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The Study Hub Blog is the home for study skills resources and support with student life for all taught students at the University of Edinburgh, from first year Undergraduates to taught Postgraduates.
First-year grades might matter more than you think 

First-year grades might matter more than you think 

This post was written in July 2023 by Sofia, an incoming third year Economics student and our Study Hub Analysis Intern, as she was preparing to go on her year abroad.  

There’s no doubt that for some the transition to higher education can be challenging. Aiming to alleviate the difficulties and academic pressure students face early on in their degree, Scotland’s higher education institutions employ a “non-honors” system.  Unfortunately, however, I have met numerous students that, in absence of the extrinsic motivation prevalent in the honors system, hold back from exploring their full academic potential.  

 “First and second year don’t matter, right?” While it is true that in Scottish universities first- and second-year grades do not count toward a student’s final degree, phrases like these never sat right with me. As an international student I didn’t see the point in stepping outside my comfort zone, moving halfway across the world, and incurring tuition expenses if I wasn’t going to make the most of my university experience. During my first and second year at Edinburgh I was able to fully engage with my studies, as my motivation to learn went beyond mere numerical achievements. This allowed me to access valuable experiences and opportunities that perhaps would not have been available otherwise.  

As a fresher, I was completely clueless about the year abroad programs offered by the University. It was only during my second year when I learned more about the application process for the university wide exchanges. It is important to clarify that the University offers two main types of study exchanges. The university-wide exchanges, managed centrally by the Study and Work Away Service (SWAY) team, are open to students across the University, making them highly competitive. The university also offers subject-specific exchanges, which are managed at a school level. The selection criteria is composed of three main elements, these being your academic record, your personal statement and your linguistic suitability  

Back in November 2022, when I was applying for my year abroad, I reached out to third year students that had successfully completed the application process. I found this extremely useful as they were eager to share their experience and advice about participating in an exchange programme. In hopes of helping students seeking to go abroad, I will share key insights relevant to the application process for the university wide study exchange. 

Since the application process takes place during the first semester of your second year, only your first-year grades are considered. Hence, if you are hoping to study abroad first-year grades might matter more than you think. I highly recommend you develop intrinsic motivation and engage with your studies early on in your degree.  

As for the personal statement, I focused exclusively on my first-choice destination, and clearly outlined my motivation for applying. I believe that knowing your “why” is crucial for this part of the selection criteria. Whether it be academic motivation or the endless other opportunities that a year aboard offers, it is central to know and transmit why you wish to participate in the exchange programme. This will likely set you apart from other candidates, as it will help communicate why YOU are the most qualified student to represent the University. Make sure to also include the four main points included in the SWAY selection criteria website 

Lastly, the peer marking of the personal statement is an important part of the application process. I strongly advise you to look at and touch upon each section of the criteria available on the University-wide application guide 

Feel free to have a look at the SWAY website, and best of luck with the application process.   



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