For most degree courses, the marks obtained in coursework and exams in your first year don't count towards your final grade. The vast majority of universities base your final degree classification on just the second and third years, weighted at 40% and 60% respectively. However, just because your first year doesn't count towards your overall mark, it doesn't mean you can waste the year by skipping lectures and partying like there's no tomorrow.
Tuition fees aren't cheap, so don't let that investment go to waste. There are a number of great ways that you can use your first year of university to set you up for success in your second and third years...
Societies are a great way to meet likeminded people, and they can also look great on your CV, potentially helping you to stand out to employers in a sea of graduates. Before going to university it can help to research the different societies that are available to join.
Think about what you hope to gain from your time at university and plan to join societies that can help you to achieve your goals. If you're not yet sure where you see yourself after graduating, choose a couple of societies based on what interests you. Make a note of the societies you're interested in joining, and look out for them at the freshers fair during freshers week.
Starting university typically involves moving to a new city; and even if you're familiar with the city itself, the university campus will be unfamiliar territory that you'll need to learn to navigate. Use your first year to get to grips with your new surroundings. Explore the university campus; identify the location of the library, students' union, faculty offices, refectory etc.
Make the most of a slightly lighter workload during your first year and take some time to explore the city, visit museums, find some great places to hang out, and get to grips with public transport and how to navigate your way around town.
Living away from home for the first time is a daunting experience. Prior to starting university, most of us won't have had much experience of budgeting, buying our own food, and paying bills. Not only does university challenge you academically, it also provides a huge learning curve on your leap into adulthood. It is possible to make your student loan stretch far enough to cover your living expenses and have some semblance of a social life, but getting a part-time job will bolster your funds and provide a cushion for those times when your loan has been stretched to its limit and your overdraft is maxed out.
If you're feeling particularly sensible, you could put any earnings from your part-time job into a savings account so that you won't need to do as much, or any, paid work in your second and third years when your academic workload will increase. Most students tend to find that 8 to 12 hours of paid work per week is as much as they can manage on top of their studies, but do what is right for you without compromising the entire reason you're at university in the first place.
It seems that you can find just about any information you could possibly need on the internet these days, so a lot of students tend to rely on their laptops, barely ever leaving the comfort of their dorms to venture to the library. However, despite the existence of online journal sites, sometimes it's absolutely essential to go to the library and do some old-school research with actual books and paper-based journals.
If you've never used a library for research before and don't know where to start, speak to the librarians; they're there to help you orientate your way around the facility so make the most of their expertise.
Some students choose their degree course based on their long-term career goals; whilst others simply choose to study something that interests them, without any clear idea of what they'll do after graduation. Up until a certain point in your first year, you can change your mind on the course that you have chosen. If you've attended a few lectures and feel like maybe it's not the course for you, speak to your tutor as soon as possible about the options available to you.
If you enjoy your course but don't have a clear career plan, use your first year to research what your possible post-graduation options are, then you'll know what you need to do to work towards your goals. For example, you may decide that you want to do a Master's degree after you graduate with an Undergraduate degree; in which case you may need to achieve a certain grade to be able to progress. Likewise you may decide upon a career path, and the chances are there's a society that you can get involved with which will look great on your CV, or an internship programme that you can get involved with.
We're not saying there won't be time for fun during your second and third years at university, but you'll most definitely need to prioritise your academic life over your social life if you want to make the most of your course. Your first year grades don't contribute towards your final degree award so you've got a little more leeway to socialise and make the most of £1-a-pint at the student union bar. Socialising and partying during your first year can help you to establish strong friendships, and these friendships may be with you long after your university days.
A good group of friends is invaluable at university. After living in halls of residence for your first year you'll need to find your own accommodation for the remainder of your time at uni, which gives you the opportunity to live with some of the friends that you've made in first year. A solid group of friends can also be of great benefit when your workload increases and things get stressful. Whilst you may not have time to go out partying every night of the week, meeting a friend for lunch or a quick drink after lectures can help you to take a break, talk about your worries, and gain some perspective on things.