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Dublin: 8 °C Thursday 19 September, 2019

8 big questions about starting college, answered by an expert

There are so many avenues of support during college, says Griffith College’s Sinéad O’Callaghan.

Image: Unsplash

THOUGH ANYTHING CAN seem like a relief when compared to the stress of your Leaving Cert, leaving your friends and hometown for a brand new course, college and often city, can be incredibly daunting. And it’s normal to feel a bit worried about it.

Luckily there’s a lot of help at hand to make sure you feel right at home, says Sinéad O’Callaghan, Griffith College‘s Schools Liaison Officer. So, now that you’ve received your first-round offers – what should you know about starting college?

Here, O’Callaghan shares everything you need to know to make sure you get the best out of your time in third level – from making your money last, to getting the most of your library, to finding friends you’ll keep for life.

1. What if I actually want to do a different course?

Once you’ve received your first-round offer, you can either accept it or reject it – you’ll then be offered your next choice and you can do this as many times as you like. And if you change your mind completely and want to go for something that wasn’t even on your CAO, there are options too, says O’Callaghan:

If you change your mind completely, you can wait for the Available Places offers to open. As long as you meet the minimum entry requirements for the course, you can then apply online if there’s space.

Although this route has existed for a long time more informally (usually done by reaching out directly to the college), it’s now in an online format that students are made aware of – giving students more opportunity to ensure they get a course they’re happy with.

2. What should I figure out before I start college?

Arthurs Cafe Source: Griffith College

Once you are happy with your course choice, it’s worth a visit to your new campus to get accustomed with the facilities you’ll have closeby during the academic year, says O’Callaghan:

Find out if it has a café, restaurant, shops or a gym on-site. And whether there’s on-campus accommodation available, which we would recommend for first year.

And if you’re not in a position to stay on campus, then this is a time to figure out your commute, says O’Callaghan: “Work out your transport to and from college – can you drive? Is there free parking? Is it connected to the Luas or bus?”

3. Where can I go if I’m feeling overwhelmed?

Fortunately, “most colleges now offer a wide range of support”, says O’Callaghan. “The students’ union in every college has a welfare officer in place and it’s important to find where their office is”. The welfare officer is a young person “who is a similar age and knows what challenges students face”. Additionally. most colleges work with mental health charity Jigsaw and LGBTI+ organisation BeLonG To, if you need their support.

Apart from this, lots of colleges also have a student support officer and many will offer one-to-one support in the form of a free counselling service, which are often your fastest way of accessing one: “In Griffith College, there is only a 24-hour waiting period for the counsellor, which is a lot quicker than going through the public service.”

4. How do I get help with my finances?

shutterstock_743005153 Source: Shutterstock

Not the best with your money? Often colleges will have student-specific banks on campus or they will be aligned with the local credit union, as is the case in Griffith College: “They give students advice for managing their money and really great rates for student loans.” If you opt for a bank, you can open a student bank account with any bank, which means you can avoid fees on transfers and ATMs.

Apart from that, you can always head to the students’ union: “For example, Griffith College Students’ Union runs an induction for budgeting to help plan for food, rent, travel, books and importantly – how much you can actually afford to spend on your social life.” O’Callaghan reminds not to forget to pick up your student card: “You’ll get lots of discounts in local restaurants and shops and things like that can make a big difference.”

5. What do I do if I don’t know anyone going to my college?

GCD_CoverJuly17_IMG_6794 Source: Johnny Savage/Griffith College

O’Callaghan’s number one tip for making the best of your time in college? “Engaging with the students’ union.” She reminds that they run lots of events throughout the year in which you’ll get to mix with lots of different nationalities and people outside of your course. “They organise everything from triathlons to badminton to welfare support”.

And in times when things get tough and you don’t have your usual group of friends for support, they’ll be there to support you in extremely practical ways:

In some students’ unions, they have education officers who can help you if you have to go through the repeat process, or if you feel you were unfairly given a fail, they’ll help you appeal that.

6. How can college help me decide about my future career?

If you’re not entirely sure what kind of job you’d like when you finish, don’t worry says O’Callaghan. “There’s a career officer in most universities who you can have one-on-one meetings with”, shares O’Callaghan. She adds that it’s worth checking to see if the course you have in mind also offers placements as part of it – many do.

“Availing of a work placement opportunity in college can really help you discover if a career is a fit for you”, says O’Callaghan. Work experience is such a priority at Griffith College that they even work with second level DEIS (disadvantaged) schools in Cork, Limerick and Dublin to offer it, along with funding through the STEAM Bursary and the Creative Bursary.

7. What can I do if I’m struggling to keep up?

daria-nepriakhina-xY55bL5mZAM-unsplash Source: Unsplash

Whether it’s due to illness, mental health reasons or personal issues, lots of students may fall a little behind on their studies – and there are systems in place to make sure that you are able to succeed at your own pace: “I would recommend going to the students’ union, who will put you in touch with the programme director of the course you’re in.”

Programme directors are very used to accommodating students who might be struggling, says O’Callaghan: “Each college has different procedures in place but you may be able to defer a module or defer a year, or just get leave for two or three weeks.” Your students’ union can also help you to access the counsellor or the doctor, depending on your needs.

8. How can I best ensure I pass all my classes?

Think a few missed classes are no big deal? One of the pieces of advice that O’Callaghan would give herself at 18 is to try your best to make all of your classes: “Most modules will require 80%-85% attendance to pass.” Plus, they might even make the difference in getting that higher grade: “You’d be amazed what you’ll recall from a lecture – a word on an exam paper may spark a memory from attending a lecture that can help your answer.”

Lastly, no matter what you have planned for Freshers’ Week, try to make your library induction – or if you miss it, set time aside to request one, says O’Callaghan: “I find that students don’t avail of it as much, but the people who work there are amazing for giving help to access articles and catalogues.” You can also get a induction into college resource Moodle so you can keep up to speed on lectures and readings on your phone.

Hoping to start college soon, or know someone who is? Griffith College has a brilliant undergraduate offering of courses such as Accounting and Finance, Art and Design, Business, Computing, Fashion Design, Journalism, Law, Marketing and Photography. Take a look at exactly what they have on offer here.

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