Going into my final year of college in Dublin City University (DCU) was never going to be easy for me. However, with the COVID pandemic, it has meant massive changes for how I will be studying towards my degree, engaging in societies and making the most of my final year before I decide my future after that.
My new learning experience
I remember when the colleges decided to close. I was in a workshop the day before and knew that it could happen, but never thought they’d close anywhere near as quickly as they did. It meant all my lectures after reading week would be on my laptop. Presentations changed into essays and trying to stay on top of college work was more difficult than it had been. I’m more used to this style of learning now, but looking at the year ahead, I feel I have to start studying and getting into a routine already just to ensure I’m prepared for the first day back.
I am now expecting only nine hours of lectures on campus, for a half a day every three weeks, with the rest being online. I’m still paying full fees of three thousand euro despite less physical services on campus. At the moment, I do not know what days I will be on campus or have to attend Zoom lectures as our timetables are only being given to us the week before college begins. This is impacting many students with part-time jobs as they have no certainty on when they can work.
It has also meant that due to changes in my degree, all of the marks I get this year will fully decide my grade, instead of thirty per cent coming from my grades last year. This is frustrating as I worked hard last year and spent a lot of time studying. This now puts significant pressure to get up to speed on modules when I start in October. While I have used September to get a routine, I do not know how this will work in practice when lectures and coursework actually starts back.
Getting involved in college life
Being on two society committees, one of them as vice-chair, and trying to organise events with physical distancing is incredibly difficult. Thankfully, the college Clubs & Societies have helped move things online, such as registering society members and they are supporting us to increase our online presence as it’s difficult to organise physical events.. But there is a lot of worry and uncertainty, both for societies and college life in general. Needing to have COVID safety officers and worrying about “enhanced safety measures” in Dublin creates uncertainty and confusion for us all.
It has also meant changes such as having to pre-book slots in the library as well as remotely collecting books. A limited library space means that when you don’t have lectures, it can feel that you have to go home with no spaces to go on campus. While I am relieved I live close to college, it creates a dilemma for students who have to commute over longer distances for only a short time on campus. For some people, this might mean they’re unable to get involved in any society or club activities. It’s worrying to think of the possibility that hours could be cut further if more COVID restrictions come in.
While it is good that college events are happening again, the lack of interaction between my classmates as well as in societies have meant my mental health has taken a toll and has left me feeling more lonely. I’m sure plenty of other people are feeling this way, as it’s tough to have proper chats with people online. I think it’s important that everyone is aware of the supports that are available for anyone struggling this year.
My advice for new college students
For incoming first years, I would urge you to join societies that are smaller as you will feel more valued and are more likely to have physical events, as well as running for first-year rep to get to know how college societies work. It can help to try to talk with as many classmates online or offline in the first few weeks as possible.
Most of all, despite the temptation to catch up on powerpoints, do attend online lectures when they happen. It’s an opportunity to ask questions to lecturers in real-time which is crucial to understand topics, staying focused at home and doing the best you can in college work, as well as balancing college life.