I got my top course, but I’m daunted about starting college

I feel as if I am in some sort of no-man’s land between secondary school and college

PROBLEM: Last month I received my Leaving Cert results. I was delighted with them; I achieved far beyond what I thought I was capable of. The following Monday, the points didn’t rise for my dream course and I managed to get my first choice. Despite this great news, since getting my results I have fallen into a complete slump. I have a large circle of amazing friends and everything seems to be going my way, but I can’t help but feel empty and completely indifferent. College doesn’t excite me like it did all through sixth year, instead it daunts me. I feel as if I am in a no-man’s land between secondary and college. I don’t know how to regain my sense of direction and rid myself of my anxiety.

ADVICE: Firstly, congratulations on your results. It is a wonderful thing to achieve beyond what you expected, and then to get your dream course is the icing on the cake. That you are now experiencing a slump is such a disappointment to you, and it must be very difficult to understand why you feel like this. However, when you look at the situation you might find that it is more common than you’d think.

There are many students out there who are experiencing the same emotions as you: apathy, disinterest and lethargy. For a moment, think of what the past three years have been about. The direction has been straightforward and clear: work well until you get your Leaving Cert. The promise at the end of this is that you will be on course to fulfil your life’s ambition and, in Hollywood style, go off into the sunset. Even the summer had direction, as you waited for your results and then your CAO placing.

But now you are at the end of this journey, and the new one has not started yet, so you are in the no-man’s land of “between projects”.

At times like these we are faced with philosophical questions such as “who am I?”, “what is it all about?” and “how do I achieve happiness?” These questions may not feel as clear in your head as they are written here, but it is in times of such boredom or lassitude that our minds get the kind of space they need to spawn good ideas.

As Alain de Botton from the School of Life says, “Whenever we feel an all but irresistible desire to flee from our own thoughts, we can be quite sure there is something important trying to make its way into our consciousness”. It is difficult and uncomfortable to put up with this “slump” period, but if you can allow it to happen, you might find that a sense of self emerges that is not what defined you up to now.

College will not provide you with the same structures as school, and you will find that the boundaries of your life will need to be redefined. These will have to be decided by you in either a proactive or reactive manner, and now you have the time to sit and contemplate these issues.

Depending on your nature, you will find there are different approaches that will help aid this process: some people find that reflection comes from conversations, others from reading and others from walking or hobbies. What will work best for you? Can you activate some of this now, and then this reflection can continue in college? Most colleges run free courses for students on such things as managing anxiety, negative thinking or stress. These courses exist because it is such a common experience for students to go through.

This is particularly relevant in our times, when there is huge pressure to achieve in all aspects of our lives. It is worthwhile tackling these pressures and expectations now, because if they are tackled well, it could save you a lot of unnecessary suffering in the future.

This is the biggest change in your life to date. What you are experiencing seems to be in the normal range, but if you think your slump is signifying something deeper, such as depression or high anxiety, it may be worth talking to your parents to see if they have noticed a significant change in you.

Signs such as withdrawing, mood swings or excessive drinking or eating might be worth investigating. In these situations, it is important to get help quickly, and the starting point might be your GP, a mental health professional or perhaps taking to your school counsellor. If you start college, the student counselling service is the perfect place to start to unburden your concerns and to get support.