There's more than one way to get there...
Generally speaking, there are two different approaches to studying abroad. One is to use a program provider – any third party that facilitates admission to a foreign university, helps with housing, offers orientation programming and perhaps some cultural programming, and makes sure that credit transfers back to the U.S. Think of the University of Iowa as a program provider. The second approach is for the student to apply directly to the foreign university. There are pros and cons to both strategies.
Studying abroad through a program provider usually results in a higher level of student services than those received through independent enrollment. The program provider usually shepherds the student’s application through the admission process, acts as an intermediary between the student and the foreign university, advocates on behalf of the student as necessary, helps secure housing, provides pre-departure and on-site orientation, often schedules some cultural activities or excursions, often has staff in country to trouble-shoot if problems occur, and guarantees that credit will transfer back to the U.S. institution granting the student’s degree.
Using a program provider may cost more than independent enrollment, because of the higher level of student services provided (see above paragraph). On the other hand, sometimes program providers receive tuition reductions because of the volume of students going to a particular university; and those tuition reductions can be passed on to the student.
Some program providers essentially set up American-style classrooms at locations overseas, and house all study abroad students together in private apartments or in a building owned by the provider. This results in less cultural immersion than might be desirable.
Applying directly to a foreign university as a non-degree, “visiting” student can result in some cost savings and usually guarantees a high level of cultural immersion because the student is taking classes that any other degree-seeking student at the institution is taking, and usually lives in dormitories with host-nationals and other international students.
Independent enrollment requires a high degree of initiative. Students must take responsibility for the application process, arrange housing, and attend orientation programming provided for all international students at the foreign university. There are usually fewer student services provided at Irish universities than at U.S. ones. Some Irish universities are very well set up to accept applications directly from overseas visiting students. It is to their advantage to make the application and housing process easy to manage, because visiting non-degree students represent income for the university, which can charge much more tuition to study abroad students than it can to degree-seeking students. Some Irish universities haven’t quite caught on to this yet, and their administrative structure for the admission and housing of non-degree students is disorganized. The process can be frustrating and slow.
In short, applying directly to a Irish university has certain advantages (a cost-savings, mainly) and some challenges. It is best to compare the pros and cons of using a provider to independent enrollment and talk to a study abroad advisor in the Study Abroad office before making a decision about which approach is right for you.