AHEAD: Association for Higher Education Access & Disability
Creating inclusive environments in education & employment for people with disabilities.


How I Thrived in My First Year of College

Last year was my first year at college studying Accounting and Finance in DCU. With the help of the Disability and Learning Support Service, I not only survived, but thrived in university. 

Patrick Foley

Due to my mental health problems, I can’t handle stress very well and have occasional panic attacks. I also have Aspergers, which makes it very difficult for me to break rules or instructions given, deal with a lack of structure or sudden changes without proper explanations and understand social cues. This can make meeting new people and starting new topics in lectures difficult, meaning I need to spend more time studying at first. 

First year in college naturally had lots of new situations for me to get used to. There was a lot more free time than in secondary school, a need to take a lot more notes during class, longer essays and a larger amounts of group assignments, exams that were a lot more serious than what I’d done before. However, I received a lot of help before lectures even started.

Anyone who qualified for the DARE scheme during the Leaving Cert or would be registering with the Disability Service had an orientation day where we were given multiple different talks on various things such as the types of assistive technologies available, top tips for first years from those in the year ahead of us and different workshops available to us to learn important skills for college.

When I registered with the disability service we discussed what sort of problems I might have during the semester and they arranged for me to have a meeting with the assistive technology officer and the occupational therapists. We also discussed what sort of exam supports I would need. There were a lot available (due the fact I registered with them before the deadline: mid-October for Christmas exams and mid-March for Summer exams): the use of a laptop, extra time, a computer programme called ClaroRead which reads out the exam paper for you (text to speech), a smaller centre, rest periods and others.

The Occupational Therapists are brilliant for helping you create order and stability in your life. They can help you organise a study routine that suits you, learn time management, if you’re finding it difficult to make friends they assist you in getting involved in a society and help with your wellbeing.

The Assistive Technology Officer is great in making lectures easier for you. She has a range of things that can help you whether you prefer to use a laptop to make notes or write them on pen and paper. For example, you could get a digital voice recorder to use to record your lectures.

I had the use of that voice recorder, extra time in exams and a smaller centre to work in as well as the help of the OTs during the year. I also had access to counselling if I needed it. Overall, they made my life a lot easier during first year.

 3 Tips for First Year Students

1.Register with the Disability Service if you can – you don’t have to use the resources if you don’t want to but it’ll be there if you change your mind

2. Stay calm over your assignments and don’t leave them until the last minute

3. Make a study plan from the beginning and stick to it.

Blog Author

Patrick Foley is a 2nd Year Accounting and Finance Student in DCU.

Creating Inclusive Environments in Education and Employment for People with Disabilities

East Hall, UCD, Carysfort Avenue, Blackrock, Co Dublin.
T +353 1 592 1467 E ahead@ahead.ie W www.ahead.ie RCN 20025182