9 People, 1 Question || First Class Graduates on Getting a First Class, Benefits, Challenges & Advice!

9 People, 1 Question || First Class Graduates on Getting a First Class, Benefits, Challenges & Advice!

My first class undergraduate Law degree was one I intentionally set out to achieve. Just because I thought it was the key to a great job and an ultimately better life. I had heard of older persons who had first class and literally had oil companies begging to hire them - and change their life!  I didn't think it was going to be that way for law, but still I thought it'd open doors. And in fairness in my case it has. Being able to go to Cambridge may not have been possible if I had a lesser degree. Plus it has sure opened other doors. But does it make every employer and opportunity come my way easily? Not exactly. So much more is needed. 

So I was much more curious about other first class graduates. What has their experience been? Why did they want a first class? How tough was it? Has it been worth it? Should more people aspire to have a first? 

The timing of this post could perhaps not be more apt. If you follow a lot of Nigerians on Twitter, you may have seen some very recent discussions about first class graduates. Apparently some people thought a certain university was diminishing the value of a first class by awarding 'too many people' first class degrees and that such degrees were on the same level as a second class upper from other universities. 

Well, let's see hear from the mouth of 9 horses themselves as I asked each of them this one question:

"Why did you want a first class degree and what was the toughest part of trying to get one. Do you think it has been worth it in terms of doors opened, current / future career prospects. One advice for aspiring first class students?"

1. Ifeoma Uzoegwu
  • Technical delivery lead in a UK telecommunications company
  • Studied - Electronic Engineering, University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Graduation year: 2011
  • Worst school subject: History!
  • Fun fact: I am in love with all things chocolate.   

The last thing on my mind in my first year was making a first class. I think I was still trying to figure out how to survive in this new environment without losing sanity! By my second year I made my first E in a course and this was yet another wake up call for me. I felt like a complete failure for 3 reasons - first because having been a straight A student in primary and secondary school, E was an alien grade to me, second because E was that much close to an F and third because I felt I had taken things for granted and could have easily made a better grade. Failure is probably the best teacher. I spent all of my third year reading like my life depended on it. The target wasn't just to make an A but a 100% in each course. It's fair to say I was reading with some sort of vengeance. The result? Straight As from third year to final year the end product of which was a first class. 

Now has it been worth it? The truth is your qualifications and experience in life when combined on a CV summarise your first impression on someone who doesn't know you. Hence speaking logically making a first class gives a good impression on a CV and does give an edge in key areas such as scholarships and job applications. In my case, I do feel that making a first class has been a positive factor in getting me to where I am in life today. However while it does help, it's not a sure ticket to landing your dream job or getting a scholarship to your dream university. 

Masters Graduation - University of Cambridge. 

Masters Graduation - University of Cambridge. 

An advice I'd have for aspiring first class students? Read like your success depended on it and equally pray like success depended on it. This certainly worked for me. I would also say that failure is the best teacher. If at first you don't succeed try again and keep trying until success is the only option left.

2. Yusuf Sheriff
  • Analyst at KPMG Nigeria; LinkedIn profile here. 
  • Studied - Electronics and Electrical Engineering, Loughborough University. UK. Graduation year: 2012
  • Worst school subject ever: Systems thinking. A suppressed memory if there ever was one.
  • Fun Fact: I am a complete nerd. Love playing games, making them, solving puzzles.

I come from a family of 2:1 graduates across board. I wanted to make myself standout from the rest. In addition, I schooled in the UK and I wanted to make my parents proud of the investment they had made in me. Toughest part about getting it is the last mile - when it feels like one mistake could make it all worthless and you end up with a 2:2. You need to keep your head in the game.

It has helped in terms of doors opened, in that it shows you are willing to work hard for what you want, so it gives anyone you interact with an incredibly positive opinion of you. It is not something that can be underestimated to be honest.


One advice to all aspiring first class students is make sure to maintain a social life, ideally with people who share similar goals. At the end of the race, the difference between winners and not-winners is the mindset. No matter what you do to relax or wind down, you need to keep an eye on the goal and avoid any slip ups.

