Adapting to College Life

adapting to college life, a guide for studentsIn life and living, there is no avoiding change, and one of the biggest changes in a young person’s life is the transition made from secondary school to third level. It can be both exciting and overwhelming all at once. Like any change, it has to be managed well. If you are somebody who struggles with change; it helps to normalise it. Most people do find this change stressful and most students are feeling the very same anxiety and stress that you might be feeling as your college start date approaches.

In Ireland roughly 85 per cent of Irish students make it to second year in college, and according to Tom Boland, chief executive of the HEA: our higher institutions have done well to retain, and in some cases improve, high levels of retention of students over the past decade, even as the numbers have soared. There are many contributing factors that can predict whether a student will progress or not: money difficulties, difficulties coping with subjects and course work, whether third level education is part of their cultural background, friends, and actual choice of course.

In dealing with this change; it is good to know what to expect, so it won’t be daunting. It is also helpful if you follow certain guidelines when it comes to the following aspects of college life.

Living away from home: Yes, you have dreamed about this life for a long time: no curfews, no nagging, and no having to clean as you go! However, in reality, the familiarity of home life is often comforting when you are faced with living either by yourself or with strangers. If you do decide to go for bed-sit type accommodation, ensure you have activities and arrangements in place to ensure you do not become isolated. If you are moving into a house with strangers, this can be daunting in itself. You will often have to cope with bad habits and bad manners along with a host of other strange and endearing ways of being. Remember, we can’t change everyone but we can change how we react to their ways. Hopefully, your new home and living companions will eventually become one happy family. However, don’t get put off college life if your living arrangements don’t work out; move if you have to!

Work: If you are one of the 60% of students who have to hold down a job to help fund college; ensure that your study does not suffer. Balance study, social and working life well – it is possible. There is no point earning money to get by in college, only to go and fail first year exams. So, make a study plan and stick to it.

Social Life: Yes, college life can be like one big music festival if you want it to be just that. There will be something to go to every night: concerts, house parties, clubs and the college bar, amongst others. Learning to say ‘NO’ to the occasional night out will save on cramming, guilt and your pocket. Excess consumption of drink and drugs will only serve to reduce your ability to function in college and will have detrimental effects on your body and mind. Peer pressure should be left in the secondary school yard! You are an adult now – make the sensible choices.

College Societies/Activities: This part of college life is important and more so if your friends are no longer by your side. Find a society or activity that you can become part of or take part in. The first day/evening you attend will be difficult if you are on the shy side – but being a member of any group gives us a sense of identity and belonging. It will be worth it when you make new friends along with filling out those dreaded ‘interest/hobbies’ parts of application forms one day.

Stress: Unfortunately, this is one of the main reasons students leave college. Stress often emanates from course of choice; not feeling a sense of belonging in this new environment, or money worries. Remember, you are not alone in these difficulties, and you do not have to face this stress alone. Colleges have excellent counselling services in place to support you as you navigate through a difficult period. However, to get help you have to ask for it. Stress can be manageable with support, techniques and solutions; don’t let stress build up to the point where you cannot function and the only option is to leave.

Managing Money: Learn to budget and shop as if Eddie Hobbs is by your side! A lot of the larger supermarket chains have discount sections. If people with no shortage of money are found browsing in this aisle, you should be too!! There is no shame in looking for a bargain; there is shame in wasting ‘hard to come by’ money! Work out a budget and endeavour to stick to it!

College life does bring a whole host of fears with it. In this case it is best to feel the fear(s) and do it anyway. There will be good days and yes, there will be days where you will feel challenged. Accept this part of life, accept the peaks and valleys of college life and remember that finding a balance between work and play can lead to both personal and academic success.

Sometimes admitting we need help is a sign of strength. No, we don’t always make the right choices when it comes to college or courses; that’s ok, do something about it. But try to ensure you have explored every avenue before you leave this course you worked so hard for. Lean on friends – whether your friends are a college or counties away – they are still there for you. If you have to, treat college life like a job that you have to get through until it gets easier. But know when enough is actually enough and move on to a new chapter if it is not for you. Remember 85% of students progress to second year of their college course. The other 15% most often find alternatives in other study routes or employment options.