Writes Andrea Horgan

Starting college is undoubtedly a nerve-wracking experience. No matter what points you received in your Leaving Cert and even if you accepted the course you thought you were destined to be in, everything is so new and can be associated with feelings of uncertainty, excitement, worry and so on. Looking back now, aged twenty-three (and feeling slightly ancient) I would have laughed in your face if you told me I would be where I am today.

Why? One course change, an abysmal amount of worry, anxiety and almost four years later I can honestly tell you that if I had not made the decision to reapply to the CAO and start an entire new course, I would not be writing this article today.
The Leaving Cert comes hand in hand with a substantial amount of pressure to do well, to learn off the facts and get into a good college course. Of course, when I decided I would take a shot at Medicine, this pressure only grew and mutated with my own fear of wanting to do well. Medicine, Medicine, Medicine. This was ALL I wanted to do, nothing else would suffice. When friends and family advised me to keep my options open and not to put all my eggs into one basket, I merely laughed. I am going to get into this course one way or another, I wouldn’t hear of anything suggesting otherwise! You can imagine my dismay when CAO offers came around and Medicine was but a dream stretched thin. I thought it was the end of the world. Even more so when I found myself in a course that I knew absolutely nothing about. The year that followed required a lot of tough decisions, plenty of tears, and coming to terms with what I wanted.

Going straight into college following the Leaving Cert is tough and a big reality change for many, myself included. I suffered an immense amount of anxiety throughout my first year in college. I struggled to make friends and stay on top of my work, many days I just did not see the point of even going into college. The commute is too long, I will have nobody to talk to, I don’t know where my lecture hall is. The list of worries was endless and consumed my every thought. How did I end up doing something I absolutely hated? What do I do? Do I stick it out just to have a degree in three years’ time? A trip to UCC Counselling, a meeting with the first-year coordinator and a very long discussion with my parents made me realise I did not want to do this course. I was nothing but miserable and suffering with constant anxiety.

I knew I wanted to change course. Although I had now decided that Medicine wasn’t the course for me, I knew I always wanted to help people. I later found this in Speech and Language Therapy. Initially, I was torn between staying in a course I hated due to the fear of letting people down and sounding like a complete failure or doing what was right for me. Thankfully, due to the support of my friends and family, I took the plunge and reapplied to the CAO while staying the year in my course and doing my exams (which I somehow managed to pass.)

However, it wasn’t all happy days ahead for me just yet. The year I changed course was the year of the new Leaving Cert system, so I was in a constant state of worry, dread, fear, you name it! I had no idea if I was going to get into the course I so desperately wanted, or if I was going to spend the next two years in what felt like never-ending hell for a time. Luckily enough, after what felt like an eternal summer, I accepted my offer into the course I’ll be graduating in June 2021. Who would have thought? Certainly not me!

I felt as though I was starting college all over again and as time grew closer to my (second) orientation day, so too did the fear. What if I hated this course too? What would I do then, drop out a second time? Thankfully, that was not the case. I have had my fair share of tears and doubts over the past three years during my new course in UCC. What I will say, though, is that it was the best decision I have ever made. Not an easy decision, but I am beyond grateful I didn’t let the stereotype of being a “failure” override my thought process when it came to changing course. It sounds pathetically clichéd, but once I found myself in my current college course, I knew straight away I was where I belonged. I immediately began to open up to others and saw everything as an opportunity and a learning experience. I have completely embedded myself in student life, between joining societies, doing Peer Support, being involved in organising events such as the Aphasia café (an event to practice communicating with people with Aphasia, a language disorder following stroke/brain injury) and so on. It has been the most rewarding experience! I’m now one year away from being in such an amazing, rewarding career that has my heart and lets me help people every single day. Imagine if things had gone the way I had anticipated back when I opened that dreaded brown envelope many moons ago.

It is okay not to have all the answers right now. It is certainly okay to make mistakes and it’s important to ask for help when you need it. These are the things we are not always told when we start college, oftentimes left to our own devices. Sink or swim. If you sink the first time around, get back up and start again. If it worked for me, it could work for anybody. You must find your passion in life, for me, that was helping people. For you, it might be the same or it may be teaching, writing, whatever it may be! Once you have your passion, in my eyes that is half the battle and everything else will work itself out one way or another. Although it may not always be the path you envisaged for yourself, I am a firm believer it’s the path for you.

To the person reading this right now, you can do whatever you want to do in life. Don’t listen to what others want for you, you have to want it for you. We need to make mistakes in life. Fortunately, my mistake led me to finding my passion in life. I am a completely different person thanks to the decisions I made in my first year of college. I adore what I do, and I have come out of my shell in ways I never even dreamed possible for me. All it takes is an ounce of courage to tell somebody “you know what, I made a mistake, and this isn’t for me”. It does not make you a failure, it shows courage, motivation and maturity for admitting what you want in life. It took me an immense amount of time to come to terms with this. Now knowing that I’m on the right career path, I have reflected over the past 4 years which have led me to this moment. Why could I not have just done the research and chose the right course from day one? Truth is, no amount of research would have helped me. I researched the course I was in; I liked the sound of it and thought “why not, what’s the worst that can happen? I already didn’t get into Medicine!”. How naïve I was.

Sometimes in life, you must live through certain experiences to come to the realisation of what is meant for you. Despite my harping on that such a difficult year filled with anxiety and uncertainty, I matured in a variety of ways. So much so, that I plucked up the courage to make such a drastic change (or so I thought). As Steve Marboli once said, “We all make mistakes, have struggles and even regrets in our past. But you are not your mistakes, you are not your struggles and you are here NOW with the power to shape your day and your future”. This is a quote that resonates with me. Read it again. You have the power to turn things around. When I felt like a failure in the wrong course, hating my college experience, I simply got up, decided this was not for me and changed my future. Look after your passion and everything else will fall into place.