3. Chinelo Onyewuchi (nee Onwuta)
  • Finance Analyst with Nestlé Nigeria Plc
  • Studied - Economics, University of Ibadan, Nigeria. Graduation year: 2009.
  • Worst school subject ever: I disliked the political science courses in my 3rd year. I just did not understand why I needed to know about the cold war and why I had to hand write long internet downloads as assignment. 

Thinking about it now, I think I wanted a first class degree in order to have a chance in life as the opportunities seemed endless. At that point, it was the best way to gain leverage and access to the kind of future I desired basically.

However, the toughest part of obtaining this was switching courses and faculties back then. I had gained admission to study Guidance and Counselling at the Faculty of Education, but my heart was with my then "love" - Department of Economics - Faculty of The Social Sciences. I aced my 1st year courses at the Faculty of the Social sciences but struggled with courses relating to the former. The then Dean proved to be a stumbling block, so I had to deploy all legally possible means to get him to "sign me out". 

For me it has certainly been worth it! I got chances to be heard albeit, expectations were sometimes over the roof. However, it comes with a sense of pride, that could be easily transformed to either confidence or arrogance.

In terms of career prospects though, many times I actually don't remember being a graduate of 1st class. Possible reasons could be greater emphasis on other relevant life skills and competencies than educational achievement. Acquiring these skills and developing attitudes for success remain the focal points for me.

Aspiring first class candidates, do it for yourself! It makes most sense that way with possibilities of being set up for life changing opportunities. And always remember, a candle loses nothing by lighting another. The ability to study and understand is a gift, so try to assist those who require a little more help.

4. Ademola Paul Adesina
  • Marketing & Communications Personnel
  • Studied - Psychology, University of Lagos, Nigeria. Graduation year: 2011
  • Worst school subject ever - Hated everything but English Language in secondary school.
  • Fun Fact:  I am a huge fan of artsy movies! 

To be honest, I never really set out to get a first class degree with my admission into UNILAG. I just wanted a degree I could go into my chosen career path with – Advertising.  However, two things made me push for it – at different times. One was a bet with my elder brother, also a first class graduate from the University of Lagos (terms of the wager are confidential!); and then at the end of year 2, I took a look at my grades and said to myself, go for it. Prove you can do it and win that bet.

A number of things really made it tough trying to secure this. First was the distraction of a part time job – not necessarily one I needed but one I enjoyed because it afforded me an opportunity to do some really cool things. And then there were other extracurricular activities - I had a well-hidden fondness for on-campus parties and associated distractions.

To be honest, it has been worth it - at least on a personal level. I set out to do something which a very small fraction of the population achieves, and I did it. So there’s the feel-good factor of that. Also, should I ever decide I’m done with the corporate world, I can always go back to academia. A first class degree can help. On a professional level, it has to some extent. But then you find yourself dealing with heightened expectations without the distinction of the reward you get in school. Why? In school, you strive to perform better than everyone else, and you are rewarded with grades that reflect not just your effort, but your talent and mastery of the subject matter. In life, not so much because you have other factors to deal with – especially in the behaviors that constitute the rewardable and desirable. 

In terms of future prospects, the novelty wears off after a while and you find that you have to prove yourself even more than ever to get the opportunities you want - at least from my perspective. So yes, it will help open doors. But you have to pick the right doors to walk through that help your career path. It’s only too easy to be a first class graduate in a role that doesn’t allow you utilize your talents and work ethic. 

Personally, I think there’s a myth that first class graduates get it easy. I can tell the world for free, that no one gets it easy.  If anything, a first class grad gets it tougher because everyone wants to check out if you’re the real deal who can cut it in the real world or just a nerd suited from the ivory towers.

What I can say to anyone aspiring for it is find your rhythm early! The shock and awe of university/college can startle even the most determined and proven nerds from secondary school.  So, if you’re aiming for it, you need to adjust to the environment early and find out what works. Also, start from Day 1. That means seeing every single event, every test, every exam  in the chain as part of the bigger picture and goal. 

