What’s left of the social side? Discover all you can

For many students, the social side of college life sometimes eclipses academic life

For many students, the social side of college life overshadows academics.

College is where you meet your tribe. In school, friendships may be based on who sits closest to you in maths class.

In college, however, you can choose friends based on common interests and mutual understandings: whether you’re interested in drama, debating, chess, writing for the college paper, student politics, Pokemon, tea, running, GAA, trampolining, tennis or fencing, there’s a club or society for almost everyone. And if there isn’t, you can set one up yourself (see panel, UCD Food Society).

Of course, Covid-19 has stopped student life in its tracks - for now at least. The great hope is that normal campus life might resume for the class of 2021 but, for now at least, clubs and societies are finding new and innovative ways to connect with their members - and to connect their members to each other.


Indeed, Anita Conway, societies officer at TU Dublin, says that clubs and societies are more important than ever, and she urges college applicants to find out all they can about student life at this year's open's days.

“This year’s Clubs and Societies Festival is happening on virtual platforms, and while that’s not the same as meeting up in venues across campus, students can get a taster of everything - and can find out how to set up a society themselves,” Conway says. “We will have videos to show prospective students to give them a flavour of what our 80 societies can offer.”

TU Dublin’s head of sport, Christy O’Shea, says that they are working around the current restrictions. “We have at-home challenges to engage students in trying different skills; social competitiveness within and between clubs; and getting students to try something they would not normally have attempted.”

Ian Russell, student engagement officer at Maynooth University says that things will look a little different for the foreseeable future. "But while what and why we do things has not changed, how we do things has changed. We hosted our ever virtual clubs and societies fair this year where students were able to visit our dedicated clubs and societies website (MULife.ie) and the Students' Union website (msu.ie) to get an idea of the range of activities they can get involved with.

At DCU, students are being kept in the loop via social media channels or reading the weekly student life newsletter that is emailed to all students every week. When students are on campus, CIT is facilitating connection points where students can still meet new friends or discover new interests, and they’ve also opened their sports facilities including gym, sportshall, astroturf, track and pitches, while operating within safety guidelines.

But what should prospective students find out about student life, whatever college they’re looking at?

“Take the time to have a look at what clubs, societies or activities are currently on campus - look at the events and news sections as well as their social media accounts,” Russell advises. “Pick the ones that you are most interested in. It might be an activity that you are continuing with from home or school, or you might be looking to do something completely new. Cubs and societies cater for the beginner right up to advanced levels.”

Russell advises prospective students to visit the virtual stalls or chat forms pn open day and talk to committee members.

“Whilst it is important to know whether a group organises its events virtually or in person, it is probably more important to ask them questions such as:

* How many members do they have?

* How often do they have events?

* How do they involve their members?

* What events have they organised in the last couple of months?

* Do they cater for commuter students?

* I am new to an activity, what do I need to do get started?

Maynooth and other third-levels are always looking for new ideas to add to the list. ‘We always encourage students to come to the clubs and societies office if they see a gap in the list and we will help them establish a new club or society,” says Russell.

Prospective students say that this matters to them. Matthew Colgan, 17, is a sixth year student in Coláiste Eamon Rís, Wexford and national secretary with the Irish Second Level Students Union.

“The social side is college is something I’m really looking forward to,” Colgan says. “Colleges and students’ unions understand this and are reaching out to us virtually. My college dream involved social events and house parties and meeting people and while I understand why we can’t right now, we can only hope that things will be better next year.”

UCD Food Society: Can you have eating events in a pandemic?

We’ve been around for five years, and we’re now the biggest society in UCD and Society of the Year 2020. Our mission is to hold food and drink themed events for our members. We bring restaurants to campus and provide samples for students, organise guest lectures and run an annual food ball - but this is obviously difficult during a pandemic when there are no students on campus.

“Since lockdown, we’ve been running giveaways and moving our masterclass series online, giving classes in coffee and cocktail making. Indeed, quite a lot of our speakers, tutorials and classes can be moved online. But we are conscious that it is harder for people - particularly freshers - to put themselves out online, so we’re trying to think of innovative events such as live cookalong classes.

“Being off campus is tough, but everyone understands why it has to be done. Everyone is adapting. We’re considering smaller groups for on-campus or online events such as food challenges and a socially distant Masterchef.

“It is the job of societies to help people settle into college. We know these restrictions are only temporary. Students who want to learn more about clubs and societies can do so on open days, but it’s also a good idea to follow them on social media and see how they’ve adapted to student life online.”

Robyn O'Keeffe and Joseph Aherne, co-chairs, UCD Food Society

Instagram: @ucdfoodsoc/ Facebook: UCD food society