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Honours degrees

What does the term “Honours” mean?

The term “honours degree” has different meanings for different countries and for different degrees. Generally “honours degree” is connected with undergraduate Bachelor degrees; it is rarely used for Masters degrees. The term originally comes from an early 20th century degree classification system to distinguish undergraduate students based on their academic achievements. Nowadays, honours are instead awarded to students who show exceptional depth of knowledge and originality.

Honours degrees in Great Britain and Scotland

In the British system, almost all undergraduates apply to an honours degree. An “ordinary” degree may also be offered, however, it involves a much broader understanding of a topic compared with an in-depth honours degree. Hence, an honours degree typically refers to a higher academic standard than a pass degree, which is why at some universities an additional fourth year during the Bachelor is required. When a degree with honours is being awarded, the suffix “(Hons)” may be attached to the degree title, for example BA (Hons) and BSc (Hons).

In Scotland however, the MA (hons) refers to a four-year integrated undergraduate degree in the arts. During the first two years, ordinary Bachelor level modules will be completed, while the last two years, or honour years, consist of more advanced subjects and finish with a dissertation.

Honours degrees in Australia

In Australia the term “honours degree” may also refer to a two-year consecutive research degree, which is a continuation of a bachelor’s degree in the same field. It is supposed to extend understanding and research skills in order to directly commence a PhD programme. Entry to an honours degree is therefore competitive and requires a Bachelor’s with distinction.

Honours degrees in the USA

In the US, a degree with honours simply signifies academic excellence, indicating a high overall grade point average.

Finding postgraduate Honours degrees

As described above, there are only very few Masters programmes which offer the honours supplement. If it is available, it can have many different meanings and may be connected with different criteria. In some cases you will find the term “Honours” within the study programme description, in other cases you will have to ask the student advisory service about the award of honours degrees. The search for a postgraduate honours degree is therefore difficult. Instead of devoting time to looking for an honours degree, you should focus on other aspects of your Masters programme.

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