5. Adesuwa Udeh (nee Eliminhele)
  • Works in Pharmaceutical Sales/marketing with a multinational in Nigeria / budding beauty business @acefaces_ / Health promoter at goodhealthnaija.wordpress.com
  • Studied - Pharmacy, University of Ibadan, Nigeria. Graduation year: 2011
  • Worst school subject ever: I absolutely hated Bio-Chemistry in university.

I entered the university with a set conviction to be the best student, as that was how I have always been through primary and secondary school. I also really wanted to make my parents proud seeing as they had never denied me anything concerning my education. I really didn't have any tough part except annoying lecturers which was a universal thing in my faculty.

Personally I would say yes it has been worth it - especially when such a result can be expressed. I'm not sure if it helped me get my current job, but there's a satisfaction that comes when all of a sudden, someone says 'Adesuwa made a first class in Pharmacy' - and the whole room is stunned (apparently my looks don't match my intelligence!). For scholarships it almost always put you through the first level of assessment and that's awesome too.

One advice for aspiring first class students is to understand the system you are in. I figured out that to have a balanced life as a pharmacy student, it was quite impossible to 'read to understand' just before exams because of the volumes of materials to be covered and I definitely wanted to have the full university experience. To be honest, once I had that figured out, then everything concerning education was taken care of. I read to pass in flying colours while I was in school; and read to understand while on holidays.

6. Chinazom Chidolue
  • Auditor at a Big 4 Professional Services firm in Toronto, Ontario and currently in training to obtain Chartered Professional Accountant designation. Voice behind InvestmentConversations.com; a personal finance blog created to empower millennials to take control of their finances and become the CFOs of their financial futures.
  • Studied - Accounting, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. Graduation year: 2015
  • Worst school subject ever: In high school - Dance: A seemingly easy elective became one of my lowest grades  (Let’s just say that dancing ballet is not God’s plan for me!)
  • Fun Fact: I wanted to be a teacher till when I was like 13. Then I realized it wasn’t a “cool occupation” and gave that up. But I still secretly like teaching!

I did not set out trying to obtain a Distinction in university (in Canada it's referred to as Distinction and not first class). I was more or less trying to maintain my scholarship which I was automatically offered with my admission based on my high grades from high school. I needed an “A” average to maintain this so each term I was just trying to maintain this. However in my final year of university, I got clearer about what I wanted out of life and my career and I realized that getting high grades were necessary to get into good graduate school programs and get great jobs after graduation, so I tried particularly hard in my final year to get the highest grades I could.

The hardest part about getting high scores was my limited social life in university, which affected my relationships with friends. I partied quite a bit in university but in my final year I pretty much only attended very important events so I could get up early to do school work, or any of my numerous “extracurricular” activities in university. 

It has definitely been worth it.  Right out of school I was able to secure a coveted position as an Auditor at a Big 4 professional services firm in Toronto, Canada. Given that I had very limited work experience, I was able to secure an interview pretty much solely based on my Distinction as well as some extracurricular activities in college. I plan on applying to graduate schools for an MBA in a couple of years and my Distinction would definitely help my application.

Aspiring first class / distinction students: Be clear about why you want to get those grades and focus on the benefits your first class degree will have 5 – 10 years down the line. Remembering your why will keep you going when you see your friends partying while you’re stuck in the library. Also, try to have a balanced lifestyle. Don’t be a hermit, enjoy your university career, go out and meet people and travel when you can, if not you could burn out!

7.  Chinelo Ngwu
  • Student of the Nigerian Law School, Abuja.
  • Studied: Law, University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Graduation year: 2016
  • Fun Fact: I'm a Twitter Addict

The truth is, I never wanted a first class, or I probably never believed I could make it. From the discouraging tales about my faculty, to tales of brilliant students who somehow never made it, to my dad’s consistent charge to make a first class, I felt it was a tall order; hence I did not bother working towards it from the onset. I just worked towards getting good grades.

However, in my third year, I recorded an almost perfect GPA of about 4.9 in a semester. In addition to an already good cumulative, I was very close to a first class. I quickly advised myself that “nearly does not kill a bird” as I would regret a 4.48 for the rest of my life. Subsequently, my target changed and I put in everything in me to cross over.

