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College: It’s hard, but you can do it!

College: It's hard, but you can do it

This is the 7th post of a serie of 12 by Marc from Ireland who struggles with dyslexia.

Over my last 3 blog posts I have spoken about my life in primary school and the challenges I faced as a result of suffering from dyslexia and dyspraxia and due to the fact I was not diagnosed nobody knew what was wrong with me.

I also spoke about my life during my secondary school – part one, years and again the challenges I faced. During this time I also had my diagnosis, I began receiving supports and I began to reach my full potential. Then at the end of my last blog post I had just finished secondary school after receiving 435 points in my Leaving Certificate and successfully secured my place at college. Today I’m going to continue my story and cover the 4 years that I spent in college.

I was misinformed

My first choice for college was Business Studies in CIT (Cork Institute of Technology) and I managed to successfully get this. I have been asked before why I didn’t go to UCC (University College Cork) as I had the points and the truth is I was misinformed when filling out my application form for college.

I was told that due to the fact I wasn’t doing Irish I could not apply to UCC. The truth is that if you don’t pass an Irish test you can’t get into UCC or any of the Universities in Ireland but if you have an exemption like I had they will accept this and you can apply.

So if you are holding onto Irish as you think it will put you at a disadvantage when applying for college that is incorrect as long as you have an official exemption. I was often asked at college also why I decided to study general business when I knew all along that I wanted to specialise in Marketing, well again I was misinformed when applying.

The specific marketing degree in CIT was a new degree starting the year I went to college, as a result of it being new it wasn’t on the older CIT course books and even though I had heard about it I was told it didn’t exist and my best option was to choose business which allowed you specialise in 3rd year into 1 of 3 areas, Management, Marketing or Accounting.

To tell the truth, although I was misinformed in 2 areas and could have potentially ended up studying a different course or even in a different college, I think things worked out the best in the end as what I ended up doing was perfect for me.

Not only was the course perfect for me but so was the college as I soon found CIT to be an extremely friendly and helpful place with a great support system for people with learning difficulties.

Like being back in secondary school

When I started 1st year of college it was like starting 1st year of secondary school all over again. I can’t explain the fear that was going through my head and how nervous I was. Like at the start of secondary school where my difficulties were causing me quite a lot of stress and making the transition from primary into secondary school a difficult one, I was now experiencing the same thing in the transition from secondary school into college.

My biggest fear was I would lose all my supports and go back to failing exams. I was also petrified as I was only 17 starting college and as I looked around at a college with roughly 12,000 students some of which were mature students I once again found myself being one of the youngest people around and I was completely out of my comfort zone.

Where I was a 10 minute walk from home in both primary and secondary school I was now an hour buss journey followed by a half hour train journey away from home so if anything happened it would take me a lot longer to get home to my mother’s reassuring arms.

keep up the good workNever the less I kept reminding myself that in the last 12 months I achieved more than I had done in the 16 years previous to that. I was finally passing exams and getting very good results and I knew I was capable so I was determined that I would continue to achieve.

What help do you need?

The first few weeks were daunting and I found myself getting lost, both physically and mentally. The college was massive compared to my school with several buildings on campus and thousands of students walking around, I often found this very disorientating as a result of my dyspraxia.

I was getting lost mentally as well as I began to fall behind the rest of my class due to the speed they were going at and the fact I had no supports. Eventually however I got an appointment with the college disabilities officer.

When I went to meet her she was very nice, Laura was her name and she had a very calming voice and listened to you as you spoke. She began by outlining the general supports that were available to me.

I would have all the exam supports I was receiving at school which was a great relief. She then asked me to tell her what exactly my difficulties were. As I explained my main difficulties she was tailoring supports to my exact needs.

Writing notes

I had told here I had fallen behind already and she asked what was causing that, I explained that the lecturers were putting notes up on an overhead projector, expecting us to take them down while listening to their explanations and take notes from that and also take the notes they were writing freehand on the whiteboard.

