Tuesday, 20 December 2016

6 Things I've Learned About Starting College

Hey guys!

It's been almost three months since I started studying science in Trinity College, and it's definitely been different from what I expected. Since it's around the time a lot of you might be choosing where you're going to go for college, here's what I've learned about college in the last three months.

1. College is hard ... but satisfying

I'm saying this straight up, because I think it's what surprised me most. I, like a lot of people, spent 6th Year looking forward to when the Leaving Cert would be over and I could go have fun in college and learn some interesting science and make friends and have loads of time to work on my projects. 

I even saw college people on Twitter saying that college wasn't easy and didn't believe them, because I wanted something to look forward to. But reality check: college is hard. 

I always found it easy to get As in school. Sure, I worked hard - I studied 5+ hours an evening through a lot of 6th Year, mostly because it was fun and I enjoyed the feeling of completing the material - but there was never really anything I couldn't grasp. That all changed in college. 

At least in a Science degree, it seems like you're not even supposed to be able to be on top of everything. They throw the material at you so fast and suddenly a great grade, a "first", is 70%. That's now the top mark. It's a lot to get used to, and from the people I've talked to, everyone gets a bit of a shock when they first go to college. The material is genuinely difficult, both in terms of intellectual challenge and sheer bulk. 

On the other hand, it feels amazing when you finally start getting the hang of things - it really feels like you've earned it. I got 60% in my first Maths worksheet and am now getting 100s. I went from a 28% in Physics for my first assignment, when I had no idea how the system worked, to consistent 90 - 100s. The unpleasant feeling of being completely lost in lectures became all too familiar -- but so, too, has the triumph of finally getting something.

What I'm trying to say is, in college (at least in this course) it doesn't matter how smart you are. Everyone is smart. You still have to put in work if you want to do well. 

2. Finding community in college is very different (but I love it)

Similarly to how someone who had difficulty making friends in primary school might have an easier time in secondary school, when there are more people, college has something (and someone) for everyone. I was very lucky, in that my group of 4 besties solidified very quickly without me having to worry about it. They're the best part of college.

In terms of the broader College community ... it's weird. I can't think of any occasion when the entire 17000-strong College gets together, whereas in school we often had assemblies. It's like a village, in that people generally feel some connection and some belonging in it, but there are lots of members of the community whom you'll never know as everyone goes about their business. I went to a party at a professor's house last week and found out that some people who just teach postgrads don't know any undergrads, not even our SU President.

3. College life is unstructured

In school, we were in from 9-4 every day, with 1 hour for lunch at the same time every day, with the same teachers, in a small space ... All that changes in college. 

Times vary greatly -- I'm in 11-6 Monday, 9-4 Tuesday, 11-6 Wednesday, 9-5 Thursday and 9-12 Friday. Lunchtime isn't really a thing; on Mondays the only break we have between 11 and 6 is at 3, whereas on Wednesdays we're off between 2 and 5. Our lecturers change as we move between topics. You don't have to go to lectures, since roll call generally isn't taken (you do have to go to labs and tutorials). So much is up to you. 

While I've always been very self-motivated and independent, I have sometimes found the loss of structure difficult. I leave the house at 9 if I want to get in for 11 and get back at about 11 pm each night, so I'm too exhausted to do any study in digs. It's a far cry from 6th Year, when I got home at half 4 and studied/worked on projects from 5 pm to 1/2 am almost every single day. Now I have to make the conscious decision to study, rather than just doing it out of habit. And college is very distracting - there's always some society event to go to instead of studying. So I do study less than I used to, but luckily I have a good group of friends who come together to get our assignments done and then have fun.

4. Adventure 

I thought going to college would sweep me up in some great adventure. That's not quite true -- college can be quite mundane a lot of the time, with sometimes-boring lectures and assignments and lab reports and tutorials. But college does offer a great opportunity for you to Choose Your Own Adventure, whether that's by getting involved in societies or going on trips or, like me and my friends last weekend, going on a boat.

(L-R: Me, Kevin, GrĂ¡inne and Will standing in front of the boat.)
5. Independence/Adulthood

I keep expecting college staff to confiscate our phones, but they never do. It's so interesting having most of school's restrictions lifted off you -- the world feels a lot more open, but it does necessitate finding your own direction. Staff default to not caring about individual students -- you have to show interest or reach out to them before they'll care. If you're struggling, you need to go seek out help yourself, whether by emailing a professor or attending the Maths helproom.

Everyone is figuring it out in different ways. I love independence so it works for me.

6. Everyone is smart, and everything is levelled-up

College is such a big level-up. Take the Students Union, for example -- comparing that to school Student Councils is pretty illuminating. You can't half-ass things and get anywhere, no matter how smart you are.

Trinity (probably also the other colleges, but this is the one I have experience with) is amazing because everyone is talented. It's not just that most of our courses are over 500 points -- it's seeing that (1) everyone is smart and hard-working (2) everyone is passionate about something (3) everyone seems to have other talents. Most people go to university because they like learning, so intelligence actually cancels out and you get to see people's other talents, like their leadership capabilities or mad juggling skills. 

It can be pretty scary at first, going from being the big fish in school's small pond to a small fish in the huge lake of university, being unique just like everybody else. A lot of people who were once the best in their class/school are now dealing with being just one of many. Scary, yes, but healthy, and offers so much potential for meeting cool people. It's kinda fun to be part of a crowd when it's a really cool crowd and you can stand out in new ways.

In short:

I love college. It's genuinely difficult and it's often surprising, but I'm having the time of my life. Just try to shed any preconceptions you have going in, because it's definitely not what it seems. If you have any points to add or questions about settling into college or coming to Trinity, hit me up at izzyroselle@gmail.com.

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