The A-Z guide to college life

From assignments and budgets to relationships and housemates, here’s what to expect

Have fun at college. Join clubs and societies, and enjoy your independence. Photograph: iStock

Have fun at college. Join clubs and societies, and enjoy your independence. Photograph: iStock

 

Access: College life may be easier if your family have gone before and if most of your friends are going. But for students from disadvantaged backgrounds or communities, your college access office is there to provide you with additional support – make sure to use it.

Budget: College is expensive. For most families, the €3,000 “registration fee” – college fees by any other name – is a big financial hit, but it’s only the first of many costs you will have to manage: accommodation, books, food, transport, social life all add up fast. Sit down and do up a budget or you’ll quickly find yourself penniless.

Careers: Make the careers office one of your first ports of call. Employers are increasingly happy to employ graduates with any degree, and graduates will change careers as they go through life, so you don’t necessarily need to know at this stage what path to take. But by hooking you up with employers and helping you understand your own motivations and skills, your careers office will give you an advantage.

Disability: Students with disabilities remain under-represented at third-level, but for those who do make it there, your college disability service will help with transport, notes, assignments and exams.

Exams and assignments: School homework and Leaving Cert exams are more focused on memory and facts compared with assessments at college, and this can be a tough adjustment to make. Most colleges and universities now have study skills support, which will help you develop the critical thinking and analytical skills you need to do well at third-level.

Flatmates: Your tolerance for messy housemates – or fussy housemates – will be a lot higher in your late teens and early 20s. Sharing a space with others – where they’re not your parents or guardians, and you’re all on an equal footing – can be fun, but it can also lead to some conflict. Open communication, patience and regular house meetings can help, as can rosters for housework.

Sharing a space with others can be fun, but it can also lead to some conflict. Photograph: iStock
Sharing a space with others can be fun, but it can also lead to some conflict. Photograph: iStock

Grants and scholarships: Apply for a Susi grant if you’re eligible, but do keep an eye out for scholarships as well. These are sometimes offered for the student with the highest grade in a given year, or for involvement in sports or student life. For instance, Three Ireland recently launched 25 new science, technology, engineering and maths scholarships with Trinity College Dublin – each worth €20,000 – aimed at women undergraduates. Meanwhile, some universities offer University of Sanctuary Scholarships for refugee, immigrant or Traveller students. Simply enter the name of your college into Google alongside the word “scholarship” and you might find something of interest.

Home: If you don’t have to contend with pesky flatmates, you’ll probably have to contend with pesky parents. Yes, you’re an adult now, but you can’t have it both ways: getting all your bills and food paid for, doing no housework and yet expecting total freedom. Sit down with your parents or guardians before you go to college and agree on expectations. If you want to be treated more like a housemate than their child, that means doing housework and being respectful. Agree on who you can have as an overnight guest and be respectful of noise, particularly during the week. If you behave like a respectful adult, you’re more likely to be treated as one.

Independence: College life means you have a lot more independence. You can drink, stay out late and make your own decisions. After a year in and out of lockdown, it’ll be very tempting to go wild. That’s okay, but be careful of yourself.

Jobs: The source of your liberation and your future oppression, part-time jobs are a necessity for most students. It’s great to have your own money and gain valuable work experience, but balancing work with your studies and social life will take a bit of time and practice.

Knowledge: It’s not all about academia: college is a time to read obscure books and be interested in theatre for a while, explore new music and develop yourself as a person.

Library: Get familiar with it early on. Take a library tour.

Modules: Whatever you’re studying, most third-levels now offer students a chance to go outside their main discipline and sample modules from completely different areas. Look into this. It means that medical students can try a law module, architecture students can check out an engineering module or business students can try their hand at Irish folklore.

Nutrition: It isn’t always easy to eat well on a budget, even if you shop in Lidl or Aldi, but it is easy to look up cheap recipes. For our money, we highly recommend Jack Monroe’s site CookingOnABootstrap.com: Monroe has experienced poverty and her recipes are delicious and accessible.

If you’re going to live with your parents while at college, try sitting down together to agree on expectations. Photograph: iStock
If you’re going to live with your parents while at college, try sitting down together to agree on expectations. Photograph: iStock

Orientation: Take a college orientation tour as soon as you can.

Papers: The student newspapers and websites are fun to get involved in, but also are a good source of information for what’s happening on campus.

Queer: Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer (LGBTIQ) students who have, up to now, been in the closet will find a very supportive environment at third-level. If you’ve been struggling with your sexual or gender identity, it will get better from here on in.

Relationships: Shake off that bad sex education, go to consent classes if they’re on offer, get regular STI tests and treat your partner with respect so they come away feeling better about themselves than before you met.

Sports and society: Sign up for more sports clubs and societies than you could possibly be involved in during freshers’ week. There’s a club or society for almost every interest you could imagine, and this is where you can pursue your interests, make new ones and pick up life-long friends.

Transport: Even if you are lucky enough to have a car, chances are that on-campus student parking is limited. Get familiar with podcasts and audiobooks for the train, bus or tram commute, or try out some new music to broaden your tastes.

Underwear: Get used to a washing machine, you’re a grown-up now! Wearing the same underwear two days in a row should make you a pariah.

Vaccination: If you have hesitations or reservations, get your advice from doctors and nurses as opposed to random, unverified sources on Instagram or WhatsApp. Engage your critical thinking and think about the information you’re consuming. One random “doctor” on Facebook proves nothing – thousands of doctors, however, do. Honestly: do you really think this Government could organise some conspiracy involving tens of thousands of people?

Welfare: Mental health can take a hit at college but support is there in the form of free counselling and doctors, the students’ union welfare service, the chaplaincy and student advisors. Niteline is a free listening, support and information service run by students for students: phone 1800793793 during term time or log on to NiteLine.ie.

Xeroxing: Photocopying doesn’t really count as studying, but let’s pretend it does anyway.

Young: If you’re starting college, you’re either young or young at heart. Have fun!

Zen: Find time that’s just for you. Exercise, walks, meditation and sleep will help you find balance.