As explained previously due to my dyslexia I am unable to listen to what someone is saying while I’m concentrating on reading notes then writing them down and due to the fact I am a slow reader and writer, the notes were gone before I was finished and they had moved on so I had missed half the notes and all of the verbal explanations and examples.

A note taker

Laura said it sounded like I would benefit from a note taker. Someone would come to all my lectures and take down my notes for me so I could concentrate on listening to the lecture and just take note of anything they were saying that I wanted for myself and then I would receive the notes from the note taker after so I would have all the notes I needed.

I also explained that I was receiving support in school while my year were in Irish and was wondering if this was possible as I find it easier to learn when someone explains something to me in a one on one situation.

Again Laura said this could be sorted and I would be entitled to 3 hours of grinds, or supports each week from a tutor who understood the subjects I was studying.

Finally she told me that if at any stage I was worried or concerned or had a question or just wanted to talk to someone about my difficulties I could call into her any time I wanted and she would listen to me and everything would be kept private and confidential. I could text or email her to arrange a meeting and nobody would need to know anything.

Won the lotto, and now the work begins

The relief I felt was spectacular, I knew that things were going to continue from where I finished in secondary school, I was going to be able to continue to achieve to my full potential and show everyone how clever I am.

I went back to my lectures that day with a smile on my face like I had won the lotto. At this stage it was roughly week 6 of first year and that may sound like nothing but in case you don’t know the layout of college in Ireland the year is split into 2 semesters, the first one is before Christmas and the second semester is after Christmas.

Each semester contains 6 subjects and is 13 weeks long followed by exams split out over a 2 week exam period. Each semester is independent of the others so the exams you had at Christmas time were actually end of year exams and when you came back after Christmas for the next semester you had 6 new subjects.

The work begins

So week 6 was half way through my first semester so I had a lot of catching up to do if I was going to be able to pass my exams at Christmas. Also you have to pass all your exams in order to get into the next year, if you don’t you either repeat the exams in august or else you stay in that year and repeat the failed subject the next year.

I wouldn’t have my note taker until second semester (after Christmas) as there was a lot of paper work to do and contracts to sign I was told however I started into my 3 hours of grinds a week straight away.

I remember in first year I had 3 tutors for these grinds. The 3 of them were very nice people and very understanding of my difficulties. They were amazing to work with and soon I found I was back up to speed with the rest of my class and before I knew it week 13 had finished and it was time to sit my first 6 college exams.

A scriber was writing down my answers

Like I said Laura had mentioned I would receive the same supports for my college exams I was getting in school so I had a separate room from the exam hall. I had the questions read to me so I understood what I was being asked. I had my 10 minutes extra time for every hour of the exam and finally, where I would speak my answers and record them on to a tape in secondary school I would now speak my answers and a scribe wrote them down for me.

This worked out a lot easier than the tape recorder as I could see what I had said previously if I took a break to think and suddenly I was able to construct proper answers.

Waiting until Friday to give me the notes

When I went back after Christmas I got the results to my exams and I had passed everything with flying colours. It was now semester 2 and I would now be receiving the extra support of my note taker as well.

This was a great benefit as suddenly I was truly on a level playing field with the others in my class, I had the same notes as them, I could listen to the explanations the lecture was giving and I was also working at the same speed as them now.

She was a lovely lady who I got on with and was delighted to have but if I was to have one complaint it was that she only did what her contract obliged her to do. What I mean by this is her contract said she had to take my notes and give them to me each week, so she would wait until Friday to give me the notes and I then had to spend all weekend going through them to catch up, she also hand wrote the notes and just give me a photocopy of them.

Handwritten notes

Being dyslexic I find handwriting a lot harder to read then printed notes, and as a result I often found it hard to understand her notes and would have to ask my mother if she could read them for me.

Where Laura and the disabilities office went over and beyond to make sure everything was ok for you, and the 3 tutors I had were fantastic support to me, she was great but I always felt she was doing it as a job for the money rather than doing it because she wanted to help people and as a result she lacked that little something.

Handwritten notes

I was not complaining though as I never previously in my life had so many notes as I was never any good at taking them down and anything I did take down I could never use as I find it difficult to understand my own hand writing.

