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Subject Choice for the Leaving Certificate

Selecting the right subjects for the Leaving, and the level at which to take them, is a critical task faced by 60,000 second-level students every year. The wrong choice here can have unintended consequences in two years' time, when students find paths into college are blocked by not having the right subjects required for entry into their chosen course. There are good reasons why students tend to have a science subject and a third language in their arsenal and, as you will find if you read on, there are no "soft" options on the Leaving Cert exam.

Career Choices 

When considering which subjects to take, remember this decision will have long-term consequences on what careers are open to students. A decision to drop all science subjects or continental languages will have major implications on the range of careers available later.

The same does not apply to business subjects, as most business courses teach all subjects with the presumption that students know nothing. If a student is making subject choices and has not yet decided what career they wish to follow after school, it would be advisable to keep options open by taking a science subject and continental language from among their four optional subjects.

The Most Important Piece of Advice

A grade O6/H7 or greater in maths is required for entry to many college courses. Some 5,000 students each year now choose foundation level maths. There is a growing number of colleges and courses that offer places to students who secure a minimum of a grade F1 or F2 in maths at this level. Points may also be awarded for Foundation level maths for admission purposes (20 points for F1 and 12 points for F2) . Always check with individual colleges. Whatever you do over the next two years, don’t neglect your studies in this subject.

To view all available subjects click here.

Frequently asked Questions

How many subjects should I take, and at what level?

School generally offer the option of studying seven subjects. The best six grades, achieved in one sitting of the Leaving Certificate or its equivalent, is used to calculate the point score for entry purposes to college courses.

If taking more than one ordinary level paper from the beginning of the two-year Leaving Cert programme, students may want the option of having six higher-level papers for points purposes. This can only be achieved by taking an extra subject either inside or outside school. Students need to be very careful before considering this option. There is no such thing as an easy higher level paper and every subject requires considerable time commitment and effort on your part. Eight subjects are a major undertaking. If the additional subject is being studied outside school, you must factor in the time spent travelling to and from such a grind. All this time and effort eats into the time available to work on the seven subjects you are studying in school.

Should students take on extra subjects outside school?

If there are timetable restrictions that make it impossible for students to take a subject they particularly enjoy, they could consider taking it outside school, provided they factor in an appropriate amount of study time to cover all other subjects. Alternatively, they might consider changing schools at the beginning of fifth year, to ensure getting their desired subject choices.

What happens if I do not take higher level irish?

Apart from ruling out several honours degree programmes which have Irish as a core entry requirement, the main consequence of dropping higher level Irish is that students are precluded from studying to be a primary school teacher in any of the education colleges.

What happens if I do not take higher level maths?

There are many Level 8 degree programmes you can’t take if you don’t get a minimum of H4 or above in higher-level maths, such as engineering, computer science, science, information and computer technology courses and most degrees that include maths as a core subject.
If students are interested in courses in any of these areas, you could start your third level journey with a two-year higher certificate programme, which will require a grade O6/H7. Provided you secure a minimum of 60 per cent in your various examinations, you can then progress on to ordinary degree level, and from there, to an honours bachelor’s degree. This entire process may add only one or two extra years to your studies, over and above those who secure a place on an honours bachelor’s degree programme, immediately after their Leaving Cert.

What happens if I do not take a language other than Irish and English?

The National University of Ireland (NUI) colleges require a third language for entry to many of their courses. (See college listing at In recent years, NUI colleges dropped the third language requirement for engineering and science programmes.

This year, NUI approved the removal of the third language requirement for Maynooth University’s Business, Accounting, Finance and Law degree programmes. For entry 2017 and subsequent years, a third language is not required for any of the MH400 and MH500 degrees; namely MH401, MH403, MH404, MH405, MH407, MH411 as well as MH501 and MH502.Nursing at NUI colleges never required a third language. UCD has dropped it for their agricultural programmes. A third language must be included for arts, human sciences, law, social science, commerce, medicine and health sciences and some other degrees.

UL, DCU and the Institutes of Technology do not require a continental language for entry to most of their courses, apart from those which involve the study of such a language.
A modern language is also a requirement for entry into the cadetship in the army or air corps.Trinity accepts Irish as a second language requirement.

What’s the easiest subject in the leaving cert and what’s the hardest?

No Leaving Cert subject is easy, but studying something they are really interested in will make it seem easier and as a result they will probably get higher marks in it. If students dislike a subject, they will have to work harder to achieve a good grade, and your motivation would need to be strong.

What combinations of subjects work?

Students should attempt to select a balanced range of subjects that will leave your further and higher education options open for as long as possible. Most students study Irish (unless exempted), English and Maths. A large majority of students also study a continental language, or for those students coming originally from outside the EU, a native language approved by the State Examination Commission.In selecting the remaining three subjects, students should consider what third level courses they might be interested in when they leave school. If you have specific courses in mind, check that your subject choices and levels match the entry requirements for these courses. [go to the CareersPortal CourseFinder, select your chosen courses using the filters provides, and follow the links to Qualifax or the College Website to find the detailed entry requirements].Website to find the entry requirements].
Students may also want to check what courses they may be excluded from if they take or don't take a particular leaving cert subject. You can find this information by looking at the Third Level Entry Requirements section in each of the Leaving Cert subjects Listed Here.
Unless they have a specific career or course interest that is guiding your remaining subject choices, it is advisable is to spread your final three choices across the entire spectrum of business, scientific, humanities and practical subjects. You should also be mindful of the results of previous examinations and aptitudes test results when making these choices.

Read about college entry requirements here

Source: Careers Portal