exercise Engineering


Research at NUI Galway is global in scale as they are recognized as world-leaders in their particular areas of expertise. Their research strengths include Biomedical Science and Engineering; Environmental Science, Marine science, Human rights law, Internet technology, digital humanities, social gerontology, child and family research.

The recent 5 star rating is indeed a realistic testament to this vibrant and innovative National University.

Tralee IT

Tralee Institute of Technology is another CAO college worth putting the spotlight on. If you like the South West of Ireland, and you are picking a CAO college, Tralee IT has so much to offer, even if it is on a smaller capacity compared to larger colleges. Sometimes good things do come in small parcels after all!

The Institute’s two campuses are set amidst the beauty of Kerry – renowned for its culture, music, arts and heritage. Both of their campuses are walking distance from the town centre.  Many students who go there say this IT is extremely supportive from start to finish. Renowned for their friendly environment, this college has a team of students who act as mentors for all newcomers each year – to help ease that transition from secondary to third level.

Located adjacent to Shannon Developments Kerry Technology Park, the institute has fostered close links with companies based in the park. The campus has become a national role model and currently hosts a number of global companies and internationally recognised research centres. The Young Entrepreneur Programme and the Endeavour Programme are two initiatives which aim to instil a spirit of entrepreneurship in students.

Their courses are characterised by choice, flexibility and career relevance. What is great about this college, is that they offer a range of full-time and part-time courses from foundation level, through to certificate, degree, post-graduate and doctoral level. Therefore, offering a stepping stone to attaining qualifications. Even after one year, you can leave most courses and come out with a certificate if you don’t wish to progress further.

They also have a new library and Information Resource Building and the campus also features world class sporting facilities. Tralee IT have a policy of ‘Sport for All’. The majority of their sports teams now compete at the highest level in intervarsity sport. Even if competitive sport is not your thing – they have many recreational sporting activities that you will be encouraged to sign up to on ‘Clubs Day’. This college has a number of very active societies – including ultimate computer games, music, radio and film – to name but a few.

Whether you want to live it up in a city based University or escape to the south-west and enjoy picturesque scenery, whilst you study; one thing is for certain, there is a college type for every personality type. Knowing yourself first, will help you find the right college for you. Don’t become another statistic of early college leavers due to lack of research or becoming another story for Guidance Counsellors to tell. Many can relay stories of students picking a college first and then finding a course in that college that will enable them to go to that particular college or to live in a certain city. There are even stories of students not pursuing a particular desired field of study when it becomes apparent to them, they would have to leave what they believe is ‘the true capital of Ireland’!

Whatever decision you make – like all the other decisions we make in life – it should be an informed one. Have no regrets when it comes to your college of choice. Sometimes regrets cost money and time.