A student speaks: When it comes to college, you get back what you put in

First years should take advantage of all college opportunities, academic and social

Many students feel intimidated about asking questions during a lecture or approaching lecturers with any difficulties. Remember they want to aid your learning and are more than happy to help. Photograph: Thinkstock

Many students feel intimidated about asking questions during a lecture or approaching lecturers with any difficulties. Remember they want to aid your learning and are more than happy to help. Photograph: Thinkstock


As you weigh up your choices for third level, you are probably excited about your time at college approaching, if not a tad nervous. As a third-year science student at Trinity College Dublin, I know what students may be experiencing during this time. So here’s my advice for making the most of your first year.


Go to orientation seminars 

While this seems obvious, many students underestimate the usefulness of these sessions. During orientation you are introduced to the workings of the college, from the library and how to take out books, to the layout of the campus and where your lectures take place. The advice I received at these seminars definitely made the transition to college easier and was a great opportunity to make new friends. I can’t stress enough the importance of learning how to use the library early. When exam season comes around, the librarians will be overrun with first years learning how to take out books. Don’t be that student!

There will also be talks about how to succeed in college, managing stress and budgeting. You may feel some of this doesn’t really apply to you, but it’s a good idea to go, if not for some useful snippets of advice, then the possibility of meeting new people.


Take care of yourself 

For many, college will be the first time you are living away from home and can result in feelings of isolation, homesickness or loneliness. When I first came to Trinity, there was a counselling service, but it wasn’t particularly publicised.

If you need help, there are services to guide you through this transition and your college will provide counselling should you need it. Trinity College runs a very successful S2S support programme, a student-led initiative that allows freshmen to meet student mentors, have a chat and answer any questions throughout the year.

On my first day in Trinity I met my student mentors, both of whom were lovely. More than anything, they offered me advice on what to expect in science, who’s who in the college and general information to make me feel more at home. Other colleges have similar schemes to welcome students, including college chaplains.

If you ever feel ill, go to see the doctor. Most colleges offer a free or highly subsidised medical service. It’s important you recognise you are now in charge of your wellbeing and that you take care of yourself.

With a large workload and an active social life, many students neglect proper nutrition. From my experience you will most likely go through a few weeks (if not months) of poor eating habits, before realising the ‘Freshman Fifteen’ is not a myth.

This can be avoided by knowing how to cook a few basic, healthy recipes. With the organisation that comes with preparing for third level, many forget about simple things such as preparing lunches. Don’t underestimate the planning involved.

Salads or meals you can make in bulk, such as pasta dishes and casseroles, are ideal. Do some research online to learn new culinary skills or ask at home for a cooking class.

For the majority living away from home, you will be in a new city and it’s important you remain safe. On a night out, always tell someone where you’re going and never go by yourself. At night, cities are dangerous. Never get a taxi by yourself. By taking a few minutes to plan ahead, you can navigate safely throughout the city and enjoy your evenings. Common sense is key.


Academic success

At third level, the responsibility for learning is on you. It is your job to know where your lectures are and to revise the course material. I discovered organisation is crucial for college. The sheer quantity of material covered requires planning.

The most significant contributor to academic success is going to lectures. It’s not demanded that you attend, but it’s a good habit to see them as obligatory. Usually the lecturer will send the notes before class. Read them beforehand to familiarise yourself with the material and identify any difficulties.

During the lecture take brief notes. You will soon realise, as I did, that copying notes verbatim results in a sore hand, an illegible scrawl and a ton of heavy hardbacks. Instead, make a note of any extra points made.

After the lecture, write out developed notes with the help of the recommended reading list. I like to review these notes each morning, so when exam season begins, I can focus on exam questions and technique. While this is what I prefer, it may not suit everyone and others can identify what suits after some trial and error.

Often I fall behind and have to adjust my study methods. Regardless of how judiciously you plan, this will happen and you shouldn’t be discouraged. The important thing is that you get back up and continue working. Many students feel intimidated about asking questions during the lecture, or approaching the lecturer with any difficulties. Remember the lecturer wants to aid your learning and is more than happy to help.


Join clubs and societies

Clubs and societies are a great way to meet new, like-minded people and allow you to mature as an individual. College isn’t just about studying and getting a degree, it’s about developing your passions.

During fresher’s week, you will be exposed to hundreds of clubs and societies. You’ll be tempted to join all of them, each costing about €2. Refrain from this, even if they offer cookies. I speak from experience. Pick a few you like instead and make the effort to commit some time each week.

Throughout the year, clubs and societies host events, including weekend trips and parties, which are a great way to make new friends. Sports clubs are a wonderful way to keep active and help to maintain the balance with study. I would advise a first year in Trinity to join debating societies such as the Phil or the Hist. You will learn how to present an argument, improve your self-esteem and develop communication skills. The art of oratory is invaluable and college is a great opportunity to develop it.

There are also a few clubs you should join purely for the offers that come with the society card, such as cheaper cinema tickets, discounted burritos and lots of other bargains.


Make use of the facilities

Aside from clubs and societies, college campuses have lots of useful services. The careers service offers advice on how to construct a CV, mock interviews, and help with finding summer internships, which can help when looking for a job after college. But don’t get too obsessed with constructing the perfect CV. I found it’s much better to focus on things you enjoy and to find work you genuinely care about.

So when you’re applying for internships, forget about the CV. Focus on what you enjoy most.

Trinity College’s careers service has advice online that all students can benefit from (tcd.ie/careers). While your future career may seem distant, it’s important to plan now and develop the necessary skills while in college so you can succeed in the workplace.

College campuses offer lots of facilities that often go unnoticed. Aside from libraries, gyms and restaurants, many colleges provide free legal advice, careers services, assistance with banking, health services and even a bike repair shop. Do your homework and find the sometimes hidden facilities in your college.


Take up opportunities

I can’t stress this enough. As a college student you have so many opportunities open to you every day. But don’t expect them to land in your lap. To paraphrase Thomas Edison, when opportunity comes along, it’s usually dressed in overalls and looks a lot like work.

While effective studying is an integral part of success, it’s the extra work that makes you stand out. If you have an interest in journalism, for example, get involved in the university paper, or apply for internships abroad. Regardless of your circumstances, there are many opportunities for those willing to work for them.

Many students got to college intending to meet new people, but they fail to expand outside their secondary school social circle. The important thing to remember is that everyone is in a similar position to you and is trying to make new friends. Simply saying hello and introducing yourself can be enough to kindle a new friendship.

When I started college, I promised myself I would take up more opportunities. Often, these opportunities were well outside my comfort zone and many times I failed. But it was failure, not success, that taught me the most about myself.

Push against your limits, try new things and never be afraid of failure. If you do not try, you fail by default. As author John Green wrote, “What is the point of being alive if you don’t at least try to do something remarkable?”

College is a brief yet wonderful period, a time to develop as an individual and to be exposed to new ideas. You really do get back what you put in.

Work well consistently and you will have no issue academically. Put yourself out there in clubs, societies or internships and college can be one of the most memorable times of your life.

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