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The basics
Ireland: Applying to University - Must read

How to apply to study in Ireland

If you want to apply to study in this beautiful country, you need to know the how, when and what you need to apply. Read on to answer these questions and much more.

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With its picturesque scenery and dynamic cities, it’s no surprise that Ireland holds plenty of appeal to international students. With the added benefit of free undergraduate tuition for EU students, for many the decision to study in Ireland is a simple one.


In this article, we explore the application processes for universities in Ireland, giving you all the information you need to understand how things work and what you’ll need to do


Understanding the higher education system in Ireland




Ireland is home to seven universities. Here, students can obtain prestigious Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees and doctorates often more cheaply than in many other English-speaking countries.


Perhaps most famous are Dublin’s universities, where students get a world-class education whilst enjoying the vibrant city lifestyle. But if life in a capital city doesn’t appeal so much to you, there are plenty of other options – universities in Cork, Galway and Limerick also offer excellent study programmes.




For a range of more vocational courses, you can also apply to one of Ireland’s colleges of further education. Studying at a college often works out much cheaper than undertaking a course at university and you’ll come away with a certificate or diploma rather than a degree. This can look great on your CV/resume, especially if it’s directly related to the career path you want to take.


Important application deadlines


In Ireland, the academic year typically runs from September to June. Depending on where you study, the institution may run on a semester or trimester basis with holidays over the Christmas and Easter periods.


EU undergraduate applications


EU citizens should apply to study at the undergraduate level through the Central Applications Office, known as the CAO. This offers a centralised application service, meaning you won’t have to apply through individual university portals. You can usually start your application as early as November if you want to.


The CAO lists two main deadlines:

  • 1 February – normal deadline
  • 1 May – deadline for late applications (you will have to pay an additional fee for this service).


Non-EU undergraduate applications


You’ll need to apply for your course directly through the university’s international office. Each university will have its own process and deadlines so we’d strongly suggest you check these well in advance.


Postgraduate applications


All postgraduate applicants should apply directly to the graduate studies office or the international office at their chosen institution(s).


In some cases, if you’re a non-EU citizen, you may also be able to apply through the Postgraduate Application Centre (PAC), though you should check in advance that your chosen university is listed there before you start your application.


Again, because all universities have different processes, we’d highly recommend you check deadlines and requirements well in advance.


English language requirements


If your first language is not English, you’ll need to be able to prove you can speak and understand English well enough that you won’t struggle with learning on your course.


As a minimum, you’ll be expected to have a level of English equivalent to an IELTS overall score of 6.0 to 6.5 (with no less than 6.0 in any one component). Some courses may also have further requirements.


IELTS and TOEFL are the English language tests most widely accepted, but once again, we’d recommend that you check with the university you’re applying to as other tests may also be recognised.


Academic requirements




Irish universities set their own academic requirements, usually on a course-by-course basis. For an undergraduate course, you’ll need to have finished secondary school and have obtained some sort of certification equivalent to the Irish Leaving Certificate. The specific grades you need will depend on your course. At the postgraduate level, depending on what course you’re applying for, you’ll need to have a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree (or equivalent) already.


You don’t necessarily need to have the grades at the time you apply, but it’s likely you’ll be asked to provide evidence that you’re expected to receive them before the start date of the course.


Admissions and aptitude tests


If you are applying to study medicine in Ireland, you’ll need to sit the Health Professions Admission Test (HPAT).


You’ll need to achieve a minimum of 480 points in the HPAT (in addition to meeting any other requirements of your chosen course) in order to be considered eligible for the study programme.


For graduate medicine courses, you’ll need to sit the Graduate Medical School Admissions Test (GAMSAT). You can find the top medical schools in Ireland in this linked article.


Important application documents


You’ll normally be asked to supply some documentation alongside your application, so it would be sensible to have electronic copies of these ready to submit. Remember, for any document not in English, you’ll need to arrange for an official translation.


Commonly requested documents include:

  • academic transcripts (if you do not yet have your exam certificates) and/or exam/qualification certificates
  • English language test results
  • a copy of your passport or another valid identity document
  • reference letter(s)
  • CV/resume (for some postgraduate applications)


Before you start your course, you will also need to provide your university with a copy of your student visa. Read our article about applying for a student visa in Ireland.


Personal statement


One part of the application process to Irish universities that you’ll want to make sure you do well is writing a personal statement. In this letter, you’ll have the opportunity to really stand out.


Write in a professional, but personal tone, and tell the university what makes you individual and unique, where your strengths and interests lie and what you can offer them by becoming part of their community.


Reference letters


You will also need to ask a teacher or supervisor to supply a reference letter. This should be a written recommendation detailing your academic ability, work ethic and general suitability for higher education.


If you are applying for a postgraduate degree, you can choose to submit a professional (non-academic) reference if you wish, particularly if you have not been in the education system for some time. If possible, try to ask someone who will be able to really explain why you would be suited to the specific course you’ve chosen, for example, someone senior in a relevant industry.


The application process


How you apply to university in Ireland depends on where you are from and what level you are applying to study at.


EU undergraduate applications


If you are an EU citizen hoping to study for an undergraduate degree in Ireland, you should apply using the CAO portal.


When you have registered with the CAO, you’ll be provided with an application pack and handbook which will provide details on how to apply to every course listed.


When you’ve registered and opened the online application form, you’ll need to fill in some personal details, select the course(s) you’re applying to and attach all the relevant documentation. You’ll also need to pay a fee of EUR 40.


Non-EU undergraduate applications


If you are not applying from an EU country, you’ll need to contact the international office at the university you’re applying to. They’ll be able to explain their application processes for international students.


Because universities all have different systems, requirements and deadlines, we’d recommend you make contact up to a year before your anticipated start date. You’ll need to pay a fee for each application you make – usually around EUR 50.


Postgraduate applications


If you’re applying to a postgraduate course, depending on the institution, you should apply to either the graduate studies office or the international office of your chosen university. They will either handle your application directly or may request that you submit it using PAC.


If you are requested to submit your application over PAC, you’ll be given clear instructions on how to do this, but it’s still worth allowing yourself plenty of time to familiarise yourself with the platform.


The fee you’ll pay for each application is usually around EUR 50.


Non-EU students at all levels: In some cases (based on the country you’re applying from), universities may insist you use an agent for your submission, so make sure you read through their requirements before you begin.


What happens next?


The institution(s) you have applied to will contact you to let you know if you have an offer of a place. They may request you attend an interview before they extend an offer, particularly if you’ve applied to study at the postgraduate level.


If your offer is marked as ‘conditional’ it means there will be some requirements (for example exam results) that must be supplied before you can start the course. When you’ve received an offer, you’ll need to make a start on your student visa application.


Finding accommodation (especially in university-owned residences) in Ireland is known to be a competitive process, so you’d be wise to research and apply to properties as early as possible. Find out more about how much it costs to study in Ireland.


Top application tips


Here are three tips to help you with your application:

  • Attend some university open days (if you have the opportunity). These will give you a feel for the institution and the city, helping you to get an idea of whether it’s somewhere you’d enjoy studying.
  • Make use of international offices. The staff there will be able to answer questions and offer guidance.
  • Accept any help you’re offered. Teachers or trusted family members may have some great insight into your personal statement.