Does my first year at university matter?
in Careers Advice, Training Contracts, Pupillage and Work Experience

Does my first year at university matter?

This article is primarily aimed at law students, but probably could apply to a whole host of other students at university as well.

Career Coaching Session

I was recently doing a career coaching session with a law student in his second year at a well regarded Russell Group university. He had exemplary GCSEs, top A levels, he had good positions of responsibility on his CV, a pedigree of different sporting achievements and plenty of extra-curricular activities.

On the Lash

The only flaw I could find in his career to date, whether academic or work related, was the fact that in his first year he appeared to have enjoyed a rather good time at university, and all of a sudden his grades were not so outstanding. One grade that probably could have been slightly higher simply to avoid any questions at a later date was his constitutional law result of 49%. This represents a third class degree mark and is a little on the low side to say the least, particularly for someone with such high achievements elsewhere.

Constitutional Law – The Module from Hell

Whilst a lot of lawyers reading this will sympathise with this particular student as constitutional law is boring, tedious and in my experience not very well taught at all by highly intellectual academics from another dimension, or very bored sounding lecturers with 40 years under their belt of trotting out the same gumpf, it is quite understandable that a grade of 49% should arise even on the most gifted of students’ results. I would say that – I managed a similar grade myself!

Does the First Year Really Matter?

So does this matter? If you spend the first year out on the lash, drinking all day, partying all night, doing very little work and generally enjoying yourself, will this affect your career in the long term?

Yes!

The short answer is yes, and the slightly longer answer is yes, but most recruiters will overlook first year results if your final degree result is outstanding, and of course you can overlook it yourself going forward.

Consistency is Key

The problem arises though in professions like law, where you can start making applications for training contracts in your second year of studies for a job two or three years later. When you make these applications, the only way of benchmarking or considering you is for the recruiters to look at your results. So for a student who has gone through school with exemplary GCSEs, outstanding A levels, but then 49% in their first year at constitutional law, this almost gives the recruiter an excuse to reject the applicant, because there will be lots of others who have gone through the first year of their degree with 60% and 70% results.

Swots Get Training Contracts

Whilst it may be the case that the students with the 60% and 70% grades in the first year are a bunch of swots who have done nothing else but study throughout, you are never going to compete effectively against them when making applications for training contracts after your first two years.

Those same perpetually self-isolating swots are going to get training contracts.

If you think about it as a recruiter, why would I want to employ someone who has lived a life of Riley in the first year and spent most of the time not looking at law books, compared with somebody who has worked flat out, achieved great things and is showing clear promise as a potential solicitor? Of course your extra-curricular activities will stand you in good stead, but chances are if you are like a lot of students, you will have spent most of the first year doing absolutely nothing of any value whatsoever to your CV. You cannot expect a future employer to be impressed at your drinking prowess in the halls of residence bars. You have to be aware of the intensity of the competition when you finish university, and think carefully before not spending sufficient time studying to get even vaguely reasonable grades.

Summary – Drink as Much as You Like?

So in summary, our advice would be to enjoy your first year, perhaps take the foot off the pedal a little bit to avoid a nervous breakdown from the sheer quantity of studying you would have been doing since the age of 14, but don’t relax too much and be very aware that the grade you get at the end of the year will be on all the application forms you fill out for a number of years to come.

Have a think about this, and if you are not bothered about progressing your career too much, go out and enjoy yourself in the first year, but if you want to progress as quickly as possible and as easily as possible, put the effort in, don’t go to nightclubs midweek and try and immerse yourself in your academic studies.

Jonathan Fagan

Jonathan Fagan LLM FIRP is Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment. He has been recruiting solicitors and legal support staff for law firms and in house legal departments for over 17 years and handles roles from junior fee earners through to partners and law firm sales/purchases. A non-practising solicitor on the Roll since 2000, he is also the author of a number of legal career books, which are available at www.legalcareercoaching.co.uk. You can contact Jonathan at cv@ten-percent.co.uk