Practical steps to prepare for college

This post will look at some of the practical steps you can take before you start college to make sure your transition to third level is a bit smoother.



When you first starting college begins you will have a lot to get used to very quickly! But don’t worry – there are lots of things you can do to make that transition a bit easier to cope with.

And remember every student finds some aspect of the move to college challenging in some way and it’s okay if it takes a little while to adjust. This is a big step in life!

How could this affect me?

When you start college, you will be taking on the commitment of studying and completing assessments for your course, which will be your main focus. If you have just left school, you may find college to be less structured which may be a challenge. It is worth spending a bit of time when you get your timetable to think about when you are going to fit in all the other parts of your life – like exercise, relaxation, meeting friends, and maybe even working. Any routines you had before may need adjusting to take into account your new activities and commitments.

At the same time, you may find that people expect you to be more independent – manage your own time, communicate with college staff yourself and take greater responsibility for your own self-care (like eating a healthy enough diet and getting enough sleep).

This is a lot of new responsibility and it is quite normal to find it a bit overwhelming at times. Many autistic people find changes to be quite challenging. However this is also a great opportunity to learn more about yourself and make a new routine that makes you happy. This is the positive side to change – it is an opportunity to try new things that may make your life better!

What to do next?

Make sure you think about the changes that are coming up and what you can do to prepare for them!

Practical tips

Here are some tips to help you with the transition to college:

1. Tell the university about your autism in order to access relevant support at the right time.

You can receive specialist supports if you have a formal diagnosis of autism/ASD (or Asperger’s) but you must let the Disability Support Service (DSS) know. When completing your registration for college you will be asked to tick a box to register with the Disability Support Service – it’s that simple! You can always contact the Disability Support Service if you have questions about this process.

2. Learn to talk about your autism and to advocate for yourself.

Think about what your autism means for you – what strengths you have and what things you may find more challenging. Advocating for yourself means letting people know what you need to succeed in college. It also means letting people know if things are not working for you. Previously you may have had a parent or guardian do this for you but in college you will be expected to do this yourself. If you have any concerns about this you can speak to a staff member in the Disability Support Service who will be able to give you advice and support.

3. Decide what you share with your student peers.

No one is going to tell other students about your diagnosis – it is completely up to you wish to tell people you are autistic. You may find this helpful or you may wish to keep this information private. It may be better to wait until you know someone a little bit better before you tell them – but it is up to you. There are more and more students with autism coming to college so you may even find others in your course who are on the spectrum too. If you are not sure what to do, you can discuss it with a friend, family member or even a keyworker and they may be able to give you some good advice.

4. Know what makes you anxious and what will help you relax.

It can actually be quite difficult for some people with autism to realise when they are stressed – and this may or may not be the case for you. It is worth really thinking about what makes you stressed so you can plan a good way to deal with that stress when it occurs. This does not mean avoiding something you just don’t want to do! That is procrastination and is often driven by anxiety and perfectionism.

Having a ‘toolkit’ of appropriate techniques or actions to help you manage stress and anxiety is a great idea – we offer some advice about this here. You can also think ahead and have plans in place for when you are stressed.

For example, if you know that you have several lectures in the morning and this may make you feel a bit stressed, plan a relaxing activity for that afternoon in advance. Do the planning in advance means you are more likely to actually do the relaxing activity. For example if you like swimming, pack your swimming stuff the night before and bring it with you to campus – then you can go for a swim in the Mardyke straight after your lecture.

4. Identify your strengths and weaknesses and how these may affect typical study situations such as lectures, tutorials, group work and revision.

Think about what you found easier in school and also the things you found challenging. It is likely you will find the same things easier and more difficult in college as well. Do you do well with planning assignments but struggle in group work? Knowing your strengths and weaknesses in advance will make planning supports much more effective and give you the opportunity to do your best with your college work.

5. Identify quiet spaces on campus where you can relax when overloaded or to do your study. Try going into green spaces outdoors, going for a swim, or to the library.

Use the information in this toolkit to familiarize yourself with the different spaces on campus. Think about what kind of spaces invigorate you or calm you or stress you out. You can then identify spaces on campus that meet your needs in different situations. We are making more and more calm spaces on campus for all students –  the Calm Zone (An Ceantar Ciúin in Irish) is a wonderful space to go if you just need a quiet space to sit on a comfy chair or a bean bag (or lie on a yoga mat on the ground if you like!) Note: due to COVID-19 the Calm Zone is currently not open.

Questions to think about

What are my own strengths that will help me cope at college?

What has worked well for me in the past?

What makes me anxious and how can I deal with it in a positive way (not avoid it)?

What will I do if I am stressed?

When will I make time for my other commitments outside of my studies?

Do I need support to manage my own self-care? (It is much better to acknowledge if you need support than ignore it as this may impact your health.)


Additional information and links

Disability Support Service


About the author

Kirsten Hurley, Project Coordinator for the Autism Friendly University Initiative at University College Cork

Based on the research outcomes of:

Marc Fabri, Grania Fenton, Penny Andrews & Mhairi Beaton (2020) Experiences of Higher Education Students on the Autism Spectrum: Stories of Low Mood and High Resilience, International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, DOI: 10.1080/1034912X.2020.1767764