Feb 09, 2018

Written By Chris Snell, LLB Graduate

Studying at University

Feb 09, 2018

Written By Chris Snell, LLB Graduate

Stories of eccentric lecturers and inspirational professors still dominate the popular image often associated with university study. But what is studying law at university really like? University of Birmingham graduate Chris Snell gives you a realistic picture of what life will be like at university...


What is university really like?

There is the now legendary tale of the notorious MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) graduates who established a highly lucrative card counting racket during their university years, resulting in a thirty-five fold return of their gambling stake. Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, the rumour mill continues to churn out stories of Oxbridge undergraduates being recruited into the Security Services whilst taking a stroll through the dark corridors of Trinity College (or the like).

Such glamorous tales serve to illustrate a more pertinent point: university education is a far cry from the strict regime of sixth form study. You might think that achieving those entry requirements is difficult enough, but the work doesn't stop there. The switch from teacher to lecturer is perhaps one of the most significant changes between school and university.

Academic differences between school and university

Although a student may be assigned one specific lecturer to act as a personal tutor or their “go-to man”, the tutor is rarely troubled by their tutee’s lack of strife. In truth, should one of their tutees fail a year, they would be more likely to celebrate the fact that they now have one less bothersome student on their hands, rather than waste time consoling their inconsolable tutee! Bumping into one’s tutor in the pub at lunch time or after class is not uncommon, but don’t anticipate the exchange of niceties, expect an acknowledging nod at best.

Lectures are the staple food of any university diet, a chance to learn the basics of a module. Whilst attendance is highly recommended, although not compulsory, the odd missing person here and there will go largely unnoticed. Indeed, lecturers have many other concerns worthy of their time other than chasing anyone who misses their classes. Miss a lecture and miss out, it really is your loss. It is vital to remember that lectures only provide the most fundamental elements of a degree course, no more, no less. Stop a lecturer in mid flow to ask a question and expect a rather undignified response somewhere along the lines of: “All answers to questions can be found in the relevant textbook”.

Preparing for university exams

Simply regurgitating knowledge gleaned from lectures in the end of year exams will gain you a low 2:2 (commonly referred to as 'the Desmond') at best, far from ideal. The higher marks are gleaned by demonstrating a wider knowledge of the specific subject, hence spending your non-contact time in the library reading around the module is time well spent. The best place to start is always the textbooks, articles or case law listed on lecture handouts. From there, picking out interesting looking material from footnotes can prove to be a useful source of inspiration.

Seminars, not lessons

Seminars or supervisions (depending on your School’s lexical choice) run alongside lectures. Typically, they consist of a class of about ten people, led by a 'supervisor' who possesses particular expertise in the relevant field of academia. Every seminar supervisor sets their students a rather burdensome load of work which they expect to be completed before class.

The catch here is that attendance is compulsory and it is usually recorded. Whilst failure to attend regularly will perhaps not result in life threatening sanctions, more likely a mere letter detailing what a naughty boy or girl you have been, it will render your supervisor less receptive to offering you help or guidance should you become stuck.

Preparing for seminars

In a similar vein, turning up to a seminar without having completed the requisite reading and research is a sure fire way to be booted out of class without any heirs or graces (speaking from experience, this is a somewhat embarrassing scenario!).

It is highly probable that the material covered in supervisions will feature in end of year exams, so spending time preparing it thoroughly throughout the year will pay dividends when the inevitable cram begins.

Of course, it is far easier to lie in bed and forget about university entirely. There is no need to place a “do not disturb” sign on your door – nobody will bother you. However, the old adage rings true in the context of university study: failing to prepare is preparing to fail. It is your choice.


Law Degree