Entering a totally different academic system sounds overwhelming, but there are actually a lot of similarities. I felt like the expectations set at orientation were a bit different than the reality I experienced, so now that my term is almost over I’ll tell you what I’ve learned. 


I had six classes, most of which had two hours of lecture every week and one hour of tutorial every other week. Here’s what my schedule looked like. 

My lectures had between 20-60 students and my tutorials were usually 6-15 students so you don’t feel lost in the crowd. Here’s a typical 40 student class. 

Depending on your major, your class might be larger. The orientation hall below held like 200 students and is used for classes sometimes. 

So there’s variation, just like your UC campus. 

Exams vs. Continuous Assessment 

Irish universities overuse huge exams. Three of my six classes had a three hour exam at the end of the term worth 70 to 100% of my grade. Up until a few years ago all grades were based 100% on one final exam. Everyone, teachers and students alike, hate this so they’re slowly moving toward more papers and other forms of continuous assessment thankfully. For a typical 5 ECT course, they are only allowed to give you two essays (generally 10-15 pages each), one exam and one essay, or just an exam. I found the workload relatively light. 


Lecturers here seem a lot more generous with extensions. I never asked for one, but many students got them simply for having other papers due around the same time. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, just ask. 


One nice thing about Trinity was all the cozy study space. Little tip: the 6th floor of the arts building is all glass with a lovely view. Definitely my favorite place to study. 

There are great coffee shops in the Arts Building and Aras an Phiarsaigh. There’s also a beautiful old dining hall for meals. 

Formality and Difficulty 

I was warned that Irish universities are a lot more formal and difficult than what I was used to. I actually didn’t find this to be true. Professors need to be addressed respectfully, no different than back at your campus. I had six professors, and all of them were really laidback and friendly. 

I also didn’t think it was more difficult. The reading load was comparable to UCLA, I had fewer assignments, less hours of lecture per class, and got the same sorts of grades on assignments I generally get back home. So don’t let the warnings of increased formality and difficulty stress you out. I was really worried at first, but just behave like you did back home and you’ll be fine. 


The grading system is wacky. Apparently an 80% is publishable by a professor and 70% is still something to call your mom about. Given that, I think the upper end of the conversion scale is a bit too stringent and the lower end too generous, but here are how grades convert. 

Students more commonly use terms like First Class Honours/H1 and Second Class Honours/H2 to refer to grades. Here’s that scale. 


Library hours are much shorter than back home so plan accordingly. The Longroom is the famous Trinity library (shown below) but you can’t actually study there. There are several other options that are open to you. Less beautiful, but they claim to have every book ever published so that’s pretty cool. 


The first thing you do when you get to Trinity is fill out your Hilary module timetable. That’s just Irish for figuring out your spring class schedule. Here are a bunch of terms that also might confuse you. 

  • Fall semester = Michaelmas term 
  • Spring semester = Hilary term 
  • Course = major choice/degree path 
  • Class = module 
  • Schedule = timetable 
  • Discussion section = tutorial 
  • Professor = lecturer 
  • ECT = unit/credit 
  • Note: The title of “professor” is reserved for the most prestigious lecturers. Most of my lecturers would be referred to as just “Dr. Smith”, not “Professor Smith”. Check your lecturers’ titles online or on their syllabus to make sure you’re using the correct title. Keep in mind, referring to someone who uses the title of “professor” as simply “doctor” can be considered disrespectful so if you’re in doubt use “professor”. 

Alexis Harmon studied abroad in Dublin, Ireland during Spring 2019: