BA (Hon)est: Graduate Advice #7: Being a 2nd year

2nd year was my favourite year of University. You’ve been at Uni for a year now so you know the best places to go/eat/party, have a group of friends and kind of know what the tutors expect from you. Your grades actually count towards your final degree now (on most creative courses 1st year doesn’t count – it’s different at every Uni though!) so you need to work hard, but you don’t have the pressure of dissertations and degree shows – don’t stress out about that until next year!

2nd year is when the real work begins. In 1st year you didn’t really know what you were doing, the projects were really varied and you were just finding your feet really. 2nd year is all about beginning to shape your work into the designer you want to be – you might not be amazing… yet, but you have the potential and a foundation of skills to build on. In 1st year you would look at the 3rd years work and be absolutely terrified thinking ‘My work will never be that good’. In 2nd year you will start to have the confidence to say ‘My work can be that good!’ and it will, because it’s amazing how much you will pick up.

2nd year is all about growing – learning new skills, pushing yourself so that you’re ready to become more independent in 3rd year and growing closer to your friends. Here are a few words of advice that I wish I had known going in my 2nd year of Uni:

Get tough. The tutors probably went quite easy in your 1st year crits… now the heat is on. It will be hard but the worst thing to do is get upset and defensive. Your work isn’t perfect at the moment and they’re just trying to help you improve. Design is quite subjective and everyone will have their own opinion but every creative should welcome criticism and strive to be the best you can be.

Go out and enjoy yourself! So you’re not a fresher anymore, but that shouldn’t stop you from having a good time! A year wiser, you know all the best places to go, where to avoid and how to get the best deals for your money. 3rd year is going to be tough and really busy which doesn’t leave a lot of time for going out, so make sure you really enjoy it whilst you can. Be safe though – look after yourself!

Mingle. Get to know the other years on your course. At Lincoln I was lucky enough to take part in a couple of inter-year days where students from all 3 years worked on a task in groups. It was great fun meeting the other years and collaborating to produce a finished piece. There are freshers who don’t have a clue what they’re doing below you and 3rd years who are clued up above you. You’ve just completed your first year – what did you wish you’d known/would have done differently? It’s the reverse role with the 3rd years – you can learn a lot from those guys. Ask to take a look at their work so you can see the finishes(binding,use of materials, formats) and portfolio layout. It’s also the perfect opportunity to ask for tips, advice and to build a friendship.

Remember, it’s a small industry so connections are important – they are graduating a year before you and will (hopefully) be in jobs by the time you’re at the end of your degree. Plus creatives should be sociable people anyway. And what about the Photographers, Creative Advertisers, Interactive Designers? Make friends with them too!


Explore. Yes, you’ve been there for a year and you already know quite a lot but what has changed over the summer? Are there any new shops/cafés/galleries to check out? Are there any places you might not have needed to visit until now?

Take Opportunities. A crit with someone from industry? (David Pearson!) Experience on the Student Union magazine? (Bullet Magazine) Student design awards? (Penguin Book Covers, YCN, ISTD) You have time for it in second year – it’s a lot harder when you’re trying to juggle everything in 3rd year so take full advantage because you don’t know what it might lead to!



Plan ahead. Am I contradicting myself here after telling you to not stress out about 3rd year stress? Only a little bit. Don’t get stressed out, but doing a little thinking and planning ahead will (hopefully) mean that next year you won’t be as stressed out! I don’t know how every course works, but at Lincoln we needed to fundraise for our degree show in 3rd year. In 2nd year you’ve got a manageable workload(although I know at the time it feels like loads) and a lot more time to think about ideas for money making, so put it to good use. Observe what the current year above is doing and develop your own ideas. If there’s something they’ve done really well, like a night out (the RGB night that I organised was continued the year after I left), take note and ask if they would mind you continuing to use the idea in the future(but put your own spin on it).

Plan ahead 2. Dissertation. Serious stuff. It might seem AGES away at the moment but time flies when you’re having fun! Do you have any idea what you want to write about? Do some research, give yourself a head start and a gold star!


Get a placement. Between your 2nd and 3rd year, use the opportunity to gain some experience by interning at a studio. You’ll have a bit of time either at Easter or in the summer before you begin 3rd year. Why? Well a little bit of experience will put you ahead of the pack next year when you’re graduating. It will also give you an idea of how to tailor your portfolio depending on the area of design that you’re wanting to head into. Volunteer to help at the year above’s degree show, network and get business cards! But remember, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy! So…

Have a rest. At the end of 2nd year after you’ve worked really hard, of course! This is (hopefully) the last ‘free’ summer before you begin your career. 3rd year will be stressful and really busy so make sure that you’re rested and in the right mind frame to achieve the best grade that you can. Everyone wants to finish their degree on a high, right? If you’re burnt out things will spiral out of control. Do a placement but also have some time to chill and sort your life out. Make some plans for your future and go exploring/travel if you can afford it – get inspired.

ENJOY IT. Most importantly, don’t take it for granted. Enjoy every second of it because 3rd year will come around faster than you think and before you know it, you’ll be at graduation!

P.s. All of these photos are from my University experience between September 2010 and September 2013! Take a step back in time and read all about the projects and fun things I got up to using my archive(drop down menu).



  • Charlotte

    14/10/2014 at 5:09 pm

    2nd year was great for me too, definitely enjoyed it more than first year. Feeling the difference from then already and I’m only 2 weeks into 3rd year! Also agree that welcoming criticism is important, it’s changing my work for the better

    • Natasha Nuttall

      14/10/2014 at 8:34 pm

      Thanks for stopping by Charlotte – hope everything is going well! Good luck with 3rd year and enjoy it because it goes SO quickly! xx

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© Natasha Nuttall | January 2022

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