How to make the most of your time in college
It's natural to be nervous about starting college, but there are things you can do to enjoy yourself more in college
As we roll on into August, I’m starting a new volunteering role in university. I will be one of three coordinators of the First Year Mentoring Program in NUIG. With that, I am really aware of the upcoming Leaving Cert results and CAO offers, accommodation scrambles and everything else that comes with this new chapter.
While it seems scary, daunting and a big change, I think it’s similar to the jump from primary to secondary school. New place, new people, new teachers – it’s the same from second to third level. Every year, thousands of students do it and don’t look back.
I did my Leaving Cert in 2016 and started university that same autumn. Now, I’m going into my fourth and final year of my degree. If I told the story like that, it would seem pretty straightforward. For most, it really is. You go to uni, you hang out with your friends, you go out, you do your exams and you graduate. But that’s just the bullet points. I see university as all about filling in the blanks – in your academic skills, in your personality and in your passions and other interests.
Third level is the place where a lot of people come out of their shells and really become themselves. It’s the place to meet new people, try new things, develop, learn, volunteer and more. University provides people with a fantastic platform to dive headfirst into adulthood and independence. While the classes and degree is probably what most people go for, the social aspect is probably equally important. In my opinion, I think the development of a person is more important than the education they receive.
For some, it’s time to leave home and for others, there’s a bit of a struggle to let go of home. It’s your safe space, a place you know well and hopefully full of people you love to be around. It can be difficult to let go but embracing the change could be really positive for you. Nothing ever came from doing the same thing forever. The people you meet and opportunities from university can help you come on leaps-and-bounds.
These opportunities could arise from clubs, societies, your lecturers, your new friends, the volunteering page on your college website – wherever it is, there’s a great chance you can learn something from it and take onboard something from it. Especially early on, try make it your mission to see what’s going on and where on campus. Check out your clubs and societies days, check online, ask around and get involved. Nerves are a very normal response to these new situations. Many of the other new people will also be nervous so you’ll be in the same boat as everyone. Don’t let the nerves discourage you from trying something new. Early on in college, you’ll have more free time on your hands than towards the end - use it!
Being away from home it can be very easy to get caught up in it all. Lecture, gym, lecture, tutorial, run home, eat, club. It can help to learn to take time for yourself, both mentally and physically. You don’t have to say yes to everything. Sometimes a night in to relax, catch up on work or whatever it is can really do you some good.
As well as that, I found it helpful to check in with home. It might not occur to you, and you may never normally text your guardians, but I’m sure they miss you and would like to know that you’re well or what you’ve been up to. Drop them a text every now and then and figure out your new relationship. Some people become a lot closer with their families after going to university. It’s weird like that. Maybe they need a break from each other, to stretch their wings. However, wrapped up you are in your new friends or club, just remind home that you haven’t forgotten them. They’ll appreciate it more than you know.
For the majority of students, university is a great time. Unfortunately, things can and do go wrong. Hopefully they don’t, but life is never that easy! It could be something small like losing your bus fare, your student card, missing a class or something more serious like failing a module or struggling with a physical or mental health issue. It happens. It’s nothing to beat yourself up over. There are often supports in place to help you out. Your university’s Student’s Union can be a great help and resource. They can point you in the right direction and help you find other support services if needs be. There are often counselling, chaplaincy and doctors’ services on campus for students. Use these if and when you need to. That’s what they’re there for.
With other issues like failing a module, not enjoying and changing your course, deferring, dropping out, there are some great resources already on SpunOut.ie. My best advice is to understand that one, it happens, and you won’t be the last. Two, it doesn’t change you or make you any less of a person. Three, there is no rush! If I’ve learned anything about university it’s that there’s no rush to get out of it. I’m going into fourth year and I plan on doing at least another two. I know people who’ll be doing five or six years to get their degrees. Who cares? Really think, what is the rush? Who is rushing you? Enjoy your time!
So much is about to change in your life and for the better. This is the next big chapter for you. Dive in headfirst. It’s cliché, but if you let it, university can be the best time of your life. Have fun, be safe, look out for each other, and I may even see you around NUIG some time!