Going to College 2020: tips and tricks
With CAO offers around the corner, we look at some of the best tips and tricks to prepare you for your college years.

Student finance

College can be very expensive – especially if you decide to study in a city, you can expect a high cost of living. Managing your money is an important skill every student learns during their time as an undergraduate.

Set out a budget for the week, allocating money to food, accommodation, transport and some of the more fun activities.

Student cards are a very useful tool, try to use it to its full potential. Public transport, food outlets, retailers are much cheaper when you present your card, with most outlets offering a student rate. It’s worth noting not all companies will accept student cards, but the worst they can say is no.

Cycling is worth considering, it’s an eco-friendly option and also saves your pocket. It’s a once-off investment which will save you money in the long run. Cheap locks aren’t good and good locks aren’t cheap, be sure to make a worthwhile investment.

If you intend using public transport on a regular basis it is advisable to get a Student Leap Card which costs €10 per year and will save you exponentially compared with paying as you go.

UNiDAYS is a discount website that is available for free to college students. Current students can sign up and get discounted deals on a range of products and services. For example the website currently offers a 35% discount at Dominos when ordering with their code.

Student unions

Student unions are a lobbying and support group for the students, run by the students. Every college has a union which often lobbies the relevant authorities on important issues.

The students union is a useful source of information and assistance through your college years. They run events, offer various academic and wellbeing services, and often offer freebies.

Annual elections are held where students are given the opportunity to run for the various positions within the union. It’s worth considering joining the race for office at some point during your undergrad.

Welfare

Your GPA and social life may appear to be the two most important things but your health has to be the priority. Late-night socialising and early morning cramming for exams is common but it does take its toll.

It’s easy to neglect both physical and mental health in college. It is best to try and get a balance with a plan for the week ahead. Take into account what exams and assignments lie ahead and schedule your social calendar accordingly. To stay balanced: eat well, sleep well, exercise and keep everything else in moderation. The university campus is a new and exciting place to be but stay vigilant and safe as you go about your college life to maximise your experience.

Attendance and deadlines

Unlike secondary school, attendance at college is very rarely checked. It’s up to you to make an effort to attend lectures and keep up with modules. Your lecturers may teach multiple modules each semester with potentially hundreds of students in each.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that teaching is rarely the only concern for a lecturer. They also conduct research, publish papers, write grant proposals, advise students and potentially even manage a lab.

Now that most of the course work will be taught online it’s more important than ever to have self-discipline and make the effort to tune in.

Many lecturers intentionally leave key information out of their slides and discuss the content during their class time. By attending lectures regularly you will keep up to date with modules and also pick up on the key points not offered on the slides.

College lectures cover material much faster than secondary school classes so it’s important to keep the pace. Exam hints can also be given discretely during lectures so it is in your best interest to attend.

Deadlines are a necessary evil for both lecturers and students alike. It’s recommend to avoid putting assignments on the long finger, deadlines creep up on you and seem to all come at once.

Best practice is to make a start as soon as the details of the assignment is released and set out a plan to complete it. Late submissions are penalised, could cost you a grade unnecessarily, and cause a lot of avoidable stress.

Exams and grades

College grading is much different to the Leaving Cert. Although grades are still relevant, the system which your degree is evaluated is much different.

Universities use a calculation called a Grade Point Average, or GPA for short. This will automatically be calculated for you at the end of each semester for the modules you have completed.

Your grade in each module will be translated into a GPA value. These values will then be used to equate your final mark at the end of your degree.

A 1.1 is the highest mark you can get in college, it’s also known as a First Class Honours. To reach this mark a student must attain a minimum of a B+ average across all of their modules.

A 2.1 is what is required for most jobs and postgraduate courses and is also known as a Second Class Honours, Grade 1. To reach this mark a student must attain a minimum of a B- average across all of their modules.

A 2.2 is also known as a Second Class Honours, Grade 2 and will serve you well when looking for a job, especially if combined with extra-curricular involvement during your college days. To reach this mark a student must attain a minimum of a D+ average across all of their modules.

A Pass means you will graduate with your degree but does not put you in a great position when trying for a Masters or higher ranked jobs in the professional industry. To reach this mark a student must attain a minimum of a D- average across all of their modules.

If an exam didn’t go to plan or you didn’t get the grade you hoped for, don’t panic, colleges have systems in place to deal with these situations. Students can request to review their paper just like in the Leaving Cert, and similarly can appeal a grade.

If you fail an exam colleges offer an opportunity to resit at a later stage, but bear in mind that students are charged for this. If you fail a module completely, colleges offer students the opportunity to repeat it which comes with a similar fee.

Worst case scenario, if you’ve failed a module multiple times there is an option to use substitution. This involves swapping the failed module with another new one that you’ve taken instead but it’s important to note that most colleges don’t offer this option for core modules in your degree programme.

Referencing

A new concept to every first year in college is referencing and it will take time to adjust to. If done correctly referencing will boost any essay you write in college, done incorrectly and it will pull your grade down and also get you into bother with plagiarism.

Plagiarism is when you take someone else’s work or ideas and pass them off as your own. It’s the equivalent of cheating in secondary school. Universities take this very seriously so it’s a good idea to get to grips with referencing early on.

Lecturers or tutors will explain the concept in your first few weeks of college so it’s recommended to take notes and pay attention to the referencing style of your college. This style can vary between colleges.

There are many sites out there that will reference a source for you such as www.citethisforme.com, but it’s always better to understand how to do it yourself.

Read more

Going to College 2020: the accommodation situation

Going to College 2020: giving students a reason to be on campus

Going to College 2020: expand your horizons and enjoy the journey

Going to College 2020: socialising and social distancing