Making the Most of Your First Year

Making the Most of Your First Year

You will often hear that your first year at university will be the best year of your life. For many people it is their first chance to move to a new area, make new friends and experience new things. As you are likely to be spending the next three, or even four, years at university it is important that you enjoy it.

One thing that can be forgotten fairly easily is that you are going to university to study.

One thing that can be forgotten fairly easily is that you are going to university to study. While you are surrounded by the excitement of new beginnings, don’t forget that you should try to strike a balance between academic work and social activities.


Law is by no means an easy degree. However, it is by no means impossible. The transition from school or college to university is one that a lot of students find difficult. The concept of being ‘spoon fed’ is eradicated entirely as a law degree involves a considerable amount of self-study in order to consolidate your understanding. This requires you to go away and think about the material you have covered – perhaps reading the judgments from the relevant case law or reading some academic commentary on a particular area.

One of the biggest surprises for me was the amount of time I found myself putting into my tutorial work to ensure I fully understood the content in each module. This required me to do a lot of reading as I would go over the relevant part of the textbooks first. I didn’t really enjoy reading at school and college and I found I was able to largely avoid it, but it is an essential part of understanding your work properly at university, as the depth of understanding required is much greater. This necessitates initiative in order to work to your full capacity. For me, the amount of reading I had to do was something I got used to over my first semester. By the end of the first year it had become more of a habit and something I quite enjoyed.

Another difficulty I experienced initially with the college to university transition was the way lecturers structured their teaching. Lessons at school or college had always been quite interactive with a lot of discussion. At university, I found that when a lecturer would go through a series of PowerPoint slides, I didn’t really know which information was vital and which information I didn’t essentially need. I found myself making endless and repetitive notes that were really unhelpful when it came to revision. I think the trick is to focus on the material that is emphasised during tutorials or seminars as that tends to be the information that will really aid your understanding, and consequently is likely to be the most important.

Moreover, as attendance at lectures is not compulsory, it is easy to fall into the trap of missing one or two here and there. While you may be able to get a copy of the notes from your class mate, it is not wise to think you can do that on a regular basis as a substitute for your attendance. Don’t let your new found freedom trick you into thinking there is no need to make an effort with your work.

The teaching style is very different to that experienced by school or college. There is a much more laissez-faire approach, which gives you the freedom to learn in a way that works best for you. This individualistic method works well for some. However, for those who are used to the pressure of nagging teachers, it requires you to have a considerable amount of motivation to get things done. If you are able to effectively manage your time so that you can complete your work, without working so hard that you burn yourself out by the end of your first semester, you won’t go far wrong.

One of my biggest surprises was the amount of time I found myself putting into my tutorial work…

For many, the results from the first year of your degree will not count towards your final classification. However it is important to remember that firstly, you will probably need at least 40 per cent to continue into your next year and secondly, employers often ask for each module grade including those from your first year.


Social events are bound to be a very regular occurrence on your calendar. Beginning with Freshers’ Week (or two weeks for some!), you will be inundated with opportunities for nights out and to meet new people.

As much as this may not seem like ‘play’, consider getting a part-time job or some casual work close to your university. This will not only give you a well-needed break from studying, but provide you with some extra pocket money throughout the year. It is useful to remember that there is only so much your brain can take in at any one time, so it is just as important to have a break and do something completely different as it is to sit down and do your work in the first place. A part-time job is also something that potential employers will value when they look at your CV, as you can develop transferrable skills. This portrays you as a much more well rounded candidate, rather than an academic robot!

Your Students’ Union will be the home of various societies from sports to politics and everything in between. They tend to get their members together on a weekly or monthly basis for events, so they are a great way to meet people beyond the realms of your course or accommodation group.

Your Students’ Union will be the home of various societies from sports to politics and everything in between

The Law Society at your university is likely to provide some extra curricular opportunities that act as another way of giving you a break from your academic work. As well as mooting, negotiating and debating, there will probably be an opportunity to become involved with legal advice clinics or Street Law. Any of those will give your brain something else to concentrate on, be valued by employers and you never know, you may actually enjoy it!

The first year of your degree will probably provide the most opportunities for partying and socialising, as your academic work will not eliminate your social life entirely. On that basis, do enjoy yourself but ensure you don’t consequently neglect your work.

Your long term plans

As much as it may seem too painful to consider your career and life after university, it is worth thinking about the broader picture and the career you wish to pursue.

From as early as your first year, you will have the opportunity for exposure to employability workshops, seminars about ‘trainee life’ and arguably most significantly, graduate recruiters. The Law Fair at your university will be an important date on the academic calendar, so make sure you do your research and attend the event!

You should also take a look at the Bright Network. They have a network of ‘bright people’ and they host various events throughout the year aimed at giving students contact with the biggest graduate employers in the particular field. I went to Clifford Chance in June for a presentation about finance and capital markets, which was followed by a networking session with trainees, associates and partners. Events such as these are an ideal opportunity to find out more about a law firm and to get yourself noticed.

Below is a timeline of the things you should be doing during your first year to make the most of your time:

September to October
  • Enjoy Freshers’ Week and settling in to the university student lifestyle
  • Familiarise yourself with your new surroundings
  • Join some societies (including the Law Society!) both for academic and recreational purposes
November to January
  • Attend the Law Fair – ask intelligent questions to show you have done your research
  • Try to get as much feedback as you can from any essays you write
  • Use your time wisely over the Christmas break to complete any outstanding assignments or to revise for January exams if you have them
  • Research some firms or chambers offering open days for first year students
  • Apply for open days
February to April
  • Enjoy society activities and socials
  • Attend open days
  • Try to secure some work experience at a local law firm or commercial organisation
  • Think about applying for a committee position with one of your societies for the next academic year
  • Choose optional modules for second year
  • Begin revision for summer exams
May to September
  • Sit your first year exams
  • Celebrate finishing your first year!
  • Attend work experience placement(s)
  • Research law firms you may wish to apply to for a vacation scheme in your second year

Finally and above all else…enjoy yourself!

Emily Townsend is an editorial intern at The Student Lawyer. She is a first year undergraduate law student at the University of Leicester and is interested in becoming a City lawyer.

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