Advice to first year students

Recently I have received a slew of questions about advice for first years – and this has prompted me to think carefully about what I would have advised my younger self, armed with the knowledge I now have. To make this a more comprehensive, and representative article – I asked friends and connections on both Facebook and LinkedIn for their contributions – which came in en masse. So I must thank everyone very much for elevating this piece with some brilliant insights. I have placed other people’s contributions in speech marks to differentiate mine from theirs. I have spoken about my university experience (with tips and tricks) on podcasts here and here.

I must caveat this heavily – I am by no means the font of wisdom on this subject – nor am I a shining example of what to do. I too procrastinate, am not as fully prepped as I may appear in class, have a bad day/week/month, get overwhelmed, etc. I think the first thing to say – and for me, the overriding thing I hope you take away from this: there is no such as thing as the right way, the perfect way, or only one way to go about your university years. Even if you set out to get a revision plan, prep all your classes beforehand, study at the library, work out three times a week, eat healthily, see your friends – life gets in the way. Things happen. Let them happen. Flex your expectations of yourself, your study and your lifestyle around that fact, and you’ll have a much better time!

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Course-related

  • Even if you love your degree, you are going to question why you chose it at least once – and that’s okay. It’s natural to feel overwhelmed or a little anxious at times; anyone who says they haven’t is lying, or has completely checked out of their degree.
  • Attend any study skills or legal research sessions on offer – don’t feel too proud or embarrassed to give yourself a good foundation on which to build.
  • Get to know your personal study style by trialling things: Do you work best in the library, or at home? In a group, or by yourself?
  • Use your holidays to set yourself up for the next term. Your future self will thank you that you organised your notes or refreshed your memory of particular topics – believe me.
  • Mock exams are actually a god-send. This might be controversial, but my first-year mock exams in January forced me to get my notes in order, learn principles and case law off by heart, and tested my ability to actually take an exam – and all of that was such a boon for the real thing.
  • “Take advantage of your tutorial leaders. You will be taught by some of the world’s leading academics. You’ll never have as much access to them as you do now.”
  • “Don’t be scared to ask for help – that’s what you’re paying for!”
  • “Pay attention to your Careers Consultant on Induction Day! Find out what support (appointments, training, events, careers fairs, online courses, internships, etc) is available to you through your university’s careers service, AND USE IT.”
  • “Don’t become overwhelmed by everyone being very into careers events from day one if you haven’t decided a path yet.”
  • “Don’t be overwhelmed with readings. There’s loads and you’ll never have time to do all of them. Either learn how to skim read or be selective about which things you read the whole way through. No one will ever really be on top or every module and be having a great time going out. You’ll find out your own work rhythm.”
  • “Go to every lecture. Don’t get into a habit of not going, even if it’s lecture captured. Trust me, lectures take double the amount of time to watch online as they do in person!”

Extra-curricular/Social life

  • If you’re a law student (or a non-law student seeking a legal career) – do join the Law and Bar societies if you can. These memberships allow you to explore the myriad of events and opportunities so that you can try things on for size.
  • You are going to find your tribe. There are hundreds of people on your course, and there will be plenty who you will bond with and find common ground.
  • Join one society or do at least one activity that isn’t related to your course and/or is outside of university. Your university years are all about trying out things – and it will broaden your horizons to experiment, explore and get involved in your environment.
  • “Pick out a select few societies that you really believe in and give as much time as you can. Don’t rush in, choose loads and come the end of first year realise you only attended one event per society”
  • “Try some societies outside of law to give yourself a break and meet a variety of people.”
  • “Get a Press loyalty card. On day one.”
  • “Definitely go at your own pace! Some students will be determined to go to as many networking events as possible right away, fill every moment with law related things – and that’s fine. Personally, I think students should just enjoy university before the intensity of the course increases – join non-academic clubs and societies, get out and have fun!”
  • “Everyone’s overwhelmed and feels like they’re being judged for most of first year and struggle to reach out and make friends. You’ll feel lonely for a bit. Reach out to people. I assure you you’ll eventually find your crowd.”

Well-being/Health

  • Give yourself one full day off a week. Believe me – you do not need to work 24/7, nor should you have to.
  • Get some exercise – even if it is just a yoga class a week.
  • Batch-cooking is your new best friend. Prep for a couple of hours, freeze in portions and you’re set up for the week ahead. You save money, eat more healthy and learn new skills in the kitchen!
  • “Do work. But enjoy yourself. Treat university as a 9-5 job. Work in the day and enjoy your evenings. Go to the gym, go grab a drink with friends or even have a chilled night relaxing.”
  • “Don’t stress too much, you’ll absolutely make it through fine and yes this is true, even if you don’t want to be a lawyer.”
  • “My advice to first years, especially in London and for law, is to actually go out and enjoy what the city has to offer.”
  • “Everyone is just as clueless as you are.”
  • “Don’t believe you are the s*** because that’s how you get tripped up.” [and a further comment by another friend] “adding to that, don’t believe you are s***.”
  • “Don’t compare yourself to other law students. You’ve worked hard to get to law school and deserve to be there as much as anyone else.”
  • “Invest in a flask for tea!”
  • “Don’t be fooled by the hype! You deserve to be there as much as the next person. Those people who seem to know everything already and are so confident…it’s not real.”
  • “I’d tell first years to take their time! It’s so easy to get caught up among all the intensity of law school, the glitz and glam of City law firms, and the pressure to go into something you don’t know anything about. If you feel ready to apply for Open Days or First Year Schemes so early on, go for it! But if you have no idea what a vacation scheme or a training contract even is, don’t let others put you down for it and don’t force yourself to ‘get into it.’ Your career is a marathon, not a race, so take your time in working out what you want, what is right for you, and what makes you happy. The world is much bigger and has more to offer than the conviction that you must graduate with a training contract!”

I hope this advice, from past and present students helps ease your mind, give you some strategies and tools to make your university years a success, a joy and a pleasure to look back on.

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(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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