Six terrible things you must do in college in your first year

If you’re here for a degree, you’re in the wrong place. College is all about having fun and learning about yourself

Remember the first day in secondary school? Not to freak you out or anything, but college is a lot scarier. Big campuses like UCD and UCC – a world away from school – can be the most daunting of all, while smaller institutions like Tralee IT or a private college might seem suffocatingly small, and perhaps too close to school for comfort.

How you approach college depends on how you feel about school. In the first days, everyone clings nervously to the nearest person they happen to know best from school, even if that person barely registered in their lowest tiers of indifference. It’s a brief regression to the time when, as a kid, whoever happens to be standing outside your house at any given moment became your best friend.

This won’t last. Those who were never particularly attached to their classmates, teachers, or “school spirit” – the ones who regarded Transition Year like a fat, overbearing, kissy aunt blocking their exit from school – will move on, running naked and screaming into a ball pit of iron stomach contests, hilarious sex scandals and wasted hours of guilt-free skiving and coffee jitters.

Students with lots of old schoolfriends in the same college year tend to mill around with each other, potentially missing out on the full student experience.


On your first day, every college offers orientation.

The bigger colleges, stung by reports of freshers feeling isolated, overwhelmed and depressed, have improved their game, setting up buddy and mentoring systems, decent guided tours, and welcoming events such as Freshers’ Weeks.

Striking up a conversation can be hard at the best of times: if you do feel a bit shy or worried about making friends, remember that everyone is in the same boat as you.

Then, talk to them. We don’t normally strike up a conversation with the person next to us on the bus, but in college, it’s perfectly normal to start talking to the person beside you in class, or behind you in the queue.

But the best way to get to know people is to get involved: go to an event in the bar with the person who sits beside you in your tutorial; join a society or club that interests you and meet people who share your common interests; get involved with the students’ union or the college newspaper; go to a class party.

The friends you have as a fresher may be distant memories by the second year, because you’ll have found the type of friends you really want to hang out with. Don’t use your phone as a crutch for social interaction. Put it away. With a bit of luck, you’ll have the following experiences:

1. Discover the secret history of your college

According to UCD folklore, there are underground tunnels which link all the buildings on campus, and where students in the know once enjoyed a few sneaky cans. But then, one day, some eejits didn’t clean up their mess, the college authorities cottoned on and, like the gates of Willy Wonka’s factory before the oompa loompas arrived, the tunnels were sealed.

Maynooth University has a haunted room where the devil – if you believe that kind of thing – disappeared in a puff of smoke during a raucous card game.

Trinity College has secret wine cellars. And every college worth its salt has notorious lecturers: suspected murderers, professors who habitually sleep with their students, drunks who mark papers by shuffling them like cards and grading at random; they're a dying breed though, as most academics are horribly overworked.

2. Put on a show. And smarten up

The new form of peer pressure is that you’ll make an effort at personal growth. This involves reading classic authors like

John Steinbeck


Jack Kerouac


Graham Greene


Kurt Vonnegut


You know, things that make you look smart and cultured.

You’ll go to arthouse movies and seek out the most obscure vinyl music available – tiny unheard of bands that aren’t sellouts enough to put their music on Spotify are ideal. Join the Philosophy Society. Debate it out.

3. Struggle with money

More than half of students will work their way through college, and the jobs aren’t always the most glamorous. Money will be tight and you’ll skimp on food, light and heat in order to keep up with the best social life you’ve ever had.

According to the DIT Cost of Living Survey, a student living away from home will spend at least €11,000 a year, while a student living at home can still expect to shell out around €7,000 – all this before the college registration fees are paid.

Unless your parents had the wisdom of the elders to teach you about cooking, the menu can get pretty grim – heat up that jar of pasta sauce and pour it over penne as much as you like, but it’s still going to look cold.

Start clipping coupons. Aldi and Lidl are great for good quality food and booze. Check out money-saving and recipe sites like A Girl Called Jack, and heed advice from Ireland's favourite Scrooge, Irish Times consumer affairs correspondent Conor Pope. He knows lots of things about saving your cash including the fact that, somehow, you can always afford teabags. If you won't buy this damn paper – they practically give it away to students – you can find him online.

4. Think big

Plan to travel the world after college. Spend a summer working in Spain brushing up on your language skills. Do the J1, or follow the less well-worn path of a summer in Canada. Go to that ball. If you’re gay but you haven’t told anyone, you won’t regret coming out in college.

Get something banned – students love kicking Coke, Nestlé or anything else with a sniff of corporate impropriety, off campus.

5. Get involved with the wrong crowd

As your mammy might say (that is what she said, right?). This might be delving into a relationship with your housemate which splits your group of friends right down the middle after the inevitable split, or hooking up with the fella from your tutorial only to have to stomach each other for the next few years .

Or it might be making friends with a bunch of mischievous stoners. But maybe you’re the mischievous stoner, leading everyone else astray; funny how your mammy never thinks of that, isn’t it?

Play around with your persona and identity a bit, even if this means a brief phase of life as a poetry-reciting emo – sadly, one of the last remaining youth subcultures.

6 . Study

Show up at lectures now and again, I suppose. Don’t plagiarise: they’ll catch you. No, it’s not a funny coincidence that your essay just happens to resemble, word for word, the Fun Facts section of the Peppa Pig website.