What can I do when I finish secondary school?

A guide to your options when finishing school and moving on to further education or work

Written by spunout


If you are finishing school after the Leaving Cert or as an early school leaver, it can be difficult to know what your next step should be. However, there are plenty of options out there for you, and it’s worth taking time to consider all of them before you make up your mind.

When making a decision about what to do next we can rarely be 100% certain that it will be the right choice for us, so if you choose a course or career after school that doesn’t turn out the way you expected, remember that you can always change your mind. Experience and time will help you to find the right path for you.

Further study after secondary school

Finishing school doesn’t necessarily mean an end to study, and this is the case whether you want to go straight into further education or if you decide to take a break. If you are considering continuing with your education, you can choose between a post Leaving Certificate course or going on to college.

Post Leaving Certificate (PLC)

A PLC allows you to gain more knowledge and experience in a certain field or subject that you’re interested in, without having to commit to a three or four year degree. A PLC course usually lasts one to two years.

PLCs are generally targeted towards a specific job, and normally have an element of work experience built in to give students first hand experience of working in their chosen career. The rest of the time is spent building knowledge and training for your subject of interest.

A PLC is a good option for people who do not feel ready to progress to third level education yet, or who are unsure of what they might like to study. There are plenty of options open to you when finishing a PLC, including entering the workforce and moving on to third-level education.

PLC courses can equip you with enough knowledge to join the working world or can provide a stepping stone to further education. If you plan to move on to college, doing a PLC gives you a chance to decide if you are really interested in the course, before you commit 3-4 years to it.

Learn more about PLCs.


Many students go straight on to college when they finish their Leaving Cert. Going to college is a big milestone for a lot of people, and it can be an exciting time. There are hundreds of courses to choose from all over Ireland, and you could even talk to your guidance counsellor about studying abroad. Remember to consider all of your options when applying to college and approach it with an open mind.

Find advice on how to choose a college course, and remember to consider all of your options when filling out the CAO.

If you need financial assistance to go to college, look into the SUSI grant and find out if you’re eligible. You can also look into access schemes such as HEAR or DARE. HEAR offers support to students from disadvantaged backgrounds by offering a college place on a reduced-points basis, and DARE is a scheme to support students with disabilities in accessing higher education.

Doing a traineeship or apprenticeship

If you’re not sure about taking a course, but you would like to gain some new skills, you could consider taking on some training, such as the SOLAS Traineeship Programme or becoming an apprentice.

SOLAS Traineeship Programme

A traineeship programme combines education and training with workplace coaching. While parts of the traineeship will be in a classroom setting, the opportunity to receive coaching in the workplace means you can also gain knowledge and experience on the job. They can offer you a chance to build your skills, make connections in the working world, and give you better opportunities for employment. If you learn better through doing, a traineeship is a good option for you to consider.

Traineeships are run by SOLAS and the ETBI and are available to everyone, including those on social welfare. There are traineeships available in lots of areas, including business, retail, care, hospitality, sports, leisure, and fashion. There are 30 traineeship programmes currently on offer across the country, and you can find the full list on Traineeship.ie.

Depending on the traineeship programme you choose, once finished you will gain a Level 4 – 6 qualification.


An apprenticeship is a programme which combines on-the-job training in the workplace and off-the-job training in an education centre.

The on-the-job training helps you gain experience in your chosen craft and find out if you would like it as a career. This training takes place at the employer’s workplace or at off-site jobs.

The off-the-job training is classroom learning that is required to make sure you have the correct knowledge and skills for the workplace. This training normally takes place in a SOLAS training centre or an educational college.

An apprenticeship generally lasts for 4 years.

Apprenticeships in Ireland are managed by SOLAS and the Department of Education and Skills and employers.

Learn more about becoming an apprentice.

Getting a job after secondary school

If none of the options above seem suited to you, then do not worry. There are many people who would rather go directly into the working world than continue on in education.

If you feel this is the case for you, we have lots of information on everything you might need to know for finding a job. For access to this information, visit our employment section or use our employment tool to find the right path for you at SpunOut.ie/Compass.

You could also consider working abroad. Eurodesk help young people find opportunities for learning, volunteering, or working in Europe.

Remember, whatever you choose, you can always change your mind if you find out that it wasn’t the right path for you.

Need more information?

Would you like more information? Maybe you would like to talk through your own situation? Get in touch through our online chat system for 16 to 25 year olds – Monday to Friday 4pm to 8pm.

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