How does it compare to the undergraduate experience?
If you’ve been bound for law for a while, you probably know the drill with the GDL—seven core modules, all compulsory, condensed into a year of study. Previously, you might have had modules that had less value than others, as well as a range of optional study paths. Let’s be honest—there may also have been some modules that you put less effort into than others, on the basis that your grades would average out eventually.
This is where the GDL and the standard undergraduate degree part ways. Everything you do on the GDL matters because it all centres around those core modules. That means every seminar, every lecture, every compulsory reading is just that—compulsory.
So what does this mean in practice?
The number of hours per week you will spend at law school depends on the type of GDL you have chosen. Part-time GDLs will give you more free time, but will take longer to complete. Distance learning GDLs can be completed 100% online, so you can fit it around existing commitments to a certain extent, but you’ll still need to commit to a lot of self-study.
On a full-time GDL, you can expect to be in university almost every day, with a combination of lectures, workshops and independent study commitments to keep you busy. Things move quickly; it’s not possible to skip lectures or seminars, as every component of the course feeds tightly into the next.
Can you have a job?
If you’re doing the GDL without first securing a training contract, you should certainly bear in mind the career-furthering work you’ll need to do alongside your GDL. This could take the form of work experience and vacation schemes, but also applying for training contracts—something that takes a lot of time. Only you know your working style, but completing an intense course, attempting to go for a training contract, working a part-time job and maintaining your mental health and social life is a lot to juggle in just a year. Remember, there are many flexible ways to complete the GDL—don’t stack your plate too high from the offset.
Some people do work while doing the GDL. If you’re going to do so, it can be helpful to seek employment in the legal sector or within your university, as employers who are familiar with the GDL can be more understanding of the workload than others. Again, if you need to work more than a couple of days per week, it’s worth looking into the part-time GDL so you can effectively balance everything.
Balancing the GDL with your life: top tips
One of the main advantages of the GDL’s intense nature is that you will make friends fast. Spending the majority of your time with the same group—a group that knows exactly what you’re going through—will be a huge asset to your wellbeing (and might even be beneficial in your career at some point!)
Students who have made it to the other side of the GDL talk about how they treated it as a full-time job—going into university at the same times each day, even if they didn’t have classes all day. Consolidating this routine will certainly help your studies, but it will also be useful in the longer-term when you’re a lawyer. You can treat your time in university as your GDL time, and save your time at home for relaxing and seeing friends. That way, there are clear boundaries between your GDL and the rest of your life.