New frontiers: making the leap to third level

We look at some of the changes and challenges students will encounter as they embark on the next step of their education

This autumn will be a momentous occasion for many first-time third-level students, as they embark on the next step of their education. Lockdown and the protracted periods of isolation that accompanied it will hopefully be no more than a distant memory as first-year students look forward to attending their new academic institution for the first time.

This is a hugely important time for any student, and is fraught with excitement and anxiety, apprehension and anticipation. For first-time students there are several areas where they will see significant changes in how they approach their education. We’ve listed six of them here:

1. Study For most students entering third-level institutions this autumn, their last 2½ years of study will have been very disrupted, involving a combination of online and in-person tuition. While online tuition is still available in some circumstances, for the most part third-level education will be on campus and in-person.

Studying at second-level differs greatly from third-level. The onus to study and deliver work by deadlines is entirely on the student, and lecturers will not check in to ensure students submit their work in a timely fashion.


Semesterisation will also represent a big change, where all study previously went towards exams at the end of third and sixth year. Third-level modules can be graded using continuous assessments, projects, oral exams, placements and exams, spread out over each semester.

2. Accommodation For some students continuing to live at home may be an option, while for others seeking rental accommodation will be a necessity.

Some colleges and universities may set aside a certain portion of campus accommodation for first-year students, while there are also a number of private companies offering student accommodation and leases.

In the current rental market, finding suitable and affordable private accommodation will be a struggle, but once secured, many students will stay there for the duration of their course.

3. Commute For students who live within commuting distance of their new institution, finding a reliable and affordable route is key. All third-level students in Ireland are eligible for a Student Leap Card, which is the only accepted student ID to avail of student fares on Irish Rail, Luas, Dart and Dublin Bus. Bus Éireann however, will accept any valid student ID.

4. Clubs and societies While extracurricular clubs and activities exist at second level, at third-level clubs, societies and other student activities can become a huge part of everyday life. At third-level, clubs and societies are generally student-run organisations, catering to a wide variety of hobbies and pastimes. Student politics is also an avenue many pursue, from class-representative level all the way up to sabbatical-officer level. Many third-level institutions also have student publications to suit a variety of interests.

5. Social life Socialising over the last 2½ years has been somewhat chaotic, with incoming and outgoing restrictions dictating when, where, and for how long we could mingle with friends. However, it seems that for the foreseeable future, incoming students will be able to experience the nightlife that their new institution – and potentially new town or city – has to offer.

It is important when socialising – particularly where alcohol is consumed – to ensure the safety of you and your friends. Stay in groups and share taxis where possible, and do not leave drinks unattended. If you must leave the venue by yourself, let your friends know and share your location with them. If you are getting a taxi, try and use a taxi-hailing app where possible, or share taxi details with friends.

6. Mental health

The jump from second to third-level can be a huge adjustment, which can be exciting but also stressful and anxiety inducing. There are many services available to students at their institutions, such as free or heavily subsidised counselling, free or subsidised doctors visits, students’ union welfare officers, or services such as Niteline, a student support line, accessible via phone or online chat.