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It's easy to fall behind - don't let it happen to you

Entering third-level is a time to step up and take hold of a great opportunity, writes Marese Bermingham


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Professor Phil Race writes in his excellent book How to Get a Good Degree that you earn a good degree through what you do, not just what you know. Therefore, for any first year, my advice is to create good habits from the very beginning and make a conscious effort to make a good start - it really is half the work.

No matter what a student's experience of school has been, starting third-level education is a new beginning, a time to take hold of a really great opportunity. Lecturers and professional staff in institutions across the country are committed to supporting students to make a success of it. They will make demands and expect that in turn, their first years expect a lot of themselves. While the race for CAO points and places on courses is competitive, it is crucial that students realise that the points required to gain entry do not reflect the level of work required for the course.

While recognising the diverse entry routes of students to third level, meeting academic standards can require a considerable change of approach to studying for many students. Systems and procedures are new and being part of a much larger group of learners can be exciting but also have elements of challenge.

The move from high levels of support to taking solo responsibility for learning is significant. This independence can come as a great relief to some students but for others it can be daunting and might require developing a new set of skills. This will need to be addressed quickly in the first semester as it is often very surprising to first year students how easy it is to "fall behind" in their studies. Many institutions have dedicated academic skills or learning centres which support students to achieve their academic goals. So, find out where they are and avail of their expertise.

Adapting to third level may be challenging at times. It is important that students take a deep breath and actively manage expectations of themselves. Settling in to any new environment takes time. Research and experience tell us that a strong sense of belonging is a key factor in helping students stay and succeed at third level. Students' positive experiences are crucial for academic success - finding friends, feeling confident and feeling part of a course and institution.

How this translates as advice for first year students in the coming semester is as follows: (1) Get to know classmates and make friends in the early weeks; (2) Connect with the material on your course and become engaged in your learning; and (3) Develop good working relationships with staff and successfully orientate yourself in your new physical environment so that you will feel part of your academic department and the wider institution.

So take part in all induction activities planned by your college for new students, start conversations with other students, go to your lectures and classes, get to know your lecturers, ask for help when you need it and strike the right balance between learning and having fun... these are not mutually exclusive activities!

Marese Bermingham is Head of the Student Engagement Office (AnSEO) and Head of the Teaching and Learning Unit at Cork Institute of Technology (Cork IT)

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