Up to 80,000 people will seek a third-level place through the CAO this year. Most of those will sit the Leaving Cert for the first time and will succeed or fail based on the points they secure in the exam.
However, a sizeable number of mature applicants – about 12,000 – will be judged on other factors. Their success will depend largely on the quality of their personal statement in the application, and the interviews they may be invited to after the February 1st application deadline.
These applicants, who must have been aged 23 on or before January 1st, have to apply for a college place through the CAO.
If you are thinking of applying as a mature student, you need to consider the kind of information colleges want in assessing your application.
This includes your highest academic qualification to date, any studies you are engaged in, any non-certified courses you may have taken, your employment or voluntary work history to date, English language proficiency (if applicable), any references you hold, your hobbies/interests and, most importantly, why you are interested in taking the course.
Admissions pathwayFor almost all course choices, mature applicants simply complete the online CAO application process, but there are a multiplicity of variations to this rule in colleges across the country (which are outlined fully at cao.ie/mature).
UCD, UL, NUIG and UCC have introduced a mature students’ admissions pathway for some faculties. This test takes place on on Saturday, March 5th, 2016. The fee this year is €75 per candidate during the registration period up to February 7th, 2016; it rises by a further €35 between February 8th and 21st, 2016.
For all applicants, including adults, it is important to research courses thoroughly before making applications to any college. There are lots of sources online (such as qualifax.ie and careersportal.ie). Many colleges also hold information events in the form of open days before the CAO deadline of February 1st each year. These are usually listed on the qualifax website.
Access and foundation courses also exist in many colleges. These aim to prepare people who are applying to higher education. You will need to check with the college to which you are considering applying to see if an access or foundation course is suitable.
Twelve colleges in the Dublin region have come together to produce a very useful set of supporting guidelines for mature applicants, which is also available at cao.ie/mature.
InterviewsDuring March and April, mature applicants may be called for an interview as part of a college’s assessment process of an application. Candidates typically find out if they have been successful in the first week of July.
Remember that it is normal to feel apprehensive about applying. I co-ordinated and lectured on an evening course in UCD for almost 20 years. The most tentative and insecure applicants were always the mature adults. Universally, they turned out to be the glue that helped the class bond and find their feet.
Their life experience provided them and their less mature classmates with invaluable resources as the two-year programme unfolded. As an adult, do not be overwhelmed by the prospect of returning to study. You will bring far more to the dynamic of your chosen course than you realise.
Your grades and LSAT score are the most important part of your application to law school. But you shouldn't neglect the personal statement. Your essay is a valuable opportunity to distinguish yourself from other applicants, especially those with similar scores.
You want to present yourself as intelligent, professional, mature and persuasive. These are the qualities that make a good lawyer, so they're the qualities that law schools seek in applicants. Talking about your unique background and experiences will help you stand out from the crowd. But don't get too creative. The personal statement is not the time to discuss what your trip to Europe meant to you, describe your affinity for anime, or try your hand at verse.
Best practices for your personal statement
1. Be specific to each school
You'll probably need to write only one basic personal statement, but you should tweak it for each law school to which you apply. There are usually some subtle differences in what each school asks for in a personal statement.
2. Good writing is writing that is easily understood
Good law students—and good lawyers—use clear, direct prose. Remove extraneous words and make sure that your points are clear. Don't make admissions officers struggle to figure out what you are trying to say.
3. Get plenty of feedback
The more time you've spent writing your statement, the less likely you are to spot any errors. You should ask for feedback from professors, friends, parents and anyone else whose judgment and writing skills you trust. This will help ensure that your statement is clear, concise, candid, structurally sound and grammatically accurate.
4. Find your unique angle
Who are you? What makes you unique? Sometimes, applicants answer this question in a superficial way. It's not enough to tell the admissions committee that you're an Asian–American from Missouri. You need to give them a deeper sense of yourself. And there's usually no need to mention awards or honors you've won. That's what the law school application or your resume is for.
Use your essay to explain how your upbringing, your education, and your personal and professional experiences have influenced you and led you to apply to law school. Give the admissions officers genuine insight into who you are. Don't use cliches or platitudes. The more personal and specific your personal statement is, the better received it will be.
Applying to law school? Use our law school search to find the right program for you or browse our law school ranking lists.
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