Wednesday 26 November 2014

Pitfalls you should avoid in your first year of college

As thousands prepare for college life, Ian Morris marks their card on what they can expect from this brave new world

Published 31/08/2014 | 02:30

Thousands of students around the country are preparing to go to college for the first time. Photo posed.
Thousands of students around the country are preparing to go to college for the first time. Photo posed.

With a new college year fast approaching, thousands of students all over the country are preparing to attend university for the very first time. For most young people this is an exciting, if not somewhat anxious time, as they gear themselves up for life beyond secondary school.

While the freedom college represents is more than appealing, there is an element of fear involved in the lead-up. For their whole lives they have existed in a world with lots of structure and rules.

Every minute of the day was planned and they shared their world with the same group of people that they'd known since they were children. Classes were small and the teachers could focus on students who were having trouble as well as heap praise on those who were doing well. People were there to make their choices for them. All of that is over now.

The first thing I noticed when I got to college, not too long ago, was the total lack of structure to my day. I loved the freedom to be able to choose subjects that I was actually interested in, but my class schedule was far more scattered than I was used to.

Some days I had class at 9am, then nothing till 1pm and then two more after 4pm, then other days my first class wouldn't be till 2pm but it'd be a four-hour block.

I was used to going to classes all day, then studying for a couple of hours and then being free for the rest of the evening, not being left with hours to fill between classes throughout the day.

The second thing I noticed was that I knew virtually nobody. Instead of the same pack of lads I'd been in school with for the past decade, I was surrounded by thousands of unfamiliar faces. Some of my classes were in giant lecture halls with hundreds of other students present instead of the twenty or so I was accustomed to. My classes were no longer just a few Dublin guys my own age, there were men and women of all ages from all sorts of places. For those first few days I kept in touch with some school friends who were also on campus, but for many students, who are travelling up and down the country to attend college this year, that crutch won't be available.

What will be available is a constant stream of fun activities and events to help you meet people and explore your personal interests and hobbies.

Fresher's week, for example, offers students many different ways to integrate themselves into the college community as well as make good friends.

There'll be stalls filled by all kinds of societies and sports clubs who'll be trying to recruit new members. Membership to these clubs is normally super cheap (around €2) and usually there's a gift bag or something, so join a whole bunch of things; you never know what new interest you'll discover.

Whether it's the film society, the Literary and Historical society, the French club, or the weightlifting team; you won't know if you like something until you've seen it, studied it, spoke it or lifted it, so keep an open mind. Besides the stalls, there is likely to be a variety of events taking place throughout the campus for you to attend; for example, during my fresher's week I rode a mechanical bull while my friend Liam went bungee jumping, then we met up and went to see the infamous iron stomach competition - which was every bit as horrifying as the stories boast.

From there, we went to the student bar for dinner and drinks before heading into town for the night with some of the people we had met earlier that day.

While the fun and events of campus life can help people to make friends and develop their interests, the freedom of it can be a serious pitfall for many.

The college atmosphere can be extremely distracting and there are those who live by the dangerous philosophy proffered by South Park's Chef that "there's a time and a place for everything, and it's called college."

With all the gaps between classes, not to mention the fact that no one's going to call your parents if you play hookey, it can be easy to let your studies suffer as you pursue the joy of campus life. Many colleges have on-campus bars, which are obvious hotspots for social activity, but they often have certain regulars who are far too regular. If you walk into the UCD student bar at 11am it isn't packed, but it's doing good business.

I distinctly remember being offered drugs during fresher's week. I was hanging out with a group I'd met earlier that day at one of the society's demos. We had a few drinks, danced etc., but later in the night one of the guys invited me back to their on-campus apartment, where the party was to continue. A group of us went back and very shortly after we'd arrived one of the guys living there produced a bag of white powder with a big smile on his face.

I said that I had no interest in cocaine and was informed that it was actually a bag of ketamine, which is most commonly used as a "dissociative anaesthetic" for animals. I felt immediately uncomfortable with my new 'friends' and left a short while later, but before I did, I witnessed at least two people being introduced to and trying ketamine for the first time. A quick Google of ketamine tells me that it can cause all sorts of problems with heart rate, blood pressure, nausea, depression, amnesia, hallucinations and potentially fatal respiratory problems and, due to the dreamlike state it creates, it has been used in the past as a date rape drug.

For those of you starting college in the coming weeks, be aware, that while you are going to have some great new experiences and meet some fantastic people, you will be presented with plenty of opportunities to make stupid mistakes; whether it's to impress a girl/boy, fit in with a crowd or just because something sounds like fun.

The best advice I can give you is this. Firstly, the student bar/pool room/student centre will still be there after class and there will always be other events to go to if your scholastic timetable happens to interfere with your social life. Secondly, anyone who puts pressure on you to do something that doesn't feel right inside, is not your friend. You're better off without them and the quicker you realise it the quicker you can make real friends.

It's so easy to get lost in the social frenzy of college and having fun all the time, but the truth is that life is never as sweet without the bitter and speaking from personal experience, it's a lot sweeter to celebrate a good grade, than it is to drown a bad one.

Sunday Independent

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