The most difficult part of this journey was when I had a C in Land Law. This was coming at a time I needed all As as such a C can drag you three steps backward. 

Presently, I may not be able to categorically comment on if it has been worth it but it has boosted my confidence in myself, spurred me to put in my best in everything I do and birthed a firmer belief in the God of awesome wonders. I would also like to think it has put me at a vantage position for my career prospects. For instance, it is not every day you get admitted into the University of Cambridge. Although contrary to popular opinion and quite unfortunately, I have not been able to fund this dream.

Finally, to all aspiring first class students, “Pain is temporary, CGPA is forever”. This motivated me a lot. Also, you cannot and must not rule out the God factor. 

8. Anjola Ogunsanwo
  • Flexible 9-5 as a copy writer and presenter at an advertising agency / YouTube Vlogger
  • Studied Mass Communication, Covenant University, Nigeria. Graduation year: June 2015
  • Worst school subject ever - Biology! What a horror.

Did I always want a first class degree? Maybe a small part of me wanted it. But majorly, finishing with a first class was hinged on the mantra I have that whatsoever I do, I’m going to do well; I like doing things well! Also, I knew getting it would make my parents on top of the world and that would equally make me happy. The toughest part would have to be balancing my CGPA. I got into final year with a CGPA of 4.49 (first class starts from 4.5) - my grades were always here and there. It was very dicey but I think God blessed me with the gift of being calm under pressure. So that worked for me. 

In terms of opening doors, I’ll be blunt. So far, none. I still joke about it with my dad that I haven’t pulled out my certificate from my folder since the compulsory NYSC training program. Even my current boss doesn’t know I’m a first class graduate (except of course he’s reading this!). But then again, I think it’s because grades don’t matter in my field - Media. 

One phenomenal thing I did in my final year was to live! Year 1 to 3 was hostel, class, chapel, library. But in final year I really lived.  And that will be my advice to any aspiring first class student. Study hard, yes. But, meet people, attend seminars, explore groups and most importantly create healthy fun in your life. Oh yea, have a mentor too! 

9. Adeyemi Ade-Fatona
  • Elite fitness professional - pandamoniumfitness.wordpress.com
  • Studied - Marketing, Redeemer's University, Nigeria. Graduation year: 2011 
  • Worst school subject ever: Chemistry - I detested Organic Chemistry!
  • Fun Fact: My mother is Jamaican, so I have a really deep love for Rice & Peas with Curry Goat.

I decided to go for a first, because I wanted to prove to myself that I could set a goal and accomplish it. I'd spend the better part of my secondary school years failing every single subject, and when I got into Uni I decided to go after the very best. Because of my secondary past, the most difficult part of it was building the habit of doing the work necessary.  I mean transitioning from being at the bottom of the rung & then climbing to the top... Tough work!

Since I graduated, I haven't worked any jobs directly related to my degree. The biggest benefit I gained from graduating with a first, was the knowledge and confidence that I can do anything I set my mind to, which was really important for me, when I decided to walk away from the employment market to do my own thing.

The biggest advice I'd give an aspiring first class grad, would be to understand every lecturer that comes your way. Understanding how my lecturers behaved made it easy to tailor how I went about taking and passing their courses.

I think this was so interesting! For some, it's been a huge stepping stone, while others have not had cause to even let people know they had this degree! I also love seeing the fact that not every one had always been a straight A student, but deciding to work hard, made it happen. That's always inspiring. All it all, the decision to make a first seems to stem ultimately from deep within - and for personal reasons. So I think that's pretty important.

What are your takeaways? What was your experience? If you had one has it been worth it for you? Do you wish you were a first class student. Would that have changed anything in terms of your current situation? Are such classifications still relevant in today's world?

Kachee... Xx

pS: I think this monthly Nine people 1 Question column gives us the opportunity to hear and learn from a lot of people's experiences at a time. But I appreciate it can sometimes be a long read. Please let me know if you'd rather I cut it down to six people going forward. 

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