Entry routes to college

Find out more about applying to college in Ireland generally, and about the special entry schemes (such as DARE) that are available for students with disabilities or other conditions.



Once you have chosen which course(s) you would be interested in studying you need to make an application to your chosen college or university. Usually your application will need to be made through the Central Applications Office (also referred to as the the CAO).

If you have an official diagnosis of autism/Asperger’s/ASD you can declare this on your CAO form and you can then access the supplementary entry route known as DARE.

Do not worry that disclosing this information will affect your chances of gaining a place on your chosen course.

How could this affect me?

Knowing more about the application and admissions process will enable you to make the best choices for you and your circumstances. Understanding the supplementary entry routes on offer will allow you to have the best possible chance of gaining a place on a course.

As well as the DARE entry route, you may qualify for entry to college under other routes.

These routes include:


The Higher Education Access Route (HEAR) is a college and university scheme that offers places on reduced points and extra college support to school leavers from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds who are resident in the Republic of Ireland.

Applicants with a diagnosis of autism (and DARE eligible) and who also meet the criteria for the HEAR scheme are prioritised for reduced points places (see accesscollege.ie for more information).


Mature Students

In UCC, a mature student is someone who is aged 23 years or above on 01 January in the year of entry; who wishes to pursue a full-time undergraduate degree programme.

Find out more about applying to college as a mature student here.



Places are offered on certain courses to students presenting Level 5 or Level 6 FETAC qualifications. Find out more about this route here.

Other factors to consider:

Irish Exemptions

Some students with autism received Irish and/or language exemptions while in school. Students applying to UCC (and other NUI colleges) should check whether they need to apply for an Irish exemption. Find out more here.

First Year Change of Course

There is a mechanism in place to allow students who have started their first year to apply to change course (if they meet the requirements). This is subject to certain circumstances and is not always a possibility. Find out more here.

What to do next?

Remember you may be eligible to apply for a place through several different entry routes!

Practical tips

  • Check if you need to apply through CAO (in most cases you will).
  • Find out if you qualify for the DARE or HEAR schemes (or both) and what evidence you need to support your application.
  • Check when you should apply. Make a note of important deadline dates.
  • Once you receive an offer think about what type of supports you feel may be useful in college in preparation for your Needs Assessment (if you want to avail of reasonable accommodations).
  • Check if you need an Irish/language exemption if you did not study Irish for your Leaving Certificate.

Questions to think about

  • What is the application process for your chosen course?
  • What do you need to submit to support your application?
  • Do you need to provide evidence in the form of a portfolio of work?
  • When are the deadlines for applications?
  • When should you expect to hear if your application has been successful?
  • Who do you need to contact at your chosen university to discuss disability support?
  • Do you need to apply for an Irish exemption?

Additional information and links

You can find out more about the admissions process and DARE on the AHEAD website.

You can declare your autism as part of the registration process in UCC or contact the UCC Disability Support Service team directly.