First year doesn’t count… right?

Oh, what a time to be alive. The start of university. You may have just done two years of college and started to think work cannot get any harder and you’re now about to start a new phase of your life.

We all have heard about the life of a fresher – partying, drinking, late nights, freedom. No more teachers phoning your parents when you miss a class. No more boring Friday nights. Finally – you are free.

But, as Uncle Ben from Spiderman has taught us all, with great power comes great responsibility. Here are my five top tips to help you make it out of first year with more than a hangover.

Have fun – but not too much fun

Before I started university, I had a vision of how I wanted it to go. Have fun. Get a First.

This cannot be too much to ask. I mean, there are 24 hours in a day and if I plan my time well I can do both.

Akil Hunte
Akil Hunte

Boy, was I wrong!

Going to uni really does test you in ways you cannot imagine. There will be times when you wake up at 8am and think, “I really paid £9,000 a year for this.”

There will be times when you choose to go out and come back four hours before your next seminar.

There will be times when you really hate life.

That is why you have to know your limits. There is nothing wrong with having a good night’s sleep some evenings or using time during the day to read around your modules. Law is hard; there is no doubt about it. Making it harder is not the best choice you can make this year!

Develop your commercial awareness

If you are interested in a legal career and you have read some articles on law-related websites, you most probably would have come across this phrase. The golden ticket. The holy grail. The key to success… commercial awareness. But, how do you get it?

That would be something useful to develop during your first year. Seminars will not discuss it and lectures will not lecture it. You have to go out and build your commercial awareness in your spare time (woah, independent learning – get used to it!). Employers expect you to know the law but they will also want you to understand how recent issues in the world may affect the legal profession. Getting into law is a lot more than just knowing the law – you have to know the world around you.

Keep updated on the news and current affairs that might affect what you are learning – for example, the effect of Brexit. Knowing the law is the first step: there is a lot more to law than that, my friend.

Prepare For Second Year

First year does not count. Technically.

That is what they tell you and it is true. However, as most law students will get to understand, it makes a big difference when you start as you mean to proceed.

Your first year will fly by. You will meet interesting people who do weird stuff and university can feel like a long holiday at times. Saying that, once the honeymoon period is over, starting university in your second year will make things much harder.

If you are not doing a sandwich year, you will have to get work experience. Bear in mind, if most work experience opportunities start in second year, think of how many people will be in the same position as you. Doing a bit more than staying up late listening to the Lion King soundtrack and using your kitchen as a music studio will definitely help you going into second year.

Go to a few employability events, talk to older students, and get out there. It will make things a lot easier.

Learn how you like to study

Going to university from college is a different world altogether. You have support; however, most of the time you will be left to fend for yourself.

That means (a) copying homework five minutes before the seminar is almost impossible, (b) leaving all your revision until Easter will leave you in a right mess, and (c) missing seminars will only hurt you in the long run.

This is not Saw, this is not a game, and serious candidates will try to find out how they learn best in their first year. You can make some mistakes in first year that may be very costly in second year.

Find out where you work best, whether that is library or home. Search for people who learn in the same way you learn. Develop a routine that you stick to. Getting into these habits will help you know what works well and what does not; “winging it” will only work for so long until you run out of Red Bull.

Finally, make use of your free time

First year of university will be an eye-opening experience. You will see and experience some things that will help you learn about the real world (like, um, never buy milk in a shared flat!). There may be some things that will seem fun at first, especially with this newfound freedom, but there is so much more that you can do, YES YOU.

Join a society (that you will actually attend). Consider volunteering. Find friends who want to do more than listen to Skepta all day. Get yourself a hobby. Whatever you do, MAKE THE MOST OF IT. There is nothing worse than wasted time and first year will build who you become. Who do you want to be?

Akil Hunte is a second year law student at Nottingham Trent University

How to develop your legal research skills at uni