In late August 2015 I moved into on-campus accommodation in UL, with absolutely no idea of what college life would be like. The past two years have been an amazing adventure and I cannot stress enough the positive impact that UL has had on my life. That being said, college is a challenging environment; both academically and personally.
The transition from a leaving cert student to a first year college student is a drastic one and you may find certain aspects of your new life causing you to feel anxious, stressed and/or unhappy.
I do not mean to paint a pessimistic picture of UL or student life, in fact my outlook is quite the opposite, it is vital to be aware that maintaining your mental health throughout potentially stressful and harrowing situations is hugely important. Here are 7 tips that I feel would be of benefit to incoming first year students and current students in UL.
1. It is OK to be clueless.
You are not supposed to know everything straight away, college is more than likely completely unique to any experience you have ever had and it takes a while to adjust and learn the ropes.
I am not necessarily referring to the labyrinth that is the “main building” or the confusing codes for where your tutorial is (where is A051?), you might stress initially but you will get the hang of it pretty quickly. First Seven Weeks volunteers are situated throughout campus to help you locate your classes.
What can be far more stressful is the difference in coursework from secondary school, including researching sources and the process of learning how to cite them. You may have about a dozen questions regarding various things to ask and might not be sure where to direct them.
If you are experiencing any difficulty understanding something important such as your assignment, due fees etc. Use your provided student e-mail. Possibly the worst thing you could do is be too shy to ask or be afraid of looking stupid and end up just hoping everything is okay and stress yourself worrying that it is not. Your course director, lecturers, tutors, student president etc. are all readily available to help you with matters relevant to them (just remember to be formal).
2. Make the most of your living situation
You may be living on-campus in a student village with complete strangers, it is important to make an effort. The positive impact of living in a house where everyone gets on well together on both your mental health and college experience can be massive. For the first couple of weeks, initially it will be awkward. That is natural, but there is no point in being shy around people you are likely going to be living with for the entire year.
Unfortunately, in some instances housemates may not get along; personalities could clash or feuds may develop and divide a house; if you ever feel that the environment in your house is toxic and/or housemates cannot be civil to each other, you may be best off contacting your village manager and requesting a transfer, an unhealthy living environment is detrimental to your mental health.
It is not likely that things would be that bad, nor is it likely that everyone becomes best friends. The reality usually lies somewhere in between these two extremes but the important thing is that you are happy with your living environment.
3. Occupy Yourself – Hobbies, Sports, Clubs and Socs etc.
With all of your classes and assignments to keep on top of, you may be surprised to find how much free time you have on your hands; what you choose to do with this free time can have a big impact on your mental health.
UL’s club and societies offer you the chance to meet like-minded people in a friendly, relaxed environment. It is often in these clubs and societies that friendships are formed as it can be hard to both meet and talk to new people in college, lecture halls are not always the most ideal place to introduce yourself to a random stranger after all.
Whether you join a club/society or not, the main thing is to have a non-alcohol based activity to indulge in. This does not necessarily need to be a sport or some strenuous activity, any sort of hobby which you derive enjoyment from is fine.
4. Isolation, Responsibility & Big Changes
The transition from secondary school to college can be very much a “thrown in at the deep end” experience at times. Many students feel isolated at some point, as mentioned above it is not necessarily easy to make new friends in college if you do not know anyone. This plus the amount of free time you may have can often lead many students to feel isolated.
Isolation can make many of the new or bigger responsibilities you now have difficult to cope with. Some students struggle with simply getting up on time for their class (your mother will not be there to roar at you until you get up!), some may find not only struggling to eat healthily in college difficult but even preparing nutritional meals for themselves everyday a new responsibility. No matter how independent you were before attending college, it is likely that you will find at least one of your new responsibilities challenging, whether that be academic or personal; isolation and a subsequent lack of motivation can make these seem more daunting than they really are. This can lead to students not attending their classes and becoming “stuck in a rut” that can be hard to get out of, this is also why keeping active is important.
5. Financial Guilt, Exam Stress & Your Course
At the risk of stating the obvious, college can be very expensive. Even if you are working part-time, receiving a grant, or both; you are almost definitely relying heavily on your parents financially when it comes to college fees, accommodation fees, exam fees and pocket money while living in college. Many students carry a burden of guilt regarding the financial pressure their studies can have on their parents and these guilty feelings are often exacerbated ten-fold when exams are looming. Exams can be stressful enough without the added pressure students put on themselves to justify their parents’ financial sacrifices with good results.
Financial guilt can be even more stressful among students who are unsure whether or not they like their course or feel they would now prefer a different one. The decision to change course can often seem too drastic a move for students who are all too aware of the money their parents have already spent, students can often feel more and more trapped the longer they choose to stay in their course as the prospect of changing becomes more and more daunting.
Students who are already struggling with certain aspects of college life can find this added burden of guilt and uncertainty extremely difficult to cope with. It is important to keep in mind that you are almost certainly incapable of completely providing for yourself in college and that that responsibility is not yours to deal with. If you are in a situation where you feel you would be better suited to another course, you should talk to your student advisor and the relevant course directors who can provide the information you need to make your decision and discuss it with your parents. In the long run, you are much better off in a course that you enjoy doing rather than slogging through a course you dislike for a degree you will be reluctant to make use of.
6. UL offer a free counselling service – And it is quite popular
Now that we have outlined some of the potential pitfalls for your mental health in college, it is worth pointing out that UL offer a free counselling students to all of its students as well as workshops dealing with certain difficulties you may experience.
Demand to see a counsellor is high and often you may have to wait a month or two to start scheduling regular appointments but the wait involved is no excuse not to go through with it. If anything, the sheer volume of students making use of UL’s counselling service should serve as an important reminder; you are not alone.
Given the new challenges that you now face and the refreshing demise of the stigma surrounding mental health in recent years, you should not feel any shame whatsoever if you feel the need to talk someone, the counselling service can be found in CM073 in the main building.
7. Focus on You
So now that you have been informed of some of the more common personal struggles of college students and the importance of maintaining your mental health would be to focus on yourself. Studying at UL can be one of the greatest experiences of your life if you take full advantage of the opportunities available to you, you are granted new freedom and independence to be who you are and to do what you want to do.
You will have many important decisions to make, you may even decide that college is not for you or you may not view things the same way that I am portraying them. Regardless, you should always choose what will make you happiest and prioritise your mental health above all else.