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

It lays foundations

A lot of people say that first year doesn’t matter, that it isn’t as important as the following years of university. For most people, it doesn’t count towards your final grade and you’ll probably not stay mates with most of the people you meet in fresher’s week. Like the middle child sandwiched amidst their far superior siblings, first year is often pushed aside in its significance.

I disagree though, on both accounts. As a middle child, and someone who had a love hate relationship with first year, it really does matter. Like mortar to a house, it lays the foundation for all that is to come.

First year gives you the freedom to perfect your relationship with deadlines

First year acts as a chance to get to know what work routine works best for you. Some people find it hard to adjust to the workload, others find it easier than A levels or BTECs. First year gives you the freedom to see if you’re the student that gets coursework in on time, or the one that is hopelessly behind (late night seshes at George Green, GG to me, will help you out). It doesn’t really matter either way, but it’s good to know.

It also provides you with the chance to start building a good work technique for second and third year. The more effort you put into your work means you’ll get meaningful feedback on how to really improve. Getting used to referencing and university sized essays can be a daunting task for any fresher, but surely it’s better to make mistakes when it doesn’t count so much.

It serves as a lesson in how to protect your mental health

First year is also good time to establish a self-care routine. I think it’s fair to say that the university life isn’t the healthiest especially when you combine alcohol with living independently. You’re either on the brink of a fabulous hedonistic lifestyle or a cycle of hangovers and regret, or maybe you can effortlessly master both. Ultimately, it’s important to remember that having nights in and watching a movie is as necessary as nights out. It’s all about balance, right? In first year it can be easy to say yes to everything on offer, partly because of peer pressure whilst forming new friendships. But finding that balance between uni, me time and a social life is an essential life lesson.

First year is also a chance to utilise any resources that your university offers. Accessing help when you’re at uni introduces the concept of normalising the need for support at various life stages. It is recognised that one in three students will experience poor mental health during some point in their studies. Support and Wellbeing Officers, the University Counselling Service and mental health advisors are all on hand if you feel like you need some help. Don’t be afraid to reach out and access support. First year can feel overwhelming at times and it’s important to look out for yourself and your new mates. 

You can use the time to try out new extra-curricular activities

As you have so much free time and less work pressure than the years to come, first year is a great chance to join societies and sport teams. Due to Covid-19, kayaking was one of the only things I could do in first year. As a complete beginner, I didn’t exactly take to it like a duck to water but it was an opportunity to meet other people and get outside. It can be quite easy in that first term to arrive to the hum of halls, move in and then spend a lot of time in your room.

Getting out and about, trying new things, and meeting new people, even if it’s just one other person, can make a huge difference to your life. Imagine if you joined a society in final year and realised just how much you’d missed out on. #FOMO. I only joined societies in second year, and they bring with them a network of mates that would’ve really enriched my first year.

All the people you meet at uni teach you new things about yourself

University at its core is about the people you meet and the ones you wish you hadn’t. We are only ever looking for a reflection of ourselves in someone else and whilst you may not meet your best mate in year one, the people you do come across can teach you something about yourself. When you find your tribe (and you will), you’ll be sat in a pub or somewhere else you like and, together, you’ll put the world to rights.

First year may not count on your transcript or for mastering any sort of cooking skills, but it matters in a lot of other ways. The importance of first year is paramount to making the most of university and is fundamental to laying out those foundations. You can become a better person. You can find a balance between drinking and studying. You can grow and you can change. The experience is valuable.

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