University student Niamh Shields begins her column series on with real-life advice on surviving the dreaded Leaving Cert and settling into a new world at college.

Hello and a warm welcome to the new Donegal Woman column ‘College Corner.’

Let me introduce myself, my name is Niamh Shields, a Donegal second year English and Media student studying in Dublin City University. I’ve been both the nervous Leaving Student and the clueless fresher and I’m here to give you all the low down from Leaving Cert tips to College Reality.

Ah, the dreaded Leaving Cert, every student’s worst nightmare, including mine. It is a year filled with hard work, stress and endless decision making. Various questions go through your mind such as, What course do I want to do? What points do I need? What college will I attend? What are my back up plans? How will I manage the stress?

My advice to you – stop overthinking.

Overthinking was my enemy during the Leaving Cert, overthinking only leads to stress and anxiety. The best skill to have throughout the year is organisation.

From September on, make yourself a study and hobbies timetable ensuring you get your academic and you free time necessitates balanced. It’s very important not to get bogged down with studying and only studying – take it from me, you will end up not performing to your best abilities in your actual exams as you will be burned out from studying.

Enjoy your Leaving Cert year, it is your last year your school peers, arranging meetings with them in the group chat when at college will be impossible.

Also note, the Leaving Cert will be your last year being somewhat looked after, when you go to college you will have to provide purely for yourself, so cherish your Mammy’s cooked meals every day!  

Don’t get bogged down by what others say about how many hours they studied for etc. Focus and believe in yourself and you will achieve great things. I am also here for any advice or even if you just need to vent about the Leaving Cert – I’m just an email away.

From the Donegal village to the big city

I remember my first week at college so vividly, I was a bundle of nerves and excitement all rolled into one. Leaving the lovely Glen Village for The Big Smoke was a challenging one, I was so excited to flee the nest and be a new independent me – nobody to tell me to clean my room or making me eat all my veg.

Well I was completely wrong, the moment Dad said his farewells I felt a lump in my throat and sobbed – I was quiet the home-bird.

However, as the days went by I met so many people and my homesickness faded and weekends were bliss coming home to the family.

As the saying goes ‘You can take the girl away from Donegal but you can’t take the Donegal out of the girl’ It’s perfectly natural to be homesick within the starting weeks but believe me it will fade and you will cherish all your college memories!

Now for freshers starting back, here are a few guidelines to get settled in!


  • Make a Good Impression:  First impressions are crucial for settling in and making friends. I always say stick to the Magic 3 Tricks:

1) Where are you from?

2) What Clubs and Socs are you joining?

3) Complement outfits etc.

These key questions can be tedious but paying attention to others will come across as being friendly and upbeat. Push yourself always to talk to someone and remember everyone is in the same boat!

  • Attend as many events as possible: Sitting dwelling in accommodation shoebox room about how much you miss home is a massive No, No and No.  Yes, it is scary putting yourself out there but it’s worse hiding your beautiful self away. The fresher events are there for you to make friends and have fun!
  • Take ALL the free stuff: All over campus you will be handed free stuff – take it all! You never know when you will need a bottle opener or torch – not to mention those free pot noodles whenever you are too lazy to cook, they are a Godsend after nights out!
  • Take Care of Yourself: It’s a scary place being on your own! Always make sure you keep in regular contact with home as mum and dad worry about you being so far away, also make sure you travel in numbers – Be it Dublin, Galway or even Letterkenny anywhere can be a little dangerous so just be careful!
  • Have Fun:  Enjoy it while it lasts as the next week is filled with endless lectures and not to be mention ASSIGNMENTS!

Hope you enjoyed my introduction post and talk next week ?


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