Second semester passed in the blink of an eye and once again it was exam time. I no longer had a fear of exams. I was a confident person who knew my capabilities. Once again result time came and I passed everything and got straight into second year.

Doing his  job out of a love for helping others

When I went into second year I was told I would not have the same not taker as she gave it up to be a full time lecturer of Spanish or French. I was concerned that after building a relationship with her I would now have to start all over again and build a relationship with a new person so they would know me and my capabilities.

It was at this point I received what can only be described as an angel named Larry. Larry is one of the most interesting and caring people I have ever met. Just like Laura and the tutors I had, I felt he was doing this job out of a love for helping others.

He contacted me by email to explain who he was and said he would not meet me so he wouldn’t know who I was as he said it would be the best way of keeping everything confidential and if anyone asked him what he was doing he would say he worked for the college taking note of what the lecturers were covering.

I told him I was no longer the type of person who was embarrassed of my difficulties and there was no need to be so private about things so we met for a cup of tea before starting into classes and he asked me about my difficulties.

Typewritten notes

Unlike my previous note taker Larry would type up the notes for me and email them on so I was able to read them and understand them better. Larry also did this on a daily basis so I was always up to date with my notes and did not have to spend the weekend trying to catch up.

Not only was Larry great as a note taker but he soon became what I must say is a very close friend. Over the course of the 2 semesters of 2nd year I continued to improve and went from strength to strength.

Larry noticed this and knew that I was a genuine student and trying my hardest, as a result he respected me and had great time for me and we would often sit down for a cup of tea and a chat on a Friday afternoon before I went home and he had always fantastic stories for me.

He reminded me of my granny with the stories he told, (for those of you that don’t know me, my granny is a very important part of my life who I love and adore and visit on a regular basis for a cup of tea), Larry would tell me similar stories and soon I felt I knew him for years.

Get a first degree

This relationship and support I received from Larry was a major confidence boost and I sailed through second year passing all my exams again with great results. When I went into 3rd year I no longer had the same 3 tutors, instead I had a fella called Barry G. who took me for all 3 hours each week and covered most things with me.

As I said earlier 3rd year for me was affectively a final year. The exams I would sit were for a level 7 general business degree. It was hard to believe I had come so far, in a couple of weeks I would be sitting exams to get a degree.

It only felt like last week I was in primary school with no diagnosis of having dyslexia and being told I would achieve nothing because I was stupid. This made me both extremely proud and extremely nervous.

I continued working away at the same pace I had done the previous year. I was receiving my notes from Larry, as well as confident boosts every few weeks when he would remind me how much I had achieved to date and all I was still capable of and I was now working with Barry for 3 hours each week getting grinds in different subjects and getting ready for my exams.

When Christmas arrived it was time to sit the first set of actual final exams for my first degree. All sorts went through my head, to tell the truth I was feeling so many emotions at once that it kind of feels like a blur in my head, I can’t quite remember exactly what happened other than the fact when the results came back I passed everything and was very happy with my results.

Same thing happened in second semester and before I knew it, it was confirmed that I had passed everything and achieved an average over 50% which allowed me jump into the final year of the level 8 Marketing degree, but more importantly I would be graduating in the coming October with my level 7 General Business degree. I had a Degree.

Now I had self-confidence…

During these 3 years I had grown so much in confidence that I had come out of my shell a lot. I had a group of good friends that I worked well with and we all understood one another.

College consists of a lot of group projects, weather we were designing a marketing plan for a company or writing a report on doing business in Turkey for the International Business Environment class or doing a financial analysis of a fictional company, most of our projects were done in groups of 3 or 4.

Now I had self-confidence...

If I had to work in a group when I was in school it would not have went well, due to my dyspraxia affecting my confidence when it comes to social skills and the fact I was embarrassed of my difficulties and tried to hide them from others.

