Making the step up to college was initially a daunting prospect for me. I came from a smallish secondary school with just over 400 pupils in it. I had the respect of my teachers and I knew almost everyone (to see, at least). I wasn’t overly fond of the idea of being one in 22,000, but I guess you can’t be a big fish in a little pond forever.
A small comfort remained in the fact that, being from Galway, I’d be living at home for the year. Mammy’s cooking and cleaning would still be available on demand.
To be fair, I was excited by the raw possibility of university. I had a romantic fixation with the ‘movie myth’ that surrounds third-level education. Teen films like Van Wilder, Roadtrip and American Pie made me believe that my first year as a college man would be a blur of on-campus DJ sets, plastic red cups with God knows what in them and pulling all-nighters in my ‘dorm room’ before exams to scrape a pass. I have never been more wrong.
College is fun, but it’s not all beer bongs and barfing. There are regular nights out and the fabled Rag Week (whether it’s official or not) will always be a bit of craic. The real way to make it as a happy, well-rounded college student is to push yourself to experiment with new things.
Now, I’m not referring to the American Pie version of college experimentation. I’m talking about choosing philosophy over geography, joining the archery club, or going to a French Society conversation night even though your French-speaking capabilities reach their limit after ‘bonjour’ and ‘croissant’.
I eventually realised that I have my whole life to wear woolly jumpers and sit in velvet armchairs and dip my biscuits in tea, so I thought, why not spend my college years trying new things?
I didn’t become active in any societies until February, after I saw just how much fun all of my classmates were having. And it doesn’t have to be skydiving to be fun. As an aspiring journalist, I thought it would be a useful exercise to report for the college newspaper. There is a society for everyone, from FilmSoc right through to the incredibly creative guys over at Nothing Specific.
Another harmful misconception regarding college students is the legend of the college layabout. It just isn’t true. The Leaving Cert depleted me, and I was looking forward to embracing life as a ‘lazy student’. I worked so hard for that hellish blast of exams, and I entered college a spent force. I was disappointed to realise that once I gained entry to my desired course, all of those beautiful points I worked so hard to attain counted for nothing other than pride.
Anyway, I discovered that lecture attendance is absolutely crucial. I averaged around 75 per cent attendance, which isn’t too bad considering the latest my timetable allowed me to sleep in was 10am. This was far from my expectations of waking up at two in the afternoon, waddling into college and not being left behind in the process. I found that attending college is every bit as vital as attending secondary school.
For me, the main cause of absenteeism was the dreaded ‘Semester Two Blues’. The symptoms began in mid-January and all of my start-of-year enthusiasm melted away. I gave myself up to procrastination: spending hours on end flicking through cat memes on the net, taking entire morning study sessions off to work out that I only needed 50 per cent in my final to pass the year, that kind of thing.
A pass with minimal attendance can be scraped in first year through constant monitoring of Blackboard and other resources. Unfortunately, this tactic won’t work past first year. Irregular lecture attendees will have their dusty knowledge of course content exposed eventually, when the rug is pulled from underneath them. It’s better to just trudge through the 9ams wherever possible.
There is one final fabrication I would advise college students to disregard at all costs: the falsehood of a predictable jobs market. If I was given a euro for every time a relative advised me to do IT I’d have, well, six euro. Bad example, but you know what I mean.
In 2006, a mate of mine began studying ‘Construction Management’ at IT Tralee. When he started, construction was the most lucrative industry in the country. By the time he had finished in up 2010, there were no more construction sites for him to manage. I don’t like computers very much, so I didn’t choose to study them. Simples.
I’m really not trying to preach, sermonise or push anyone towards a subject or area. I’m saying that you should pick the field that interests you most. If there’s a course that you wouldn’t mind getting up at eight o’clock for, shook to the core with a hangover, then go for it. Enthusiasm trumps job prospects. Job markets are variable, but our intimate interests never are.