Just because first year doesn’t count, doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter

Make the year count, even if the grades don’t

If you’ve ever met anyone that’s ever been to university, in Cambridge or anywhere else, the first two things that they’ll most likely tell you is that: 1) ‘freshers will be the best week of your life’, and 2) ‘first year doesn’t count so just enjoy yourself and don’t worry about it’ (sorry to my lawyers, medics and other undergrads to whom this does not apply).

Having tackled my  first year of university in the COVID era, for me the truth is that fresher’s week is unlikely to be the best week of your life, and that’s okay. However, for now, my main focus is on the second statement, and I would say that, just because first year doesn’t count, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter.

The first year of university is bigger than just the academics, first year is also important because of what you’re really at university for: socialising. Everyone knows that academics and learning are only really footnotes in the university experience, because say it with me people: grades are temporary but memories are forever. This is the first time you are away from parental or guardian influence and you can truly start to discover your own personality, find new interests and make new friends, the amount of character growth you undergo during that year is wild.

On the other hand, I will admit that first year was an important year for me academically. Despite not actually contributing anything to my final outcome, first year is where you get to lay the foundations for the rest of your degree. It’s the first time in your entire academic career that you’re allowed to explore a subject that you’re interested and, contrary to popular belief,  learning can be fun at times. You can explore topics in a way that you could have never imagined in college or sixth form. You also get to discover yourself as an academic – something that Cambridge in particular will force you to do.

However, if I’m being honest, when I think back to first year, I rarely remember the online lectures and essays hurriedly written with deadlines looming over me like dark clouds and the endless complex and, at times, confusing supervisions. However, I do remember going out to restaurants (which I’ll admit was a real luxury because it felt like the country was always in lockdown), funfairs, games nights and The Missing Sock events amid a few COVID scares here and there (for legal reasons I do not recommend these).

Overall, I would say Cambridge – and university in general – is what you make of it; if you’re lucky, first year could be one of the most important years of the university experience and having your first year count to your degree is a blessing in a really obvious disguise. It takes the pressure off ( well, as much as can be taken off in an environment like Cambridge) and can allow you to settle into an unfamiliar place. Although some finalists may disagree, I would say that some of the things you learn about yourself and about life in general may in fact last you a lifetime.

But also on the flip side, it’s also important to remember that it’s okay if first year isn’t the best year of your life, you’ve still got two or three – or five if you’re a medic – to make the most of university. But who knows, this is all just coming from a second year student who’s never even entered a lecture hall.

Cover credit: Kayinsola Amoo-Peters