Module selection: it need not be Sophie’s Choice

So you’ve reached the point in your degree where you get a choice of modules? But how do you choose the ‘right’ course for you? As I am in the midst of making my decisions for my final year of law school, I thought now would be a good time to try and capture how I have made my choices, in the hopes it may help others when their time comes.

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At my university, in your second year, you get one elective module choice and then in your final you get three. This is fairly uni-specific: a lot of university courses allow more flexibility and some less. All law students must complete the core topics to gain a Qualifying Law Degree – but we all know that there’s a lot more to law and legal practice than just those few modules. Elective modules give you the chance to explore new, interesting, diverse and specialised areas of the law.

If you’re struggling to choose how to spend your elective module pennies, then look no further for some helpful guiding principles:

  • Pick a subject you think you’ll enjoy – this might seem like an obvious piece of advice, but it amazes me that people select modules they have no interest in, because they think they ‘ought’ to be studying them.
  • Email the lecturer who will be teaching the course, before you ‘hit the button’ – I think it is really important to feel you will learn well from your module leader. I like to email course conveners in advance of deadline day and try and meet for a quick chat. A year is a long time to be taught by someone who you don’t get on with, or whose teaching style you don’t enjoy.
  • Speak to your peers who have taken the module before – this is a key source of information. Your fellow students are much more likely to give you the ‘warts and all’ view of the module, rather than the sugar-coated version. Ask them what the workload is like, the tutor, the exams…
  • Remember that your optional modules don’t bind you to a future career in that area – many of my friends feel they have to take a certain module to practice in a certain field. While this may be true in some jurisdictions, companies and practice areas – this isn’t the norm. Pick a module that sounds interesting and that you find engaging; don’t always think about your future career. Besides, having spoken to practitioners, most of them work in areas of law that aren’t (and can’t) be taught in the classroom – something to think about..!
  • Consider picking a module that will stretch you, or a tutor who will challenge you – sometimes it’s good to think outside the box and unsettle yourself a little. University is a ‘safe space’ to explore new things, leave your comfort zone and flex your muscles. Choosing a module that may make you think differently about your future or the world could be a great choice. Choosing a module where the course leader is known to challenge students and demand a lot could also be a great choice. University isn’t all about the book-learning, it’s also a place to grow and learn about the world and your place in it. How do you respond to confrontation? How do you deal with people with different views/values/opinions? How do you cope with criticism? An optional module choice may help you answer those questions, not just the ones on the exam.
  • Keep an open mind – an important life lesson, let alone one for module choices. I have completely changed my mind about my final year options in the past year, and that’s okay. Be open to new ideas and take note of how energised and engaged you feel throughout the year when you come to making your module choices.
  • Consider how the year will balance out – in my second year I knew I had the mandatory core modules of Trusts, Property and Tort Law. I knew they would be heavy-going and very case-focused; so I deliberately picked an optional module that was completely different and not grounded in case-law. That way I balanced up my second year, making it an easier ride for myself.

These are my seven guiding principles – all fairly common-sense based, but hopefully a helpful reminder during this time of year. To sum up, if you pick modules you think will be fun to learn and that you will enjoy spending hours reading and writing about – then you can’t really go wrong.

(Don’t be shy…click ‘Leave a comment’, share this post if you like it; email, tweet and generally pester me if you want to hear more/share your stories/say hi)

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