More people opting for business degrees as their first choice

Invest in your future with one of the many business degree programmes on offer

On average, one in every six applicants to the CAO seeking a college place in a level 8 higher degree lists a business degree programme as their first choice, second only in popularity to arts.

There is even greater demand at ordinary degree and higher cert levels, where the numbers seeking a business qualification rises to one in three applicants.

Post-Leaving Certificate (PLC) level business courses are hugely popular with students, either as a route back into the CAO, or as a means of starting a career journey in a business environment.

A quick search on the website identifies 204 CAO level 8 courses with business, commerce, accounting or marketing in their title.


It is clear from the range of business course options available at all levels and subject combinations that there is a wider choice of options in the area of business for prospective students of every level of academic ability than in any other area of study.

Why opt to study a business programme at CAO levels?

A typical level 8 programme will be delivered in modules offering subjects such as accounting, economics, organisational behaviour, management theory, maths, statistics and information and communications technology (ICT).

Many degree programmes such as business and management at TU Dublin offer a year on a work placement in companies operating in all the key business sectors from financial services, pharmaceutical, retail and ICT to consultancy, or a year abroad in another university.

Where the degree programme includes a language, such as NUI Galway’s commerce (international with French), a year abroad will be spent in a French university, where lectures and other academic activity will take place through that language.

Some universities such as DCU have specific global business degree programmes, in partnership with universities in other countries – France (DC112), Germany (113), Spain (114), USA (116) and Canada (119) – where the country in which they will study for a year is selected by the student on their initial CAO application.

From a student’s perspective, the option to attend some of the top business schools in the world for a year – where their classmates will have paid annual fees of $40,000-$50,000, the €3,000 registration charge, or nothing in the case of those who secure Susi grant funding – is very attractive.

There are many colleges which offer specialised business degree programmes. The Institute of Art, Design + Technology (IADT) in Dún Laoghaire, for example, offers level 8 degree courses in Business Management, Entrepreneurship and a new course, launched last year, in Digital Marketing.

Practical and hands-on, courses are 80 per cent continuous assessment and 20 per cent exam-based. The focus is on work-based learning, and students complete practical projects linked to real business scenarios. What make these courses unique are the small class sizes, the individual attention students receive and the business experience of the teaching staff.

IADT also offers a postgraduate diploma in business in Cultural Events Management at level 9, addressing the specific needs of the cultural and creative industries. The programme is aimed at those seeking employment as cultural events managers, working with an events management company, or being a freelance cultural entrepreneur or specialist manager within cultural industries.

The National College of Ireland was originally the College of Industrial Relations, and it continues to offer degrees specialising in the field of human and industrial relations, alongside accounting, finance and business degree programmes.

Business graduates will come to understand all the key functions within businesses such as human resource management.

PLC business programmes

Many of the business degree programmes in our top universities requiring the highest CAO points reserve up to 10 per cent of places on these prestigious programmes to students progressin g on from Level 5 or in some cases level 6 programmes offered through the local ETB college.

I noted recently that six business PLC level 5 students in Blackrock Further Education Institute (BFEI) secured and took up an offer through the CAO of places on BESS in Trinity in September 2020, proving that Further Education (FE) can open up places on the most prestigious courses to students who may not have excelled across all their subjects in the Leaving Cert, but secured high grades in their business programmes.

Many universities have come to realise that students who may have secured good-to-average Leaving Cert results, but who excelled in business subjects, can – after completing a PLC programme in Business – often outperform their high-CAO-points former peers when they progress into the prestigious business degree programme, through the Further Education (FE) reserved places route.

If you are interested in seeking a place on one of the business degree programmes where the points pass the 500 mark, but will not secure CAO points in that range, then explore the business programmes on offer from your local FE college.

The costs associated with these options are modest and are locally based, thus avoiding accommodation and maintenance expenses.

What skills will business graduates acquire during their studies?

Business graduates will come to understand all the key functions within businesses such as marketing, accounting and finance, human resource management, ICT etc.

They will also develop a set of generic skills which they can apply throughout their working lives in any career area. These will include analytical ability; communication and presentation skills; goal-setting; leadership skills; numeracy; problem-solving; teamwork; and time management.

As students progress through their business programme, they may decide to focus on business management or management consultancy, or opt to specialise in areas of accounting, economics, leadership practice, innovation and enterprise.

Advertising, public relations, retail management, sales, banking investment or financial services or marketing will also be options.

Where can I research my course options?

Third-level colleges and private business school are all accessed through the CAO application process. Details of all courses are available on

Video and online profiles of those working in a wide range of business roles are freely available on the website, which will show prospective students where their course may ultimately lead them.

How do I decide which courses to apply for?

Happily, unlike other areas such as science, there is no requirement on commerce applicants to have studied a business subject for the Leaving Cert, so this option is open to all.

Another positive factor is the fact that there are suitable courses for every applicant, from those who secured passes in five ordinary-level papers in the Leaving Cert to those who got 625 CAO points.

Adults who may not have ever sat the Leaving Cert can access business programmes at introductory levels and progress upwards to graduate and postgraduate levels over time.

The key is to know your own competencies – better to start at a level 6 higher cert programme and progress up through the qualifications ladder than to attempt a level 8 course beyond your current level of competency and fall at the first fence.

Postgraduate options

The Master’s in Business Administration (MBA), along with over 200 other level 9 master’s programmes, opens up the opportunity for business graduates and those from other disciplines who may choose to pursue a business programme at the end of their undergraduate studies or in early to mid-career.

These programmes are highly regarded by employers and are particularly suited to those considering seeking management positions within their field of interest.

In many business master’s programmes, there is no requirement to have secured a level 8 degree in the area in question. Graduates from a diverse range of disciplines –in the sciences, engineering, the arts and humanities to name but a few – have progressed their careers through a business postgraduate option.

Brian Mooney

Brian Mooney

Brian Mooney is a guidance counsellor and education columnist. He contributes education articles to The Irish Times