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What is an Honours Degree and Why You Should Consider It?

8 min read
Blog Summary An honours degree is not just another credential; it's a testament to exceptional academic achievement and a deeper engagement with your field of study. With a focus on higher academic rigour, research, and specialisation, honours degrees are recognised globally for propelling graduates to higher employment rates, salary prospects, and academic opportunities.

Ever wondered what sets apart truly passionate scholars from the rest? It's not just about attending lectures and cramming for exams; it's about diving deep, pushing boundaries, and achieving something extraordinary. Enter the realm of honours degrees – a prestigious path that's not for the faint-hearted but for the bold, the ambitious, and the endlessly curious.

Imagine being part of an elite group of students who don't just learn but innovate, research, and contribute to the very fabric of knowledge in their field. With an honours degree, you're not just earning a qualification; you're embarking on a journey of discovery and excellence.

What is an Honours Degree?

Embarking on the journey of higher education opens a myriad of pathways, among which the pursuit of an honours degree stands out as a distinguished academic endeavour. An honours degree is not merely a testament to completing undergraduate studies; it is a recognition of exceptional academic achievement and a deeper engagement with one's chosen field of study. At its core, an honours degree signifies a higher level of academic rigour and achievement compared to standard bachelor's degrees. It involves a more in-depth study, often including a research component or thesis, that allows students to explore their subject matter more comprehensively. The honours designation is awarded to students who demonstrate superior academic performance throughout their course of study, culminating in a higher distinction upon graduation.

Global Perspectives on Honours Degrees

The criteria and structure of honours degrees vary significantly around the globe, reflecting diverse educational systems and traditions. Here's a closer look at how honours degrees are conceptualised in different regions:

United States: The U.S. does not offer honours degrees per se but recognises outstanding academic performance through Latin honours (cum laude, magna cum laude, summa cum laude) based on GPA.

Canada: Canadian institutions offer a four-year honours bachelor's degree, emphasising a higher level of specialisation and research. This degree is often a prerequisite for admission into master's programmes.

United Kingdom: In the UK, the majority of bachelor's programmes are honours degrees, incorporating a final year thesis or research project. The degree classification reflects the student's overall performance, with distinctions such as First-Class Honours, Upper Second-Class Honours, and so on.

Australia and New Zealand: Both countries offer honours degrees either as an additional year of study following a bachelor's degree or as part of an integrated programme. These degrees involve independent research and a thesis.

Ireland: Similar to the UK, Ireland offers honours degrees with more demanding coursework and higher admission standards, often including a significant research component.

Types of Honours Degree

Choosing the right type of honours degree depends on your academic interests, career goals, and the educational standards of your chosen country. Each type offers unique benefits and challenges, so consider what aligns best with your aspirations and dive in.

Integrated Honours Degrees:

  • These are standard undergraduate programmes that include an additional layer of advanced study within the same timeframe as a regular degree.
  • Common in the UK, where most bachelor's programmes are inherently honours degrees, including a final year project or thesis.

Separate/Additional Year Honours:

  • Offered as an extra year of study after completing a bachelor's degree.
  • Predominant in countries like Australia and New Zealand, focusing on independent research and possibly additional coursework.

Honours with Specialisation:

  • Degrees that allow you to dive deep into a specific area of your field, offering a higher level of specialisation.
  • Examples include honours in sciences, arts, engineering, or social sciences, where the curriculum is tailored to intensive study in one area.

Cum Laude and Other Honors (Primarily in the USA):

  • Not a separate degree but a recognition of high academic achievement across all disciplines.
  • Categories include cum laude, magna cum laude, and summa cum laude, based on GPA.

Four-Year Honours Bachelor's (Canada):

  • A more intensive version of a bachelor's degree that requires four years of study.
  • Necessary for entry into most master's programmes in Canada, indicating a higher level of academic rigour and specialisation.

Joint or Combined Honours:

  • Allows students to study two subjects at the honours level, either within the same faculty or across different faculties.
  • Offers a broader academic perspective and skill set, ideal for students with interests in multiple fields.

Honours with Thesis or Research Project:

  • Involves completing a significant research project, thesis, or dissertation in the final year.
  • Demonstrates the ability to conduct independent research, critical thinking, and in-depth knowledge of a specific topic.

