The editor of my college newspaper asked me to write up a survival guide for each year of an undergraduate degree. It was a small start, but to see my name in print was truly amazing. Here is my article:
The transition from school to college can be quite a daunting process. Suddenly you find yourself in a position where your timetable is not as consistent as it was in school, the materials you need are much pricier, and the social scene is something altogether different than you’re used to. Some handle it better than others, but that does not mean to say that everyone can’t use a little help along the way. Here is some tips/advice on how to ease your settlement into college life:
Get a map: No matter how small a college is, you will get lost! It can take a couple of weeks to properly get your bearings, but the assistance of a map will help speed this up. By the end of your first week, you could be giving directions to other freshers!
Make friends: Remember that everyone in your course is in the same boat as you. Perhaps some people already know each other, but a majority won’t. If they’re studying the same subject as you, chances are you already have a good bit in common with them. The first week is all about settling in, so lecturers will go easy on you. In the free time between classes, get to know your classmates, arrange a lunch date or night out to get to know each other better. These people will be your support system for the duration of your studies at undergraduate level.
Don’t get overwhelmed: Every undergraduate course generally begins with an induction. Aside from the library tours and ice breakers, you are given a summary of what you will be doing in each year of your studies. This can seem frightening. You have only just started and the lecturers are already talking about your final year thesis! Take a deep breath and remember that you will not be thrown into the deep end. The lecturers will do everything they can to ensure that you know exactly what you are doing, and come final year dissertations, you’ll wonder why you ever fretted.
Get involved: College is not just about academics (though it is a vital part!); it is also about socialising and get involved in campus projects. Clubs and Socs week is a great way to get involved and to meet people of different ages and courses. With over sixty societies currently running in DIT, you are bound to find something that interests you. However, in the off-chance that you don’t, why not set up your own?
Manage your time appropriately: Because your schedule won’t always be within the standard 9.00am to 4.00am time frame, it is important that you ensure that any outside commitments are arranged in such a way that it does not disrupt your studies. Maybe you have a part time job. A good employer will ensure that your work hours suit your college hours.
Manage your assignments: Assignments usually begin around mid-October, and you will get them from each subject you are studying. While it is unlikely that more than one assignment will be due on the same day, they may be due around the same week, or month. Don’t panic! Good timekeeping is essential to carrying out assignments. Draw up an assignment schedule and decide when you will work on each one. If you find you need help, or possibly an extension, talk to your lecturer. They will do what they can to help.
Presentations will happen: The idea of standing up in front of a room full of people can seem scary. Just keep in my that everyone in your class will have to do the same thing, so support each other and take away the nerves, it’ll be over before you know it! The more you do them, the more confident you will become.
It helps to talk: Stress can occur under the pressure of assignments and class schedules, and in times like these, it is important not to suffer in silence. DIT has a counselling service that caters for students who need that extra bit of support in their studies. They will listen to you and work with you to reduce your stress. Just remember, no matter how small you think your problems are, they are willing to listen.
Budget: College is expensive, that is most likely the first thing you are told once you’ve decided to go. However, with the rise in student discounts around Dublin, it can be quite easy to manage your money sensibly and still be able to afford reasonably priced luxuries. Make sure to take advantage of the Student Union Ents card, which gives you discounts all over the city centre.
On the same note, buying books is not essential: In school you received a booklist and everything on it had to be purchased. Due to third level books being alarmingly expensive, colleges recommend reading material rather than deem it necessary for you to buy them. Your lecturers will more than likely recommend books that are available in the college library, so you can always get your hands on the material you need without spending a fortune.
Make time for yourself: For a student who has classes and assignments, and possibly part time jobs and/or long distance travel times, it may seem impossible to find time to kick back and relax. However, just two hours a week dedicated to you and what you do to chill can have a positive impact on your college life.
Find your study space: Whether this is the library, or a free classroom on campus, it always good to know you have somewhere to go where it is quiet and you can do your work in peace.
There’s no denying that second year is a little easier than first year in terms of knowing what to expect. Assignments and unpredictable schedules are second-nature to you now. Here are some tips to help you get back into your fresher routine:
Dig out your map: You may think that after first year you’ll never get lost again. This is not always the case. The summer is long and your mind is focused on non-college related stuff, and you may come back realising that you can’t remember where your photography class is. If you’re super organised, you’ll still have your map from first year. If not, grab another one and don’t be late for class!
Don’t get cocky: It is a common pitfall that once you’ve completed one year in college, the rest will be a breeze. Wrong! Apologies for sounding blunt, but it only becomes more challenging, but that doesn’t mean to say it’ll be worse. Dedicate as much effort to your assignments as you did in your first year. The lecturers started you off easy, now they want to get you ready for the big stuff.
Get re-involved: Maybe you neglected the societies you joined in first year, wanting to focus more on the academic side of college life. Or perhaps you decided against signing up to a particular society and regretted it later. Clubs and Socs week happens every year in DIT and it always comes with new societies to join. As mentioned in Year 1, you can always start your own society if you’re feeling a bit more confident than last year.
Learn from your first year: It may not just be societies you regret not signing up to, but perhaps you wish you had made a better effort in certain assignments, or you didn’t pay as much attention in a particular subject as you should have. While you can’t go back and change that, you can learn from it and improve yourself this year. College is all about progression, not just in the course, but yourself too.
Help out freshers: This doesn’t necessarily mean volunteering at Freshers Week, or dedicating your spare time to being a tour guide. Should you see a fresher who clearly looks lost, approach them and ask if you can help them find where they need to be. They will appreciate your help. After all, you were in their shoes this time last year!
For some, third year could mean the final year, for others it’s just as important, as it’s paving the way to your final year. Stress can be most rife among third year students. Suddenly you realise that you’re halfway through/finishing your course and you’re thinking: where did the time go? Don’t worry; just keep these tips in mind:
Don’t lose the balance of work and play: Third year will either be your final year and or your second last year. Either way it’s a big deal. The assignments will be more challenging, and your workload will increase. However, that does not mean you have to sacrifice fun to make way for work. If you find the balance you managed in years 1 and 2 worked for you, keep it up. Otherwise, try to come up with a schedule that allows enough time for both sides of the coin.
Consider your options: Whether it is your last year or not, it might be a good idea to make an appointment with the career counsellor to help you look at what your options are after you graduate. If you already have an idea of what you would like to do, the career counsellor will help you decide how best to go about doing it.
Don’t beat yourself up: Now that you’re coming to the end of your studies, it is easy to tell yourself that you’re not capable of getting good grades in your final years. You’re quite capable, you just need to focus and put in the right amount of effort whilst not overdoing it.
Support each other: By now your classmates have become your family. They too may be feeling the stress of third year and need some support. Help each other out. If you have techniques to help you decompress after a stressful day or assignment, share this with your classmates.
(Note: For those who are finishing their course in third year, see Year 4 tips.)
Here you are: a fourth and final year student. It may require you to write a dissertation and/or carry out a research study, but either way it’s a big deal, but that doesn’t mean it has to get the better of you.
Don’t stress: You have come this far, which means you are more than capable of doing it, and doing it well.
Balance, balance, balance: This cannot be said enough. Don’t tip the scale. Overworking yourself can lead to burnout and your efforts will end up having the opposite effect. Keep the two hours a week you have dedicated to ‘me time’.
Create a good working relationship with your project supervisor: Most courses set a dissertation for their final year assessment. If this is the case, you will be assigned to a lecturer who will act as your supervisor for the entirety of your research. It is important that you have a good working relationship; after all, this person is trying to help you, not sabotage you. Trust is the key.
Attend career fairs: Organisations such as Graduate Ireland hold career fairs in the RDS to help students like yourselves find work in your field. It is a good idea to visit these fairs, as they are a great way of meeting potential employers, and possibly getting your foot in the door of an organisation you are eager to work in.
Don’t procrastinate: The dissertation will be your longest assignment out of your entire course, and it’s easy to put off working on it for the sake of assignments that are due before it. Set yourself a chunk of time a week to work on it so you don’t fall behind.
Be proud of yourself: Perhaps you never thought you’d make it this far, but here you are, and you should be proud. Give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back!
It was edited down because I went over the word count, but I figure it’s easy to cut than it is to add. The picture above is the finished product. I am making it my goal to have a piece published in every issue, which isn’t as difficult as it may seem, as it is only published every three weeks.