What Is a First-Class Honours Degree and Why Pursue It?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 27 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Graduates that hold first-class honours degrees are the ones at the top of their class with an average grade of 80% and higher. Their outstanding grades can connect them to more lucrative career opportunities. Learning about what first-class degrees are can help you understand the importance of education and how your grade can affect your future career. In this article, we discuss what a first-class degree is, review how long it takes to achieve and explain the benefits and drawbacks of aiming for an honours degree.

What is a first-class honours degree?

If you're a university student, you might wonder what qualifies as a first-class honours degree. Typically, the requirements vary from one academic institution to the other. For example, to obtain a first-class degree at the University of Hong Kong, you require a grade point average (GPA) of 3.6 out of the maximum of 4.3 or higher. Whereas, the Hong Kong Metropolitan University has a different grading system. You require an average grade of 3.5 out of 4 to earn a first-class honours degree.

Different universities also have their own additional requirements to be eligible for an honours degree. For example, students that take certain courses may receive an honours degree. To get a better idea of your programme's honours requirements, consult your academic advisor for more information.

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How long does it take to achieve an honours degree?

The time it takes to earn an honours degree doesn't differ from a regular degree. If you decide to study full time and devote 20 to 30 hours each week to learning, you can graduate in four years. Part-time study programmes are available at some universities and require you to study at least 10 to 15 hours per week. Regardless of whether you choose to enter the honours programme, you can study for four to eight years or even longer.

The same doesn't apply if you leave your studies before their completion. Even if you leave right before graduation and technically qualify for an honours degree, you may not receive it. If the university decides to let you go after one, two or three years of studies, you're eligible for a certificate with the finished courses and grades.

Advantages of acquiring a first-class degree

Obtaining an honours degree takes hard work, dedication, discipline and time. Here's an overview of the benefits that an honour degree might bring to a graduate:

Increased employability

Potential employers may select candidates with higher GPA scores, especially for entry-level positions. In the absence of work experience, your average grade is the only tangible criterium companies can apply. An honours degree becomes even more critical if you aspire to enter highly competitive industries, such as banking or law.

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Access to scholarships and awards

Typically, universities incentivise students to join their honours programme with scholarships, better accommodation and various awards and grants. They might decrease your tuition fees, offer monetary gifts and provide more opportunities to win prizes. These incentives can be a significant source of encouragement for students who require additional financial support to afford higher education.

Becoming a role model

Achieving high scores and graduating with an honours degree is highly rewarding for some individuals. It's an achievement that can make your family and friends proud and help you feel more motivated after working hard. Your accomplishment might inspire other young people to reach for an honours degree, too.

Developing self-discipline

Obtaining an honours degree is a challenging task that takes a lot of self-discipline. Even after you graduate and enter the labour market, your ability to accomplish things on your own without being pushed can help you achieve high positions. You're more likely to get promotions, desired projects and competitive salary offers if you prove to be able to work independently and achieve results.

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Tips on earning an honours degree

Earning an honours degree takes more time and effort. If you don't obtain a first-class degree, you might still be eligible for a second or third-class honours degree. There are employers that put less value on grades and prefer candidates with suitable skills and personality traits. If you decide to pursue an honours degree, consider the following tips:

Visit all lectures and seminars

Having access to library books and material online can help you advance your knowledge. Visiting lectures and hearing the professor explain complex concepts can make it easier to comprehend the course material. Seminars are also a great opportunity to ask questions and clarify complicated topics.

Make sure you understand the requirements

Make sure you understand the purpose of your assignments. Ask your professor and tutor about the goals of the assignment and read the criteria to understand how to attain a grade A. Sometimes, a small misunderstanding can result in a lower grade.

Be unique and original about your work

When completing assignments, attempt to research different studies and points of view to draw your own conclusions. This way, you can learn something new and acquire independent thinking skills. Secondly, you're more likely to receive a better grade if your professor sees the work you put into the assignment.

Read the required materials and beyond

During some courses, you receive a list of required literature, articles, research papers and textbooks to read. Students that don't do so might not be able to understand lectures thoroughly, which can affect their grades. Materials that your professor provides are most likely to be high-quality sources for future assignments and tests.

Be organised

Develop self-discipline and organise your day to complete all the assignments, coursework and reading materials that are required. It's helpful to avoid procrastination and create a schedule that you can follow every day. You might require a few weeks to adapt to the schedule, but it gets easier with time.

Get enough sleep

A healthy and consistent sleeping schedule is crucial for your learning and cognitive abilities. If you organise your day in a way that you complete your entire to-do list in time, you can easily establish a healthy sleep schedule. Feeling refreshed every day can motivate you to persevere through challenging tasks and encourage you to pursue extra credits.

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FAQs about honours degrees

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about honours degrees:

What are the different types of honours degrees?

Here are the different types of honours degrees you may earn:

  • Ordinary degree: You're eligible to earn an ordinary degree if you've applied for it and completed your courses successfully. If you've applied for an honours degree, you can graduate with an ordinary degree even if you didn't meet the requirements for any honours degree types.

  • Third class degree: Students receive this degree if their average GPA is between 40% and 55%. This is the lowest honours degree you can get.

  • Second class degree: This type of degree is often divided into two parts, namely lower and upper second class honours. To obtain the lower type, students require a grade average of 55% to 65%, whereas, for an upper second class honours degree, you require a grade average of between 65% and 80%.

  • First-class degree: First class degree is the highest honours degree. Only students with an average grade of above 80% are eligible for it.

What are the potential disadvantages of earning a first-class degree?

When considering earning an honours degree, it's helpful to compare the potential disadvantages with the advantages so you can decide if it's the right degree option for you. Here's an overview of the disadvantages of obtaining an honours degree:

  • Courses can be challenging. Although an honours programme can motivate students to strive for better grades, the courses can be challenging and may sometimes cause stress. If you organise your schedule, review it regularly and schedule regular breaks, you may reduce feelings of stress.

  • You may miss out on other opportunities: As an honours student, you may dedicate a large portion of your schedule to additional courses to meet the requirements of your honours degree. To help achieve a more balanced student lifestyle, consider scheduling time for your hobbies, such as travelling and playing sports, well in advance.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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