Eoghan O’Donnell, Deputy Features Editor
There is a certain sense of security that comes with a plan. Take any aspect of your life, plan it properly and follow through with it: you’ll see things tend to work out favourably more often than not. With a good plan, any milestone can be reached.
When it comes to deciding to go to university, one can knock down the initial terrifying things to two main challenges: what to study and where to study it. In secondary school, I can vividly recall much pressure surrounding the Leaving Certificate and the CAO. Obviously, this is a common feeling for many Irish students finally being chewed up and coughed out at the end of their five or six years in second-level education. Yet, there was always this underlying sense of security in secondary school: you were given your timetable, you were given your mandatory subjects, you were given precise instructions for every minute of your life. Choosing the right university and the right course (that is if you decided to go down the university route at all) is one of the first times in where you are left to toy with adult decisions entirely on your own.
Luckily for me, there was reassurance in the fact that by July 1st I had a solid plan ahead of me for four years. English at University College Cork: beautiful campus, beautiful people, beautiful city. Saying that, reaching the stage of actually choosing something to study and where to go took much longer than expected.
Admittedly, there has always been this minor underlying anxiety about choosing to do a course that is not specifically career-oriented. Especially seeing as many of my friends and relatives find themselves gearing up to be doctors or dentists, or pharmacists over the next few years. Regardless, I find myself studying a course I enjoy ninety-percent of the time and am surrounded by a much more diverse range of people than I am used to being around in my hometown back in Kerry.
Having finally reached the near end of my degree, here are the most important things I’ve learned throughout the years.
Pathways are Pathways
There is no right or wrong decision about what path you take; there is only the path you take. This is probably the hardest thing to come to terms with, especially if you are any bit indecisive or get easily caught up in the what-ifs like me. I can vividly recall waking up in cold-sweats in Victoria Mills as a first year, panicking at the thought I had chosen the wrong course. For months, there were these lingering feelings of anxiety about how my current years would forever define who I’d turn out to be.
There is a lot of pressure on young people in Ireland to know which career is best for them by seventeen or eighteen. It is an almost insurmountable feat, especially considering almost nobody has any idea what they want to do (bar those who’ve known they’ve wanted to be doctors or dentists since coming out of the womb – they’re the exception, not the rule). This is one of the primary reasons Ireland has one of the highest dropouts rates among first years and why many courses are left uncompleted by people. Sometimes it’s too early to choose who you want to be. And that’s understandable.
The age at which people head to university in most other countries in Europe is a few years older than on the Emerald Isle. Those important late teen years are often spent by mainland Europeans discovering themselves, or travelling or working. That’s not to say this isn’t done in Ireland either – it just doesn’t seem to be that common a route.
Yet, the further you progress down whatever path you’ve chosen, guaranteeing you enjoy some aspect of it, those feelings of anxiety and unease will alleviate and eventually will be replaced with a more precise idea of who you are and where you’re heading.
Relax. Really do relax. Nobody expects you to have all the answers, and if somebody in your close vicinity is pressuring you to produce a concrete idea on your plan for the future, try your best to stand back. Take all the time you need to figure it out: as long as you have enough cash to survive and manage to keep up with your workload on top of life’s many other demands, you’ll manage.
It’s especially easy to get caught up in thinking you should be doing something else, or be somewhere else. Hypotheticals are the easy route to take when getting lost in thought. Especially if there are moments when you catch yourself dreading something, or are feeling unsure about what you’re doing. Yet the years prove, as they always do, that no matter how awful something is, it eventually does pass.
University can be quite overwhelming – there’s so much going on, all the time. Yet, that doesn’t mean you’re not able for it: it simply shows that you will manage to get through whatever obstacle is being posed. You just need to persevere. And it can often seem that everybody is handling university life much better than you are. That’s not true at all though – everyone is handling it just as awfully.
Reach out to Others
Reach out to those around you. By associating with others, your experiences will be enhanced. Don’t get me wrong, it can sometimes be really hard to make connections with others, but you will eventually. It’s just a matter of persevering until you find your niche of friends. You need to branch out to have those friends who will listen to your complaints or hear you out when you’re struggling with whatever it is that’s going on in life. They’ll likely have just as many things they’re struggling with. There’s comfort in that.
