What should a law student take with them when they move to university?
I’ve seen a few of these around and I have my own take. Mine will be a bit quirky, as 18 was a long time ago for me, and I didn’t live away from home for my first degree. I’m afraid with some of these, I’m going to come across more like your mum than your peer (yes, I know I’m old. I’m not quite that old!), so, while I think my advice is solid, this blog is emphatically not written by one of the cool kids. These are just things that have made my life easier at university (not just for law). I will not be recommending specific products, because I don’t want anyone to think that I’m being paid/ my judgment is anything other than my own, etc.
I notice the word count on this rapidly climbing, so I’m going to split this up into two posts. This post: out and about. See also: in halls/ at home.
Music player and headphones
A music player. Yes, I know everyone these days uses their phone for music. I’m not everyone, partly because the battery on my phone is shockingly bad and doesn’t last the day even with everything turned to minimum. And while there are sometimes places where you can charge your devices, that’s not guaranteed (particularly in the lead up to/ during exams), and my music player will always last the day (if not sometimes the week). I’m going to go against what I said above and name a product: I have an iPod Nano. I say this because, sadly, the Nano is being discontinued. I love it because it slips easily into my pocket, all my music is on there, and it has room for podcasts. No, not just lecture podcasts, although I haven’t yet deleted my contract law podcasts from my iPod.
For me, my music player has multiple purposes: work, play, rest. Play rather goes without saying. For work, everyone has different ways of studying. Some people study with music, some with background noise, some with silence. But pretty much no one (I’ve found) can concentrate terribly well with that near-inevitable jerk in the library who won’t keep it down about his or her Saturday night exploits (or the person playing music in halls, etc). However you study (except maybe silence: for that I’d suggest earplugs), put it on your music player and block out the stuff you don’t want to hear. (There are plenty of free resources online for white noise, nature sounds, etc. My preference for study is nature sounds.) For rest, headphones are the near universal signal for “don’t talk to me”, and so allow you to shut off a bit when your brain has had quite enough for the moment. I also specifically use the iPod for relaxation: meditation, white noise, podcasts to help you sleep and such. Your need for that will vary, but the resource is there.
On headphones: I do have a preferred brand, but, I’m not going to name them. Your needs will vary, but for me, I wanted three things: portable, durable, and something that wouldn’t leak sound. I have ear canal headphones. They’re small and fit with the iPod in my pocket, and the sound coming from them goes into my ears rather than serenading those surrounding me (unless I have the volume really loud). The seal also means I can block out a considerable amount of outside noise without having the volume up high enough to disturb others or risk hearing loss. They can also operate as (not the most effective, but better than nothing) earplugs if I don’t feel like listening to anything but want to quieten background noise.
Almost no one carries a backpack to university. I do (see: not one of the cool kids). I carry a laptop and like to have my books with me, and if I carried it any other way (except a small suitcase: this is wildly impractical) I’d end up with back pain. You don’t have to take it every day, but, consider having one for long days or when you know you’re going to do a library run.
A water bottle
The price of bottled water adds up fast. And while you’ll probably get one or two for free along the way, particularly as a law student, don’t take that for granted. Keeping yourself hydrated keeps you sharp (important for multi hour, first thing in the morning, not your favourite subject lectures), and, while (at least at my university) lecture halls are nominally water only, no one notices or cares if it’s not water in that bottle (I’m thinking of cold coffee or squash: coming to class drinking or drunk is a bad, bad move. Yes, I have seen it).
Have a few pens that work (avoid the very cheapest ones), possibly a highlighter, and something to write on. Pencils (including mechanical) are less popular, but, provided they don’t break (or run out of lead), are more foolproof. Or more, that’s up to you (some people have a love affair with stationery). Not only will you need them (I write almost nothing by hand, and I regularly need a pen), but it’s a good ice breaker with those around you who need to borrow one. If your bag doesn’t have a tiny convenient slot for pens, also get a pencil case (consider a clear one, as at least at my university they require pencil cases in exams to be see through. Also check exam requirements to see if they require pens to be a particular colour). A diary for assignments/ commitments is also a good idea (may double up as something to write on), although your university may provide you with one (I also use things like an online calendar/ phone alerts, but you don’t want your tech to fail you).
You may have to hot foot it from one side of campus to another. I’ve not found this so much in the UK, but it was definitely true in Australia where at least my first degree was a lot less structured. I’d rather run in comfortable shoes than pretty ones. Also, sometimes you’re standing around a lot (lecturer is late, lecture hall is unexpectedly locked, etc).
Other things that are nice to have: strong foldable shopping bag (5p bag charge adds up; in case of unexpected library run), emergency food stash (something like a bar at the bottom of your bag that won’t go off), chewing gum (see also staying awake in lectures), tissues, very minor self-care incidentals (plasters, hand cream, lip balm).
As always, please do comment. When you’re at uni, what’s good to have with you?