Top tips for college newbies

Sorcha’s advice for flying the coop

Written by Sorcha Cusack


You’ve worked hard and you’re ready to embrace the college lifestyle you’ve dreamed of and rearing to play harder. Or are you apprehensive about moving away from home? Revved up to party mad and get a degree somewhere along the way?

Whatever your feelings are about flying the coop, a few tips to help you out can’t go astray. I’m a UCD student just finished my first year at college and being fresh from the “newbie” experience of university, here’s my top tips for surviving your first year at college:

Attend orientation

I know this seems like a fairly obvious tip, but it’s one that has to be stated regardless. Orientation days may seem pointless, given that it’s just someone showing you around college and technically people could do such a thing themselves. However do NOT take these days off. They are added to the calendar for a reason. It’s a lot easier to get a quick tour of where your classes will be with someone who knows the place inside out.

Aside from that, all questions can be asked there and then and you’ll be getting the tour with your future classmates. Orientation is your first chance to meet these people and get to know each other before the year ahead. I speak from experience when I say missing orientation will come back to haunt you at a later date.

I left my orientation day early and missed most of the initial “class bonding” formed from hanging out together on campus all day. I missed my library tour and although I knew where the building was itself, I had no idea where the section specific to my course was, how to rent out books, use the printers, etc. By the time I needed it, I was far too embarrassed to ask. Lesson learned.

Join clubs and societies

Clubs aren’t just good for making friends, they’re also brilliant for keeping a person active. Many sports teams have gym access, which not only saves you the cost of heading in yourself, but more often than not you’ll get priority times on the machines. They’re also an excellent way to keeping fit.

Societies are epic for following a hobby or passion and tend to involve weekends away, trips, etc. that can be partially subsidised by the society itself. They’re great for keeping a person busy when the college might otherwise be dead at the weekend and they help to prevent a person from becoming bored and getting homesick.

Recycle books

Within the first few weeks of college, you’ll attend lectures and slowly gain an idea of what college is all about. Then your lecturers will start telling you your booklist and things you need to succeed in the course. The problem with this is, most of the books and materials needed can be incredibly expensive – one of the books on my first year list cost €100 and I only needed it for one module.

The reality of this is, students just don’t have that kind of money to throw about, so don’t for one second believe that you’ll fail if you don’t buy a first-hand edition of the book asap. Most colleges have a student union second-hand bookshop, which will sell almost all the books you’re looking for at a fraction of the price. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, then go to the library. It will definitely be there and if somebody else already has it, put your name on the list.

No lecturer expects you to get the book within the first few days and when you do get your hands on it, you can take yourself off to the photocopier and photocopy the whole thing instead. It’ll still be about €40 to get a whole book done, but you’ll save yourself far more than that in the process.

Similarly, once you go into second year, you can sell all your books to the incoming first years and earn back the money you spent the year before. It’s a system that has been in place for years! So don’t burn them or destroy them once you’re done. You may just use that money to help you out once you make it to next year!


This I cannot stress enough. For most of us, college is the first time we’ve had to cook for ourselves, pay bills and essentially gain independence from our families. Universities try to help make this transition as easy as possible; many bills are included in the accommodation fees at the start of the year and most facilities will be near campus to stop you having to travel far for basic necessities.

It’s not these that cause financial pressure however – it’s finding a happy medium between eating a healthy diet, getting enough meals in the day and still being able to afford the nights out and the trips away. Budgeting, as dull as it may sound, is a must-do. It takes a while to get used to living on a reduced income and not spending all your money on clothes, accessories and socialising, but it’s possible.

Top tips? Do a weekly shop. You find yourself less likely to impulse buy at the college restaurant if you’ve food at home and you’ll eat healthier too if you have a well stocked press and not just pot noodle that you bagged for free during Fresher’s Week. Talk to your class rep about trips they’re planning – ask if you can pay in instalments (most do this anyway but since class reps will be new too, they may not think of this straight away).