Difference Between Honours Degree From Non- Honours Degree?

This table aims to give you a clearer picture of how honours degrees stack up against their non-honours counterparts. Whether you're aiming for that extra edge in academic achievement or prefer a more straightforward path to your degree, understanding these differences can help you make the best decision for your educational journey.


Honours Degree

Non-Honours Degree


Typically requires an additional year of study or a more intensive 4-year programme.

Usually spans over 3 years for a Bachelor's degree.

Academic Rigor

Involves a higher level of specialisation, more comprehensive coursework, and often a thesis or research project.

Focuses on a broader overview of the subject with standard coursework.

Admission Criteria

Stricter admission requirements due to the competitive nature and increased workload.

Standard university admission criteria apply.


Demonstrates a higher level of academic achievement; may be required for certain postgraduate programmes.

Qualifies you for general employment and some postgraduate studies.


Graduates may receive "with honours" distinction, indicating a higher academic standard.

Graduates receive a standard bachelor's degree without the honours distinction.


Offers an opportunity for specialisation or in-depth study in a particular area of interest.

Provides a general understanding of the field without deep specialisation.


Graded on a more rigorous scale with distinctions such as First-Class, Upper Second-Class, etc., based on performance.

Graded on a standard university grading system without the honours classifications.

Why Should You Opt for an Honours Degree?

Choosing an honours degree is a big decision, but for many, the benefits far outweigh the challenges. It's about more than just the extra year of study; it's a pathway to personal growth, academic fulfilment, and professional readiness.

  • Stand Out in the Crowd: An honours degree is a testament to your academic rigour and dedication. It's a standout feature on your resume that can give you an edge in the job market or when applying for advanced studies.
  • Deep Dive into Your Passion: If you're passionate about your field of study, an honours degree allows you to delve deeper, offering a more specialised and intensive exploration of your subject.
  • Research and Thesis Opportunities: Many honours programmes include a thesis or major project. This is your chance to contribute original research to your field, a rewarding experience that can open doors to further education and career opportunities.
  • Higher Academic Standards: Pursuing an honours degree means you're holding yourself to a higher academic standard. This challenge can be incredibly fulfilling, pushing you to achieve your best.
  • Preparation for Advanced Studies: If you're eyeing graduate school, an honours degree can be a crucial stepping stone. It's often a prerequisite for master's programmes, especially in countries like Canada.
  • Enhanced Learning Experience: Honours programmes often come with perks like smaller class sizes, more interaction with professors, and access to advanced resources and facilities.
  • Develop Critical Skills: The rigorous nature of an honours degree helps you hone critical thinking, research, and analytical skills. These are invaluable in any career, setting you up for success in a variety of fields.
  • Personal Achievement: Completing an honours degree is a significant personal achievement. It reflects your commitment to your education and your ability to tackle and overcome challenges.
  • Networking Opportunities: Being part of an honours programme can connect you with a network of motivated peers and mentors. These connections can be invaluable as you progress in your academic and professional career.
  • Global Recognition: An honours degree is recognised and respected globally. It can be particularly beneficial if you're considering working or studying abroad, showcasing your commitment to excellence in your field.

Top Colleges Honours Degree

Choosing the right university for your honours degree is a significant step towards achieving your academic and career goals. Each of these institutions offers a unique set of opportunities to deepen your knowledge, enhance your skills, and prepare for a successful future.


University Name

Popular Honours programmes


University of Toronto

Kinesiology (Hons), Applied Psychology (Honours)


University of British Columbia

Honours Bachelor of Arts


University of Oxford

(Hons) Chemistry, Business Marketing (Hons)


University of Cambridge

BA (Hons) in Creative Writing


University of Melbourne

Law (Hons), Engineering (Honours)


Australian National University

Environmental Science with Honours

New Zealand

University of Auckland

Bachelor of Arts (Honours), Bachelor of Science (Honours)


Trinity College Dublin

Business (Hons), Literature (Honours)

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Frequently Asked Questions

What does it mean if a degree is without honours?

A degree without honours typically means it's a standard undergraduate programme without the additional year or higher level of study required for honours distinction.

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