NCI Blog

CAO Applicants: Your Guide to the DARE and HEAR Schemes

Posted by Andrea Leyden on 27 February 2023

DARE and HEAR Schemes for CAO Applicants

National College of Ireland takes part in the DARE and HEAR access routes. These are higher education admissions schemes for Leaving Certificate students (under 23) applying through the CAO whose economic or social backgrounds are underrepresented in higher education or whose disabilities have had a negative impact on their second level education.

What is DARE?

Disability Access Route to Education (DARE) is a supplementary admissions scheme for school leavers with disabilities.

Applicants to DARE can present with an Irish Leaving Certificate, A-Levels and/or other EU qualifications. DARE offers reduced points places to school leavers who, as a result of having a disability, have experienced additional educational challenges in second level education.

What types of disabilities does DARE consider?

  • Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Autistic Spectrum Disorder (including Asperger’s Syndrome)
  • Blind/Vision Impaired
  • Deaf/Hard of Hearing
  • Developmental Co-ordination Disorder (DCD) – Dyspraxia
  • Dyscalculia/ Significant Numeracy Difficulties
  • Dyslexia/ Significant Literacy Difficulties
  • Mental Health Condition
  • Neurological Condition (including Brain Injury and Epilepsy)
  • Physical Disability
  • Significant Ongoing Illness
  • Speech and Language Communication Disorder

Visit the DARE website to learn more about this scheme.

What is HEAR?

The Higher Education Access Route (HEAR) is a third level admissions scheme for school leavers from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

HEAR applicants need to meet a combination of eligibility criteria to take part in the scheme, these include:

  • On or below the HEAR income limit
  • A medical card
  • Means-tested social welfare payment
  • Socio-economic group
  • School and area

Visit the HEAR website to learn more about this scheme. 

What are the benefits of applying for these schemes?

Reduced points

If you apply to DARE or HEAR and meet the eligibility criteria, you may be offered a place even if you do not have enough Leaving Certificate points for your preferred course. National College of Ireland, along with other participating colleges and universities, has a number of reserved places for DARE and HEAR applicants. However, those students would still need to meet the minimum entry requirements.

For example, students applying for the BA (Hons) in Business NC009 through DARE or HEAR may meet the reduced points requirement, but they will also need to achieve a grade H5 and above in two higher level subjects together with a minimum of o6/H7 in four other subjects. A minimum of grade o6/H7 must also be obtained in English and Mathematics.

Enhanced College Supports

If you get a place through DARE or HEAR, you will receive a variety of academic, personal, and social supports while at college. These include:

  • One-to-one meetings with the student support team to support you with the transition to college
  • Extra orientation session
  • Financial assistance where available
  • Extra supports such as Occupational Therapy and Learning Support

Application Timeline

You can download the relevant handbook for more details:

See the timelines for both schemes below:

DARE Application Timeline 2024


HEAR Application Timeline 2024

Note that students can apply for both the DARE and the HEAR scheme if they meet the eligibility requirements set out by the CAO. Visit the FAQ page for DARE and the FAQ page for HEAR if you have queries about these schemes that are not included in the handbooks. 

Have questions about the supports available for these students at NCI? Come along to one of our CAO Open Days taking place in 2024 to speak to our Student Support Team.

*This blog post was originally published in February 2023 and was updated in November 2023.

Topics: CAO