What is it like to be… a first year student?

Rhona reflects on her experiences as a first year and offers some wise advice to new students.


First year was the hardest year of my degree. Someone had told me that it would be, during the first semester – they told me to just stick it out and the rest of the degree would be easier. At the time this didn’t sound right. I thought – well the work will get harder every year, won’t it? So how can first year be the hardest?


First year is the hardest because as an autistic student you’re handling two workloads: getting to grips with your coursework, and getting to grips with the university, the campus, the Disability Support Service (DSS), and how the whole system works. That’s two workloads. But, it doesn’t stay like that – once you get a handle on the environment, learn how use the library and facilities, and get registered for whatever supports you need, you’re back to having one workload. Like a regular student! The DSS will make your life easier and you can spend the rest of your degree just focusing on your coursework and (if you’re into that kind of thing) whatever social activities you get involved with.


I went to UCC as a mature student after several years failing to be an artist. I intended to study Archaeology. As that’s an Arts subject, I had to take three other subjects in first year. I took Philosophy as one of those and got hooked. I had no idea what it meant to get a job in Philosophy (whereas there were obvious career routes in Archaeology), but I figured my best chance of doing well and getting through the full degree was to go with the subject that really focused my interest. That was the right thing to do.


TLDR: First year is hard but it’s worth it (and it’s easier than failing to be an artist).

Practical tips

1) Be a weirdo. College is wall-to-wall normals (and if you’re one of them, OBVIOUSLY that’s totally fine). There’s enough to be dealing with already without stressing yourself out trying to blend in. Be as weird as you like. It’ll stand to you in the long run.


2) Study something that really holds your interest. Prone to hyper-focusing on ‘narrow’ ‘obsessive’ interests? That’s perfect – just make sure you point it in the right direction. Don’t worry for now about the job prospects. If you’re hooked, you can make it work.


3) Do college your way. Some people join loads of Clubs & Socs and love the experience. Some people switch courses, go part-time, defer and leave and come back again. Some people learn better from online talks and podcasts, some from books and conferences. Some people don’t make any friends at all and spend all their time reading and drinking coffee and staring into the distance (that would be me). The only way this will really work is the way it works for you.


4) Register with the Disability Support Service! It takes a while to figure out all the available supports (and which ones you’ll even need) but making the effort early on should make things far, far easier for the duration of your degree. It’s different for everyone, but I could not have got through my time at UCC without the DSS.

About the author

Rhona J. Flynn completed a BA in Philosophy & Study of Religions with first class honours, and was named UCC Graduate of the Year 2019.