Survival Guide

Transitioning from second to third level – my advice

Whether you head straight from school to college or take some time before starting at uni, there’s no doubt that the transition from second to third level education will always be daunting. We spend the first 18 years of our lives being spoon fed information in a protective safety bubble, only to be ripped from it after the Leaving Cert and thrust full force into the ‘real world’. It’s never an easy thing to do.
The first hurdle you meet when starting college is the dreaded CAO form. The common misconception is that the CAO is the determining factor in how successful your college experience and graduate life will be- hint; it isn’t. The CAO is a framework for trying to create a fair system of allocating the limited spaces available in different courses. Don’t stress about picking the course with the ‘best’ career outcomes; if you enjoy something and are good at it, then you will find a way to make it work for you.
A common issue with picking courses is that some people choose the same course as their friends because they are afraid to step away from their comfort zone. It’s key to recognize that no two people are the same, so what works for your friend won’t necessarily work for you. College is a time to find yourself and discover your own strengths; don’t be held back by the fear of being alone, don’t just follow the crowd, pick a course you would love to do.
One of the most important parts of starting this new milestone is to meet new people, so be a chameleon. Open up your mind to new experiences and allow yourself to form new opinions. Those who are on the same course as you are generally there because they have similar values and interests as you, so be brave and interact. Events during Fresher’s Week are designed to be icebreakers and to help you settle in and meet new people; make the most of them. After Fresher’s Week, the workload will start to pile up and it might be harder to make time for meeting new acquaintances.
Be adventurous. It’s a terrifying concept for some but once you get over it and open yourself up to new experiences, you won’t look back! Joining clubs and societies are the perfect opportunity to make friends in a friendly and less intimidating environment. Societies can also offer an outlet for when you’re feeling the pressure of your course load. Take advantage of the opportunity to de-stress with society activities; be it volunteering, gaming, music or whatever floats your boat. There’s a whole world of people like you in college, don’t be afraid to say hello!
Be organised. One of the most important aspects of succeeding in college is good organisational skills. Plan out your time and make sure that you make yourself aware of deadlines so that you don’t leave yourself in a desperate 24-hour marathon to finish an assignment you forgot about. Take notes in lectures (duh). Most lecturers will post notes to your student portal after lectures but some will also leave some out to try to encourage lecture attendance and reward those who make the effort. College isn’t like school and you won’t get a slap on the wrist for missing a lecture; at the end of the day, professors get paid regardless of whether you show up or not but it will come back and bite you when you don’t achieve the grades you wanted. Who really wants a summer filled with repeats and studying? Give yourself the best shot, do it for you. At the end of the day, you’re the only one who benefits from a good degree and on the same token, you’re the big loser if you don’t.
Lastly, be honest with yourself. If you find that you’re struggling to juggle your course load, social life, job, etc. then take a step back and re-evaluate what is most important. Do the best that you can do for yourself but give yourself some time to enjoy your time at university! Most people only have that one chance at a college experience, don’t spend it stressing over juggling too many responsibilities. If you’re finding it hard to settle in, pay a visit to one of your elected Student Union Members. Usually, there will be a welfare officer there to help you with any concerns or problems you have; they’re former students so trust me they will understand!
Make the most of your time in college. You’ll spend the rest of your life working & loaded with responsibility, so take advantage of your college years and you might find that they’re the best years of your life!