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LIFEHACKS: Pat Divilly’s Guide to getting the best out of your college experience

Pat Divilly for Griffith College
6 min

We've teamed up with Pat Divilly to guide our students (and those of you who are considering becoming students!) through the process of self-improvement. Pat is a long-time advocate of life-long learning and he gives his thoughts and tips on how to get the most out of the college experience - particularly as a mature student or someone with extra responsibilities.

When I was a student I never thought of myself as academic or clever in that sort of way. I was the sort of student who did enough to just scrape by. I did okay in school and then went on to do Geography and Economics in college and I just about did enough there too. I never really gave myself a chance.

Then, when I went back to working in fitness – it didn’t really feel like work. I always use the example of a kid in school who can’t sit still and maybe they have ADD or ADHD. But then you put them in front of a computer and they can sit still for hours at a time because they’ve found something they are interested in. I started working in gyms in fitness when I was 15 and getting back into it just felt like where I was meant to be.

Am I too old to go back to college?

This is a question people ask all the time. Not to get too philosophical about it, but time passes by so quickly anyway. If you look back at how quickly the last three years have flown by in your own life – then the three it would take to get that degree you’ve always wanted will fly by just as fast.

But don’t just go getting a qualification for the sake of it. Ask yourself where it can lead out. Chasing a bit of paper will never be the right approach. Any degree will not automatically change your life. You need to think about what new skills and assets you are gaining out of it. You need to make the most out of it.

The real epidemic in this generation is the lack of self-confidence. We all need a nudge of encouragement to enhance our sense of self-belief. If you’ve always seen yourself in one way – then it can be hard to see beyond that. When I was doing personal training, I’d see people come in who were overweight and that’s the only way they could ever see themselves.

But I could see the potential and by constantly telling them that – you could see the difference in their mentality. When I went back to college to do a Masters in Nutrition, I had a tutor who got me through my dissertation even though that voice in my head was telling me I was not academic. He kept encouraging me and telling me that I was doing great work and that meant an awful lot to me at the time.

You’d often hear people saying that they are too old to make a change in their life. You often hear the saying ‘the best time to plant an oak tree was 20 years ago… the next best time is now.’

How do I decide if what course is right for me?

If you are looking to make a major decision in your life like going back to college or upskilling then you have to give yourself a chance. We often confuse being busy with being productive. But a lot of the time we are just being busy fools.

The trick is in slowing down to make a decision. We feel that if we slow down at all then we will get overtaken. But that’s not going to happen. If you take the time to make a decision that is right for you – and take the time to make a plan around how you’ll make that decision work – then you are well on your way already.

Sometimes in life you need to slow down to be able to speed up.


I’m just not academic. School isn’t my thing. Why would I bother?

We all have that voice inside your head that says ‘don’t go out for a run; just sit on the couch’ or ‘you’re too old to go back to college’ or whatever it is. But that voice is just holding you back. It’s a negative force that will only hold you back if you listen to it.  

Instead you need to work on giving yourself a positive image. I used to think that I wasn’t ‘school smart’ when I was going to school myself. But that’s because I wasn’t studying something I was interested in. I think people who make a choice to study something later in life are choosing something they are really interested in that will make a big difference in their lives. If you are doing something you are passionate about – then it will never really feel like work.

With the way college is now with online courses and lectures – there’s a lot more flexibility which is only a positive. I heard something recently that I really think is good ‘We need to start talking to ourselves rather than listening to ourselves’. There’s a lot in that statement if you think about it.

A degree is too hard. How would I deal with all the work it entails?

Pat Divilly's tips

Getting the small things right is a great way of building momentum in your life. If you set yourself a list of three really achievable things to do that will move your life forward then you’ll be doing over 100 things a month and 1200 things a year to make yourself better. If I said to do 1200 things to improve yourself, nobody would do it because it’s too daunting but everyone can manage three small things a day – no matter how busy they are.

What I do when I’m helping people set their goals is to make them manageable. It’s all about making that all-important first step and making the start. If you convince yourself that you are going to go for a five-minute walk – once you get out there you’ll probably do 20 minutes or a half an hour at least. It’s the same thing with studying.

You build confidence with action. But you lose confidence by inaction.


Thinking about your own future

If Pat’s tips have made you think about your own career choices then why not take a look at the courses we’re offering here at Griffith College. We have over 40 years’ experience in helping people upskill and combine their education with work or family commitments.