Surviving College - School and college: Making the transition

Date Uploaded: 02/09/2016

Education consultant Catherine O’Connor has some tips for those starting at third level

Many thoughts will occupy your mind as you prepare for college: Will I make new friends? Will I fit in? Will I be academically able for my chosen course of study? You may also be worried about moving away from home. Rest assured that most of your concerns will pass without too much complication and you will welcome a fresh start.


No more will you be chased if you wear the wrong shoes, are late for class, run in the corridor or don’t complete homework. In college, you are expected to adapt quickly to a system of managing your own time and taking control and responsibility for yourself.


The second-level system is largely prescriptive, with rewards for memorisation and rote learning. At college things work differently and move at a faster pace. You need to manage your own independent learning.


Believe in your own ability. Things will seem very strange at first: new structures, new people, new system. You are not alone. Most students feel the same.


Fitting in socially


College is not all about study

Friends are important. At college, you will meet lots of new people and make lasting friendships. These friendships will shape and define your student life, make the experience worthwhile, be a source of fun and relief, provide a crutch in difficult times and help you gauge your own progress.


College clubs and societies are an integral part of the solution. Following a sporting interest from the sideline can be as much fun as being part of the team. Societies engage in furthering the academic and social interests of members. Many of these societies engage in charity work and fundraising activities. You can retain your current interests within these clubs or societies, but more importantly you can develop new ones.


Get involved

Freshers’ week is an exciting and eventful week in which you will be introduced to college life, sports, clubs and societies.


Academic performance

Fear of poor academic performance can be a worry to the new student. You move from a structured, dependent approach at second level to a world of self-directed independent learning with an emphasis on understanding and critical thinking. This can be challenging.


Develop a strong work ethic

You will need to develop a consistent approach to your study, learning how to manage your time in meeting many different and conflicting deadlines.


Be organised

Date your lectures, take notes and rewrite your notes soon after. This will be your personal guide to your work and should be filed in a systematic order.


Back up your work

Too many tears are shed over work lost and excuses are not tolerated at college. Save your work regularly and store this information in different and accessible places such as an external hard drive, email or cloud.


Every college provides a unique set of personal and professional services and supports for all students attending. These services may be called different names and grouped into different orders and dealt with by different offices at each of the colleges.


Start as you intend to continue

Attend everything: registration, induction sessions, lectures, tutorials and demonstrations. Avail of any of the supports and services made available. A lot won’t make sense in the beginning but in time that will change.


Read the handbook

Every course has one. Find out key information, which will include deadlines, key dates and times, examination structures, rules and regulations and much more.


Living at home

If you live close enough to your college of choice, then it would seem to be a wise economic decision to continue to stay at home.


But the relationship at home will need some review:


  • How do you manage to have peace and harmony and live a student life at home?


  • What are your expectations?


  • Have you given any thought to what expectations your parents might have?


  • Will you be around for meals? If you plan to socialise late at night during the week, how are you going to overcome the problems associated with coming in at all hours of the night and waking up half the household?


  • What contribution are you planning to make towards the domestic running of the household? This doesn’t always have to be financial.


Living away from home

If you choose to live independently from the college, then you will be looking on the open market for a place to rent. The accommodation service in college may be able to assist with advice on the best places to start the search.


Given that the academic year usually spreads over nine months, students often end up paying higher rents, as landlords make the case that they cannot find tenants for the properties for the remaining three months of the rental period.

Many factors must be considered prior to entering into a rental agreement, which can include:


  • Proximity to college
  • Cost of public transport if necessary
  • Safety of location
  • Safety of overall neighbourhood
  • Security of the house
  • Proximity to shops or supermarkets
  • Typical utility costs
  • Type of heating
  • Cooking facilities
  • If timer devices are fitted for water and heat


Public transport costs will have a significant impact on all budgets. If you can’t cook, you have a few weeks to find out how to – on a budget!


Get to know yourself better

Understand your strengths and weaknesses, know your friends and confidants, know when you are comfortable in situations and when you feel threatened. Remember there is help at college for all situations, whether you get into social, personal or academic difficulty. It’s good to talk.


Make things happen

Going to college is about becoming informed, taking control, ownership and responsibility. Be your own driver. Set your own goals, monitor your progress, seek feedback and reward yourself when the work is done.


By taking control and getting involved you will have a truly memorable experience and this will facilitate your development in becoming a mobile, employable and contributing citizen of our world.

Enjoy the journey.


Catherine O’Connor, Trinity College Dublin, is an education consultant and author of Cracking the College Code – A Practical Guide to Making the Most of the First Year College Experience, published by CJ Fallon Ltd. Available at all good bookshops and online at


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