If you know an event is coming up, put money aside for it. There’s nothing worse than spending all your savings on a night out, only to find that the class trip is coming up and you’re broke. Join Facebook groups for all the local nightclubs too – they often do online guest lists that allow you to get in for free if you put your name down in time.

Look after yourself

Just like budgeting, this is a dull most-do. I feel like a parent sending on this advice, but it’s incredibly important nonetheless. Look after yourself. Eat three good meals a day. If you feel ill and need to see a doctor, don’t put it off because your mum isn’t there to hold your hand and take you herself.

It may cut into your weekly budget, but the college doctors always charge a significantly reduced fee – if they charge one at all. Your health is one of your most important assets for keeping up with lectures as well as the nights out – don’t abuse it. I’ve seen people time and time again avoid doctor’s visits, only to find that their longstanding illness could have been cured in a matter of days had they ventured in from the beginning.

Doctors don’t bite either … The chances are that whatever problem you have, whatever questions (no matter how embarrassing) they’ve almost definitely seen it before. It’s also one hundred per cent confidential, so really you’ve no excuse. If you are feeling homesick or need someone to talk to, all colleges supply support for this too – there’s college chaplains and counsellors who are always on hand for a chat and advice when needs be.

Mental health is just as important as physical health, don’t forget that

On a final note, before I finish this point – stay safe in the city. Many of us are new to the city lifestyle and aren’t familiar with routes back to the college and how to return home safely after a night out.

Avoid venturing off or get a taxi by yourself after a night out. I can’t stress this enough. Not only will the taxi be overpriced, wandering off is leaving you vulnerable and open to attack. Cities are dangerous at night, especially if you’re new to the place and not entirely sure of where you’re going. Organise a meeting point with friends and get the night link bus back to college. Plan ahead.

Back up your notes

This point is entirely academia related. Back up your notes. If you decide to take notes by hand, then keep them safe and photocopy them if needs be. If you’re using a laptop, back them on to a cloud or USB because if anything happens that laptop (stolen, broken, etc.) you risk losing everything.

I’ve seen it happen right before exam time and it leads to untold pressure. Save yourself the hassle and just take 2 minutes to keep saving files and notes to safe places. You may even want the notes in years to come and knowing where they are gives peace of mind if not anything else.

College isn’t like school – you are entirely in control of your studies. Nobody will force you to attend tutorials. Nobody will care if you go to a lecture or not. Nobody will assign you homework every single night and check up on your notes to make sure you understood the material. You are responsible for staying ahead so don’t abuse this.

There will always be people who let the college freedom ruin their studies and nobody wants to have to deal with repeats over the summer. Nobody wants to have to explain to parents why they have to fork out extra money because you slept in instead of going to lectures.

You can have it all in college – the nights out, the freedom, the good results; you just need to steady yourself. Many colleges give you fewer hours in lectures so that you can explore academics and activities in your spare time. Reading weeks aren’t just a recommendation – they’re a necessity.

Prepare your notes for tutorials and do assignments as you get them (or at least do a rough guide for them so that things are easier when you eventually get around to sorting them out). I’ve seen what can happen to people around exam time when they realise they’ve neglected to do any study and find it all too much. It’s not a pretty sight.

Relax. Enjoy yourself.

This point is the most important of them all. Enjoy your first year at college. You’ve just finished your Leaving Cert and have come from a year of intense pressure and non-stop study. This is what you have spent your whole secondary school time working towards – now that you’re here, make the most of it.

University is that brief period where you get to live in a world made up of about 20,000 likeminded people all your own age. It’s the world of students and this is your one chance to do it right. Don’t place too much pressure on yourself and don’t let the lifestyle become too much for you. Relax.

You’ll make plenty of friends, you’ll have many new experiences and you’ll even find that you mature and learn new things about yourself and others that you thought you knew already. You’ll gain knowledge in so many different areas and you’ll have one massive adventure in doing so. College is an open book. It’s up to you what you do with it.

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