Branch out. Easier said than done, I know. Yet the most important moments for me over the past few years at university have had nothing to do with academic work. Sure, it’s great finally getting a first-class, or giving a presentation much better than your jittery self was anticipating – but it’s nothing compared to those many moments you’ll share with the people you meet at university.
Aside: First years, believe me when I say I am sorry for you. Your time to meet all the people you’ve ever dreamt of meeting at college is coming. I know it’s taking much longer to be released from the chains of this pandemic than anybody was expecting, but the time will come eventually. And when you find yourself at a crowded pre-drinks, or a busy society social, it’ll be one of the best moments you’ll experience. It could be cliché for me to go on about how people you meet are the best part of university. Nevertheless, it’s too true for me to pass up.
Nothing compares to that moment you finally hit it off with those people in your course you’ve been dying to talk to – your friend crushes will materialise into the best friendships. Nothing compares to going to a party knowing only one person and leaving with ten new friends. University is about helping to hide your friend, who’s getting sick at the side of the street, from the view of the bouncer. It’s meeting the same group of friends the following morning over coffee in CoffeeDock so hungover for your 9am that you can’t see straight. It’s about sitting in a sweaty, jam-packed car outside KCs and Sons and Sons, horsing into your Bombshell with Garlic Mayo. It’s about sitting on the kitchen counter shifting that beour or feen until you start panicking over the fact you can’t breathe properly and need to take a break even when you don’t want to. It’s about comforting your friends when they’re upset, and them comforting you when you can’t get over your rejections. It’s about getting given out to by a lecturer for whispering too loudly and being made walk out of the Kane lecture hall in front of everyone. It’s about arriving into the lecture with the latté that made you late, as your friend trails in even later. It’s about those evenings when you watch upwards of five films with your housemates. It’s about travelling with your college friends to wherever. It’s about those days where you have so many flat-whites that your eyes start involuntarily shaking. It’s about those sunny evenings when you’re dancing to music you hate so much that you begin to love it. It’s about you and your friends surviving leaks in the ceiling and mice in the kitchen. It is those spontaneous, joyous interactions with others that make everything so worthwhile.
Get Involved & Take Advantage of Facilities
Getting involved is about actually going to the weekly meeting of whatever society or club you’re interested in and putting yourself out there. No one is going to stop you from trying: it’s all about the sense of community. You’ll learn so many skills and meet such great people. Pick a society and go to the meetings. Trust me. Just do it. Don’t shy out. If you’re interested in writing, send your queries or articles to anyone on the Express team, it’s always great to see new voices being featured.
UCC is such a great college in that there are so many opportunities for everyone; it’s just a matter of actually utilising the facilities. Oh, and use the Mardyke. That gym is too state of the art to pass up as something only those GAA heads use. There is so much there. Don’t shy away. Nobody is actually looking at you. Everybody is too focused on themselves to see that you’re struggling to turn on the treadmill.
Keep on top of Academia
With all the socialising that makes your university experience so worthwhile, it’s easy to forget academic work actually matters and actually needs to be done. Keep on top of it. There’s nothing worse than having to fly back from your J1 to repeat your stats exam. If you’re struggling there are so many sources to help you, even if the sources appear a bit daunting at times.
People are willing to help you, and the grinds service on campus is a great way to gain some extra guidance. Most of the time, lecturers will be willing to assist you: in fact, they’re usually quite happy to have some sort of dialogue with students. At the end of the term, your academic work does end. Just stay on top of it until then – try your best with your assignments and you will be rewarded justly. It’s nice seeing your handwork pay off – because it does, most of the time at least. And, if you fail an exam or a module, it’s not the end of the world – it happens to so many people.
A plan is something worth having though. Just don’t stress yourself out too much attempting to formulate one. More often than not, the right plan for the future will come apparent to you just when you need it to.
Other than that, have fun and enjoy your university years. They go by very quickly. Trust me.