There are two completely opposite answers to this question and the one you’re probably sat there thinking of is, ‘well no, it doesn’t matter as it’s not taken into account for the classification of my degree.’ I can only speak for Northumbria students when i say this, as I’m not 100% certain that this carries to every university, but for the majority, this is the case. Yes, you’re correct to think this, your first year does not count towards your final degree classification, but before you start ‘necking’ pints, there is much, much more to it than that.
If you’re on a course like me that has the option for a year in work or industrial placement then your first year may actually be the most important year of them all. For those of you who don’t know, an industrial placement is kind of like a gap year that you take between your 2nd and final years. During this year you have the option to work at a real company, doing real work on real projects; essentially, work experience. For example, I’m taking my year out at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland where I’m working on Invenio, a digital library, to develop a disaster recovery module for the data that is stored; I also know people who are working at ARM, Microsoft and Waterstons. As you can see, these are big names in the computer science realm and the work you will do for them is not like what you will do at a secondary school work placement where you make coffee and photocopy some papers; these placements will push your abilities to the max and apply them to real ongoing projects. In brief, it is a proper job, just it only lasts year.
Employers value these placements very highly and will more than certainly take them into account when they’re looking at your CV to hire you; and this is why your first year is so important, because it is that year’s results they will be looking at. Because you take your placement in your 3rd year, and apply during your 2nd, the only full set of results employers will have access to is your 1st year.
But how can my this be more important than my 2nd and final years when those are what my degree classification is based on?
Well think about it. Who would you rather employ? Someone with a 1st class degree from a 3 year course or someone who got a 2:1 but also has a year working for Microsoft and has a great reference from them. I hope the answer is glaringly obvious.
So, by this point, I hope you think differently about the importance of your first year; but don’t think I’m saying don’t enjoy it. You’d regret it so much if you spent the entire time you have at uni doing nothing but studying, just find a good balance.