Preparing for college life: 7 things you need to know

The following are a few tips that might be of help to students as they begin their third-level 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. Throughout the pandemic, there has been a question mark over how this will take place, but it appears that this year will mark the first time since the beginning of the pandemic where first time third-level students will be able to physically attend their new academic institution. Starting college is a hugely important time for any student, and it can be fraught with excitement and anxiety, apprehension and anticipation.

The following are a few tips that might be of assistance to students as they begin their third-level education:

1. Study For most students entering third-level institutions this autumn, their last 2½ years of study will have been disrupted many times, involving a combination of online and in person tuition. While online tuition is still available in some institutions, with many lectures being recorded and uploaded for later revision, for the most part study for those beginning in autumn 2022 will be on campus and in person.

Studying at second-level differs greatly from third-level. The onus to study and deliver work by a certain deadline is entirely on the student, and lecturers or tutors will not be able to check in to ensure students submit their work in a timely fashion. Lecture theatres can seat hundreds of students at a time, and lecturers are very different from secondary school teachers, where students may never speak directly with their lecturer in a semester, and the lecturer will more than likely never know their name. Seminars and tutorial groups are smaller, more interactive study environments where students can voice their thoughts and opinions.


Rote learning and fact regurgitation will not be enough at college as lecturers will expect something different.

Third-level modules can often be an amalgamation of continuous assessments, projects, oral exams, practical assessments and exams, spread out over each semester.

Many third-level colleges have courses aimed at helping students to learn effectively. These will help your note-taking, study skills and time management as well as helping you understand how to tackle questions and how to plan an argument. Contact your tutor for information.

2. Accommodation For some students continuing to live at home may be a viable option for at least the early years of their third-level education, but for others this is not possible, and seeking accommodation outside the family home will be necessary.

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 student accommodation companies such as Aparto, Yugo and HeyDay. These options tend to be quite expensive, but have the benefit of leases running exclusively for the academic year.

With the current rental market, coming across suitable and affordable private rented accommodation will be a struggle. Contact individual colleges about the options for on-campus accommodation and whether they offer supports to help students find a home in the local area.

3. Commute For students who live closer to their new institution, or who have access to dependable public transport, finding a reliable and affordable commuting route is key. All third-level students in Ireland are eligible for a student leap card, and the student leap card is the only accepted student ID to avail of student fares on Irish Rail, Luas, Dart and Dublin Bus, however Bus Éireann will accept any valid student ID.

Irish Rail, the Luas, Dart and Dublin Bus also have both daily and weekly caps for students using the student leap card, ensuring students don’t pay over a certain cap each day or week. The Luas offers both seven and 30 day student tickets, while monthly student Dart tickets cost €100.

4. Budgeting While many students may have managed their own money from part-time jobs and pocket money throughout secondary school, budgeting at third-level can be a very different story. Students may obtain money from their families, part-time work, government grants, or a combination of all three. For many students, this will be their first foray into adulthood, and they now need to budget for many elements of life they would not have previously. Supermarkets such as Lidl and Aldi can ensure students get bang for their buck when it comes to their weekly food shop. One useful tip is to track your finances by writing down your income and expenses each week. That way you can keep an eye on your spending.

Student discounts are also bountiful, for transport, meals, nights out, clothing, and beyond. A valid student ID or Student Leap card are generally accepted as student IDs to avail of these discounts. College student support services and the Student Union will offer help and assistance where and when it is needed .

5. Clubs and societies Get involved! While extracurricular clubs and activities exist at second-level, at third-level clubs, societies and other student activities can become a huge part of your day to day life at college. These organisations are generally student run, and new clubs and societies can be created from year to year. As a result of this, at third-level there tends to be a wide variety of clubs and societies to cater to all students' interests.

Student politics is also an avenue many young people choose to pursue, at the class representative level all the way up to sabbatical officer level (sabbatical officers are full-time paid employees of the institution’s Students’ Union, and take a sabbatical year during or after their studies to fulfil this role). Many third-level institutions also have student publications to suit their interests, including student newspapers, law reviews, literary journals, magazines and so on, to allow students to flex their literary muscles to their hearts’ desire,

6. 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. For the foreseeable, it looks like restaurants, pubs, nightclubs and other venues will remain open, allowing students to experience the nightlife that their new institution and potentially new town or city has to offer. Students will likely be going out mostly mid-week, which tends to differ greatly to pre and post student life, and students may be attending venues that are new to them, with a new social group.

It is incredibly important when socialising, particularly where alcohol may be consumed, to ensure the safety of you and your friends. Stay in groups and share taxis where possible. 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 so that you have the driver’s details. If hailing a taxi, take a photo of the licence plate and the driver’s details and share them with friends.

7. Mental health The jump from second to third-level can be a huge adjustment, which can be incredibly exciting, but also stressful and anxiety inducing, particularly following a very tumultuous 2½ years. A larger workload, increased responsibility, as well as trying to navigate an entirely new environment, are momentous changes to your life, and it is natural to struggle somewhat during this time. 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 and teams, or services such as Niteline, a student-run student support line, accessible via phone or online chat.