English Language Requirements at Third Level in Ireland

English Courses and Exams

Ireland: English Language Requirements at Third Level

Posted 13 December

Why choose Ireland to study an undergraduate course?

Ireland is now an established popular destination for foreign undergraduate, post graduate and research students due to a number of factors, which saw the international student body here grow to over 44,000 in 2019, according to the Irish Times newspaper. The contributing reasons are as follows:

  • Ireland’s Universities and third level institutions are currently placed, on average, in the top three per cent of universities worldwide with some in the first one per cent. Their degree and post graduate qualifications are recognised and highly respected globally for their research and practical applications.
  • Irish universities and third level institutions are proud of their reputation for welcoming, helping and integrating international students into academic and cultural life here. Foreign students’ skills are prized and a welcome addition to our growing economy and cosmopolitan culture.
  • Over 100 countries now have student representation in Ireland (Irish Universities Association, 2020) and that number seems poised to increase. Obviously, the feedback has been very good.
  • Many International students return after completion of their undergraduate programmes to complete masters, PHDs or research programmes, and are highly sought after by International companies based here and abroad.
  • Irish Universities and third level institutions have career officers who are finely tuned to the needs of business and industry in Ireland and work tirelessly to provide international students with positions that suit their qualifications.
  • The island of Ireland has two major cities and several smaller ones, The latter have some fine third level institutions and are becoming ever more popular with both Irish and international students. Galway for example, is traditional yet multicultural, safe and vibrant with a wide range of employment possibilities. The Galway Business School is a great example of a third level institute which offers undergraduate and post graduate courses, as well as English preparation and refresher courses for those who require them.
Exam Preparation Class GCI

Exam Preparation Class GCI

What do International students need to study at a third level institution in Ireland?

Well, that depends on what you wish to study as there are two main factors taken into consideration. First of all, you need to have the relevant academic qualifications or scores in particular subjects to be accepted on that course. Once that hurdle has been negotiated, the question of your ability to express and understand a sufficient level of Academic English is measured according to the qualifications in English that you possess. This essentially means you have to have an appropriate score in an approved English language examination, for example IELTS, which then entitles you to be submitted for registration.

Foreign applicants who have previously been enrolled on, or examined through English on an undergraduate or post graduate course in countries where English is the official language are usually allowed an exemption. However, it might be worth undertaking a refresher course in Academic English if you have not been living in an English speaking country. For non-national domestic students, third level entry can also be granted via an Irish leaving certificate sat entirely through English.

It is very important to take into consideration that English language certification is usually required for a visa application by the Irish Immigration Services if you are a non-EAA/Swiss National and wish to study for the duration of your undergraduate of post graduate course.

So, for many international students who have the desired points for third level entry in Ireland, English certification is the main challenge to secure registration and often requires professional preparation to achieve that academic level of English.

IELTS: The most popular certificate requirement at third level in English speaking countries

IELTS is currently the property of the British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia and Cambridge Assessment English.

IELTS is the acronym for The International English Language Testing System, Which has been developed and designed to enable non-native English speakers to work, study or migrate to countries such as Ireland, the largest native speaking country in the EU as well as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the USA and UK.

The assessment process involves testing your listening, reading, writing and speaking in Academic or General English, which is graded on a scale of 1-9. It is worth noting that Academic IELTS is generally accepted for all entry to third level institutions in the aforementioned countries. However, General IELTS is usually for migration and visa application purposes only, and not sufficient to register academically.

The Growing Importance of IELTS

As mentioned previously, being able to demonstrate your ability to communicate in English at a high academic level is key to successful application and registration at an Irish third level institute.

English speakers are now the third most numerous on the planet, which includes three members of the World’s most powerful economies. The language itself, is widely recognised as the international language of commerce and trade, travel, entertainment and even diplomatic negotiations. A good example of the latter is the EU, who still negotiate cross table in English, despite the UK’s withdrawal.

A high level of Academic English not only permits you study in a native speaking country such as Ireland, it also enables you to work at a higher level and integrate more confidently into the community you are based in. These English language experiences serve as a platform for future professional development and open up far more opportunities due to the high regard in which IELTS is held.

The IELTS Requirements for Third Level Entry in Ireland

Undergraduate courses in Ireland usually require a minimum of 6 overall in Academic IELTS, but in some cases this can be as high as 6.5. For post graduate and research courses 6.5 is the average overall score required, rising to 7 in some cases such as Medical studies and certain research programmes.

Only scores from 6-9 have been included to show what third level institutes expect and require. 

Sourced via: https://www.ielts.org/

Alternative exams which may be acceptable equivalents to IELTS

There are a number of other noteworthy examinations which are often accepted as equivalent to IELTS for third level entry to an Irish or other international English speaking third level course.

The following are an example of a current list of some of the qualifications accepted in some, but not by all Irish institutions (Check with your course provider first!)

Test Scores Equivalent 

Please note that the concordance table below is a guideline only. 

When a student presents with another English language test score we will occasionally ask them to complete our online test and based on these results the student may be asked to have an interview with one of our language teachers to assess their language abilityWhen making admission decisions, we also consider other factors like high school results/GPA, work experience, other English test scores, recommendations, or interviews. 

As a best practice, it is advisable to check the test providers websites for accuracy as they might conduct periodic reviews of score requirements.








Cambridge English Scale









94 - 101

79 - 93

60 - 78

46 - 59

35 - 45











105 - 110

95 - 100

85 - 90

75 - 80

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CEFR Levels







Language Cert

C1 Expert  (33-37)

C1 Expert  (25-32)

B2 Communicator   (38-50)

B2 Communicator    (33-37)

B2 Communicator    (25-32)

B1 Achiever   (35-50)

As you can clearly see there are a wide variety of acceptable qualifications in English for potential applicants. However, Academic IELTS is the most commonly sought after qualification by third level institutions where courses are delivered through English. Galway Business School and its sister school Galway Cultural Institute offer both undergraduate, post graduate and English preparation courses in Cambridge and of course, IELTS Exam Preparation courses, to ensure the highest potentials are achieved by international students.

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