What Workload to Expect in Your First Year of Uni

The major difference between studying in school and university is that your workload and timetable become self-determined once you make the step.

While there is a lot of variation in a first-year workload that makes it hard to definitively answer the question of how much work you can expect to do, we’ll be taking a look at a few example majors and the level of study you’ll be expected to do.

A first-year course will typically involve 3-4 hours of lectures per week. It could also include another hour of tutorials, and for science courses, labs of up to three hours. Lab frequencies vary by a university - often they are every second week at Auckland, but every week in Wellington. The flipside is that at Victoria, the lab program often won’t run semester long.

Additionally, every course requires time in the library or at home, doing assignments, studying lecture notes and completing reports. This level of work is really up to you - but can make or break your GPA, and what subsequent courses you get into. An average workload tends to be 4 courses per semester, with 10 hours expected on each course, which amounts to about 40 hours a week total - a full-time job!


Medicine, Law, and Architecture

In the most competitive degrees, you should already know that a lot of work is expected. The major difference here is that in the first year, you are often competing for a limited number of places in the next year’s program. This means that near-perfect grades are essential.

Given that many Law students take conjoint degrees, you could expect to take 5 courses, which is a lot more work.

There’s no beating around the bush here, if you are in these degrees, expect to give your life to study. These courses also give less choice in the first year and prescribe a program of study - which means there isn’t as much of an opportunity to fit your workload around your own life.


Science, Business, Commerce

Not all BScs and BComs are created equal. Contact hours are similar - the major difference here is the lab hours required in BScs, which are higher than the tutorial hours required by BComs - but the level of study outside class varies by subject. More technical degrees like Economics or Chemistry require you to spend a lot longer in the library while “softer” subjects like Management or Ecology let you get away with a bit less effort in the first year. By the third year, however, most subjects tend to ramp up in difficulty.


Arts and Humanities

The meme degree (maybe). The one with all the esoteric, wishy-washy classes, the one where you spend an hour of your tutorial contact time talking about your feelings. While the university is filled with jokes about how BAs are the easiest degree, don’t be fooled. It may be true that if you want to pass the first year of your BA with minimal effort you can. But what sort of University experience is that?

In a BA you have no extended labs and contact hours are low - 3-4 hours of lectures per course, per week and an extra hour of tutorials. But getting consistently good grades requires a great deal of study, no matter what you are studying. The crucial thing in a BA is originality of thought - approaching a subject with a unique argument, which is backed up properly with a range of source sources takes work.


Study hard, play easy 

It’s not too hard to fit in the rest of life - a part-time job, hobbies, socializing - around a first-year university workload. If you’re in one of the more difficult degrees then you should expect to spend a lot more effort and for it to be competitive - if you’re in a BCom, BSc or BA, you should be able to manage things just fine. The important thing, at the end of the day, is a balance. Study hard, take regular breaks, and get loads of fresh air!

If you are seeking more specific information about a first-year workload check Faculty-specific online advice, and get in touch with their representatives.