What’s the difference between an Honours degree and a non-Honours degree?

For the UK the inclusion of the ‘Honours’ element of a degree usually means that the student concerned attended a 3-year bachelor’s degree course including completion of an acceptable dissertation (or thesis) in the third and final year. Students exiting the course after 2 years, or those whose dissertations fail to pass in the 3rd year, can still obtain an overall degree pass but this is simply graded as a ‘Pass’ or ‘Ordinary’ degree, i.e. without Honours. However there are exceptions; for example in Scotland an Honours degree is 4 years not 3 and in many universities outside of the UK, the Honours element is only awarded if a sufficiently high overall grade point average (GPA) is attained, i.e. it’s simply an academic distinction as opposed to being linked to the thesis/dissertation element.

So what’s the difference between a 1st, a 2:1, a 2:2 and a 3rd?

One user on The Student Room website explains the grading like this:

  • A First-Class Honours (a ‘1st’) = Grade A**
  • An Upper Second-Class Honours (a ‘2:1’, pronounced two-one) = Grade A*
  • A Lower Second-Class Honours (a ‘2:2’, pronounced two-two) = Grade A
  • A Third-Class Honours (a 3rd) = Grade B
  • An Ordinary Degree (or Pass) = Grade C

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They went on to explain that a non-Honours degree ‘has no grading system … you either pass and get a degree or you don’t’. According to another user on the same thread, one high profile London university unofficially explains the grades a little differently, like this:

  • A 1st = A (70%+)
  • A 2:1 = B (60%-70%)
  • A 2:2 = C (50%-60%)
  • A 3rd = D (45%-50%)
  • A Pass = E (40%-45%)
  • A Fail = below 40%

So how many Firsts are awarded? The general consensus is that the top 10 UK universities give out more Firsts than other universities, for example Oxford Uni was cited as having given out 30% of grades as Firsts, which is a significantly greater proportion than the average university — according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), approximately 15% of all degree candidates graduate with a First while the figure for attainment of a Third was stated as only 7.2%. This also varies by course; statistically, Law students are least likely to be awarded a First whereas Mathematics students are most likely to be.

On a lighter note, did you know that a First is sometimes referred to as a ‘Geoff’ (after Geoff Hirst) or a ‘Damian’ (after a Damian Hirst) while a 2:2 is often referred to as a ‘Desmond’ (after Desmond Tutu). A 2:1 is informally known as an ‘Attila the Hun’ and a Third is informally known as a ‘Thora’ (after Thora Hird’ or as a ‘Douglas’ (after Douglas Hurd). A Third is alternatively known informally as a ‘Vorderman’ (named after Carol Vorderman, the famous Countdown co-host who was awarded a Third-class degree by Cambridge)!

At The Document Centre here in London we provide the binding for those university dissertations or theses which contribute to the Honours element explained above. Each has to be produced to the exact specification laid down by the university in question, and each university generally has its own individual house style and colours. However, having been the leader in the field of bespoke binding for many years we already know the university specifications and, for most UK universities, students are able to simply select their university from a drop-down list and order online, safe in the knowledge that their thesis will be bound to the correct university specifications, such as Manchester, Leeds or Birmingham. Alternatively, they can also specify something different including if their university is not listed (we do on-demand thesis binding for universities around the world, not just the UK) or if the job in hand is not for a university (we do bookbinding of all kinds!). Students can add register ribbons, CD pockets, foil blocked lettering on the covers and spine plus many other optional extras, including having CDs and DVD copies burnt and additional copies of their thesis sent to different postal addresses. All this is controlled during the single online ordering process. We also print posters for many students – see here for more details. For more information contact us here or learn more about our online thesis and dissertation binding service.
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