Everybody knew about my difficulties

I would have died at the thought of working in a group. Now however I had self-confidence, my friends all knew my difficulties but also knew how much I loved the course and how good I really was at it, as a result we would always work together for group projects and split the work load so each person was using their strengths, mine clearly weren’t reading so I would not be the person doing the research, I was the person with the creative mind, and the understanding of the overall topic.

Our group projects became our strength and this also helped raise our overall grades. Our projects were so good we often came in the top 3 in the year.

I remember one project was to design a marketing plan for a small restaurant. Every group in the class presented their project to the lecturer who chose the top 4 projects to then present to the owner of the restaurant who then choose a winner and implemented their ideas. We got to present to the owners and came second which was a great achievement.

This happened with a number of other projects too and I really felt I understood what I was doing and proving that, not just to myself or to lecturers but also to people in business that were admiring our work and telling us how good it was.

Won the first project

It was now however 4th year, this was officially my final year of college and I had jumped into the final year of the Level 8 Marketing degree. I was doing what I wanted to do and life was going well.

The only problem was a lot of the friends I made in the first 3 years didn’t have much of an interest in marketing and as a result did not choose the same path as me, they choose to do a level 8 management degree or accounting and this meant we were no longer together.

Luckily I still had Larry and thanks to him and everything I had achieved I was a much more confident person and suddenly making friends was not as difficult for me as it previously was. As a result I made one of the best friends yet who I get on with so well and even better we work extremely well together.

One of the first projects we did together was a full brand analysis of Laya Healthcare to date followed by how we would grow the brand in the future. Like previously we were chosen the present to the marketing manager and 2 other members of the marketing team at Laya Healthcare and this time we won.

They said we were so good that it resembled the conversations they were having in meetings in the board room, this ultimately led on to my first real job after college which was an internship in the marketing department at Laya. Marco and I became a winning combination.

And it did’t stop there

I also faced my biggest group project challenge to date in 4th year which saw me teamed with a group of 5 engineering students, 2 biomedical engineers and 3 mechanical engineers.

We had to come up with a new to market product, develop a full marketing plan, full business plan, full financial analysis and projections, build a prototype, test its functions and capabilities and do several other sets of tests in order to bring the product into a position whereby it could be launched into the market place and a business actually developed if there was a cash injection.

stop

This project ran over both semesters of 4th year and took up hours of my time but I was determined to make it work. Marco also did this project and although he was in a different group developing a different product and working with a different group of engineers the 2 of us would help each other as much as we could.

I’ll never forget the full days we spent in the college library from 8:30 in the morning until 10 at night researching, testing, and developing business plans and marketing plans and financial plans.

This ended up working so well for me I finished up with a grade of 92% in it which was a grade I don’t think I had ever achieved before.

Someone who didn’t understand my difficulties

4th year was full of all sorts of stresses and challenges but all through the highs and the lows. I had Larry on one side of me and Marco on the other as well as Laura and the rest of the disabilities office team in the background. When I got home I had the world’s most supportive family who put up with a lot as I was often difficult to be around due to the fact stress levels were high and I was doing very long hours and getting very little sleep.

One of the main challenges of 4th year was a lecturer who did not get on with me. A disagreement in his office one day lead to an argument which caused a bad asthma attack which hospitalised me the week before my final exams and I ended up having to defer one of my exams until august as I was too unwell to sit it, the subject I had to defer was his which made it even worse.

I suppose it wouldn’t have been a complete chapter in my life if I hadn’t come across someone who didn’t understand my difficulties as I had previously done in both primary and secondary school also.

Two extra hours

I didn’t have any tutor in 4thyear to give me grinds as Barry who I was going to the year before moved to Abu Dhabi to teach English. However Larry’s contracted stated that he could work 18 hours a week with me. I only had 16 hours a week of lectures so Larry decided since he was going to all my classes and taking all my notes he would use the extra 2 hours I was entitled to, to give me grinds and explain everything we had covered that week.

We met on Friday mornings depending on my time table either before classes or after classes before I went home and each week he would run through everything we covered that week in the different lectures and he would answer any questions I had.

