Volume 10, Issue 10
You’ve booked in a course planning meeting.
When you arrive at the appointment for the now-centralised service, you find another Unimelb student – who you can’t guarantee has ever set foot in 185 Pelham St – waiting as your advisor. She thanks you for coming in, and tells you that just she was just ‘catching up on the law course structure’.
It is midway through second semester first year. You’ve already pushed the Torts intensive back to November. You’ll later discover this was a sound choice, as the enthusiasm of Brad Jessup will make you greatly enjoy the subject, taking the sting out of being back in a classroom less than a few weeks after your Semester 2 exams.
With having to balance your classes with paid work to get by and other responsibilities (a challenge indeed), you’ve found that even doing three classes is a significant enough commitment that doing four sounds like a nightmare – you can’t imagine someone in your circumstances maintaining their sanity if they attempted it (for any JD students reading this who have lived out of home for the duration of their degree, worked to support themselves and have done four subjects a Semester and will finish in three years; I admire your resolve, time management and balls, but am not sure that it is worth it).
You tell the course planner that you want to extend. She takes you through what your timetable might look like for the next couple of years, and explains that extending is as simple as not enrolling for a full load that Semester – there’s no magical ‘Extend’ button to click, or special permission you need to receive. She tells you, along with Torts, you’ll have to do at least one more intensive if you never want to do more than three subjects at a time.
She tells you ‘more than half of law students don’t finish in three years’. You take her word for it, but wonder where she got the statistic.
You check whether you are still eligible to receive Centrelink if you extend. You find out that you can receive Youth Allowance for one semester over ‘the minimum time it would normally take to complete the course’. While you understand the basic maths of 3 years + 1 semester means that at maximum, they will provide support for 3.5 years – and not 4 - you query whether the more operative word in that sentence is ‘minimum’ or ‘normally’. If a majority of students extend, is 3 still the normal finishing time? Sure, it’s the default. But technically the minimum is 2.5 years, for the speed demons out there.
While the JD Course does advertise its flexible course options on their website, three years is the ‘standard’ one. And nowhere are statistics made available about how many students will take a longer period of time to finish their degree – many students who extend did not initially intend to. It would not be in the interests of marketing to tell students who have just spent at least three years in an undergraduate degree that they’re going to be more than doubling their entire time at university by the time they finish their JD.
In the midst of pursuing another legal opportunity, you will let one of your subjects fall by the wayside. You will fail it and repeat it next year, and it will mean that you will have to do another intensive at some point to stay on track to finish in 3.5 years. Although intensives will end up being some of your best marks and most enjoyable learning experiences, it will suck to have to give up a further break that you could have used to do paid work – or indeed, do what a student who has been burnt out to the point of failing needs the most – take a holiday.
You will, later, sit in a lecture. The lecturer will, in describing time commitments and study planning, remind the class that this is a ‘full-time course’. They will incredulously ask the class whether the university ‘even allows students to take on part-time work’ during Semester. You will – despite liking the teacher and enjoying their classes – feel those comments come down from an ivory tower that has no understanding of the student experience, at least your experience. You feel alienated, because you know you couldn’t do the course if you didn’t work. But you say nothing, and the day winds on.
Tim Sarder is a second-year JD student
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