What is first year all about?

First year is about more than studying your chosen degree. Iona discusses some of the other priorities and areas to focus on during your first year at university.

By Iona Craig

Don’t blink because your first year will be over soon! Unlike the never ending days of school, university only has two terms of teaching followed by a third term with exams/course work in (no one ever told me this when I started!) so when I say it goes fast, I mean it goes really fast. That’s only 20 weeks of teaching compared to 35.

External shot of the library and café library, both with signs on their buildings.
Blink and you’ll miss it! University can go by in a flash. Image: University of Warwick.

To give an idea of how the term works there’s welcome week where you will have no more than an introduction lecture, 10 weeks of lectures, Christmas holidays, 10 weeks of lectures, easter holidays and then 10 weeks of exams (although normally exams finish well before the end of term). So what should you be focusing on in this limited amount of time that you will look back on as your first year?

What work looks like at a university level

Of course, university is all about learning but there is a lot of learning that needs to be done other than the content of your degree and that’s really what first years here for. Many degrees won’t even include any first-year marks towards your final degree, and if they do its normally no more than 10%, to give you a chance to transition to the new and very different way of working.

Two girls in between bookshelves, exploring the books.
First year can be a time to explore when your grades don’t matter as much. Image: University of Warwick.

I continually remember teachers at my school telling me as I began my A levels that they would no longer ‘spoon feed’ me the information. Although at the time A levels felt a bit of a jump from the route-learning of GCSEs, it was nothing compared to the leap needed at university. Suddenly the information sources available to you are endless rather than a textbook and the teacher’s words of wisdom – and no one really tells you what you need to learn! Yes it is common to feel overwhelmed by the work at the start (or even throughout!) but it’s worth noting most people do as it’s a change and change can be scary.

Many degrees won’t even include any first-year marks towards your final degree, and if they do its normally no more than 10%, to give you a chance to transition to the new and very different way of working

However, first year really gives a chance for trial and error of how university work works best for you. So take the risk while it’s not counting towards your degree to try a few different ways of making lecture notes, doing the reading or going ahead with course work until you find one that feels good.

Balancing living and working

Dealing with the sink blockages and the state of the first-year kitchen can be hard enough, never mind actually having to cook in them…

Three people walking across a footbridge in front of Heronbank student residences.
Most students move into on-campus accommodation for their first year, often living away from home for the first time. Image: University of Warwick.

Another key component to first year for many people is fully cooking, cleaning and laundry-washing for themselves alongside studying. These jobs can take up a lot of time and it can hard to prioritise whether to do jobs or work at times. Again, first year give you a chance to get this a bit wrong so by the time you face your second year you’ll a) know how to do all these things so it’s easier and b) know when to do them that fits in with your lifestyle. Maybe your super organised and good and getting everything done on the Sunday before the week starts or maybe you’d rather not do them and cope fine without them being done.

Making friends

It’s worth putting the time into this in your first year! Go and meet people, join a society, say yes to the events you might not have time for when the work picks up in second year – it’s worth it! Equally, if you are finishing your first term of first year or even your second and don’t feel you have completely clicked with anyone there’s still plenty of time to meet your friends so don’t panic, it will happen!

Groups of students sitting on the steps of the piazza.
Everyone is in the same boat, so everyone needs to make new friends. Image: University of Warwick.

I’m not in any way saying forget your academic work in your first year but I am saying first year does give a chance for some other priorities to be focused on, so you can go onto your second year and absolutely smash it. As best you can – and I know its not easy – try and embrace the discomfort of anything that feels like too much in your first year as it is likely everyone else feels the same and it is just a case of time and pushing through.

If you’re still a bit unnerved about starting university, don’t worry, our posts finding routine in a new term and getting comfortable with the uncomfortable will help. Don’t forget to reach out if you ever need help, to your friends, your personal tutor, or Wellbeing Support Services.

Do you have any questions about your first year of university? If so, leave us a comment below, tweet us @warwicklibrary or send us a message on Instagram @warwicklibrary, or send us an email at libraryblogs@warwick.ac.uk

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