At Christmas I sat my first 5 final exams (only 5 as I deferred one until august as I was in hospital). I was not at full health for these exams and had lost some potential study time due to my hospital visit but I was not going to let him ruin my degree.

I worked so hard and did my best and before I knew it the exams were over and I was into semester 2. Again it was 13 weeks of classes that felt like a life time due to the fact I was doing such long hours in the library as well as going to lectures.

At the end of the 13 weeks I had my last 6 college exams and was determined to get the best results in a set of exams that I had ever achieved. Thankfully all the hard work paid off and I struggled my way through that last set of exams.

First Class Honours or not?

When the results came out it was a bittersweet feeling, I had an overall average which meant I had got a First Class Honours Degree, something I never thought I could achieve, but I still had to sit that 1 exam in August that I had deferred at Christmas due to being in hospital and the lecturer of that subject was the fella I didn’t see eye to eye with.

If he marked me down there was a chance my average could fall below the first class honours degree and although I would still have passed everything and be graduating, I wouldn’t be graduating with the best possible result.

I also started working for Laya a week after my final exam so I now had to find the time to study after a long day at work. The summer was going well and I was managing to fit my study in after work and during the weekends and then came the week before the exam and even though I had become a confident and capable person. I now had the same feeling in my stomach that I used to have before exams in primary and secondary school where I was so stressed and worried I was physically getting sick.

This one man had the power to take my First Class Honours away from me. I think I must have lost almost half a stone in weight during that exam as I have never sweated as much, it was pouring out of me like a waterfall I was so worried.

But I got through the 2 hours and 20 minutes and it was all over. I could do no more. It was a long 6 weeks waiting for the results of the exam but eventually they arrived. I opened them and to my shock surprise all my hard work had paid off.

The result was so good in fact it increased my overall average which meant I had kept my First Class Honours.

I did the … impossible!

October couldn’t come fast enough as I anxiously awaited graduation day. When the day finally arrived I can honestly say it was the proudest moment of my life to date. I had achieved a First Class Honours Level 8 Marketing degree.

All my life I dreamed of a moment as satisfying as this and now it was here. Back in primary school when I was not diagnosed yet as dyslexic or dyspraxic nobody knew what was causing my difficulties and it was just presumed I was stupid.

I had teachers tell my parents I should be kept back as I was not capable of working at the same level as my own age group. I had teachers put me outside the door of the classroom as I was slowing down the class.

I failed every spelling test I ever did in primary school. I failed exams in secondary school. I was told in secondary school that there is no such thing as dyslexia just lazy students by a teacher.

I cried enough tears in my life as a result of setbacks caused by my difficulties that I could have filled a lake, I felt like giving up on so many occasions, I had more metaphorical doors slammed closed in my face then the average person but after 21 years of blood, sweat and tears, stress, asthma attacks and being told I won’t achieve anything.

I was standing there at the side of a stage and my name was called out to come up and collect my degree from the president of the college. It is impossible to describe how proud I felt at that moment and have done ever since.

I did the ... impossible!

We can do it … You are not alone

This is why I write this blog, because I want to show you that no matter what anyone tells you, no matter how many times you fail an exam, no matter how much you feel like giving up, the truth are that anything is possible and you too can achieve a feeling of satisfaction like no other. I’m not saying that if you get supports all becomes easy, that’s not true.

In my final year of college I actually spent more time in the library studying then I did at home. I practically moved into the library and studied my back side off.

All you need is self-belief, determination, some hard work and some support along the way and you too could achieve what you always believed to be impossible because your dyslexic or dyspraxic.

I am adamant that dyslexia and dyspraxia are learning differences not learning disabilities. Society teaches us that they are disabilities and as a result there are many things we will not achieve, but I have proven that this is not the case and I am not alone.

Hundreds of highly successful people are dyslexic and/or dyspraxic and due to the fact they never gave up and believed in themselves they achieved what most other people couldn’t and I hope that by writing my blog and telling my story exactly as it happened that even one person who is struggling and feels like giving up will read my blog and see that in fact anything could happen.

Once again I would like to thank you for taking the time to read my blogpost

Kind regards,

Mark

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