A-levels to degree: what I wish I’d known…
The transition from A-Level to University is a scary one. It is scary to all new students even without a global pandemic. As a first year Law student, these are some of the things I wish I would have known before I started.
Keep tabs on your research
Firstly, and in my opinion most importantly, it is essential to write down where you get your information from. When it comes to referencing, never think “I’ll just come back to that later”. There have been so many times already where I’ve gone to write a quote in my essay and then spent hours just trying to find where I got the quote from.
Referencing is a new thing for us at university and in order to make it as simple as possible, write down everything! My tip for this is to have a separate section of your book or notes for referencing. Write down all the information you’ll need to reference a quote in that section. That way you’ll have everything you need to reference in your essay as well as keeping your notes clear and concise (and neat!).
Plan to keep on top
Secondly, despite this being simple, I cannot stress how important it is to plan your day. Unlike at A-Level where you travelled class to class with your friends and the work was set in those classes, university is much more independent. Especially in the current climate of online, if you don’t plan when your classes are, you’ll miss them. With lectures and tutorials and extra reading it is overwhelming at first. The only way I got past the feeling of being overwhelmed is by always planning my day. Once it’s all written out in a diary it seems much more manageable. Record when you’ll be doing all the preparation and reading as well as when you need to actively be ‘in class’.
Join in with as many events as possible and apply for as many positions as you can. Your university is full of opportunities which you must take advantage of. It may seem like a lot to manage, as well as keeping on top of workload; but you can gain so much advice and experience from the opportunities presented to you.
Getting a first is important but experience can get you a long way. My tip is to stay on top of your emails. The university will be flooding your inboxes with careers opportunities which you would not have received at A-Level. Additionally, sign up for societies! Societies such as the Law Society and the Pro Bono Society are constantly supplying us with great opportunities.
There will be challenges…
Your tutorial group will be composed of students from all different disciplines, with different A-Levels under their belt. It’s important to understand that for most, the work is going to be extremely different from what you’ve faced before. The technique for writing will be different. The content will be different. It can be hard transitioning from A-Level subjects, which you felt knew inside out, to a completely unfamiliar degree. But just because you find it challenging straightaway does not mean you should give up. From my experience…
…you can be sitting there one week stressed about how you do not understand something from a lecture, and the week after it is suddenly makes sense.
It will be hard getting used to it all, but remember your lecturers are there to help, so just drop them an email.
Don’t risk your mental health
Finally, remember that getting good grades is important but not more important than your mental health. It is easy to pack your day full of lectures, reading and events and not give yourself any time to relax. Overworking leads to burn out, which is not only bad for your health but for your standard of work too. Having a couple of hours to binge Netflix or have a bubble bath doesn’t mean you’re slacking. It means you’re human! And most of all do not compare how far along you are compared to your classmates. Everyone’s work rate is different, and everyone took different A-Levels. Someone who took essay-based A-Levels compared to your three sciences may find it easier to complete all their assignments. It does not mean they have answered the question better. Work at your own speed and never put your mental health on the line to get it done.
Transitioning from A-Level to University can be stressful. But it is an exciting new chapter of your life that you will enjoy! Take advantage of the support given to you at university and remember, everybody is in the same boat.
Thanks to Sienna Woodley for this piece on transitioning from A-levels to a law degree. Sienna is a first-year law student at City, University of London. She is currently a programme representative for LLB Law Year One and a first-year Law representative for City’s Law Society. She hopes to help current and future students with the skills she’s adopted in her time at university.