Getting a First-Class Honours Degree: What Does it (Actually) Mean? (2023)

First-Class honours degrees are widely regarded as a respectable, impressive, and advantageous achievement to acquire. However, what is a 1stclass honours degree? How can you acquire one? What does it really mean? All of these questions are answered in the paragraphs below!

A First-Class Honours Degree is awarded to a student who has accumulated an average percentage grade of 70% or above during their years at university.A 1st class honours degree takes 3 years to complete as a full-time student, and 6 years to complete as a part-time student. Getting a First-Class Honours Degree effectively means a student has achievedthe highest grade possible for their university course.

First-Class (1st)70%+
Upper Second-Class (2.1)60-69%
Lower Second-Class (2.2)50-59%
Third Class (3rd)40-49%

This article will answer all your questions surrounding the topic of a 1stclass honours degree.Let’s begin!

Table of Contents

What is an Honours Degree?

Priortoattendinguniversity in the UK, youare obligatedto select which degree youwillstudy during your time there. There aremultiple different classes of degree available,however this article is going to focus mainly on a normal degree and an honours degree (plus the various types shortly!).

Anhonoursdegreehasan amplifieddifficultlylevel– the courseworkismore demandingthan a normal degree.It is worth 360 credits as an oppose tothe 300 credits that come with a normal degree(each credit is worthan estimated 10 hours of learning, meaning that an honours degree comes with an extra 600 hours ofeducation!).

At the end of yourhonours course,you will be assigned a special project or dissertation, which isexcluded from the normal degree,which further adds to the challenge ofthehonoursdegree!

Honour’sdegrees are not availableeverywhere;however,it is very rareto come across auniversitythat does not offer this type of degree.Honours degreesaregenerally perceived ascustomaryat universitiesacross the UK,which iswhy it is uncommonto see a universitywithout them.

What Are the Different Types of Honours Degree?

There area multitude ofhonours degrees one can achieve. Below is an explanation of each individual honours degree you could receive once you graduate:

Ordinary Degree

If someonefails tomeet the requirements for aThird-Classdegree, they will be awarded with an ordinary degree. However, they must have onlymissed out onThird-Classhonours by a small margin to be presented with this degree. Otherwise, they will simply fail the course.You could also just have applied to study this degree, and graduate without honours.


AThird-Classdegree is the lowest honours degree someone canattain. To be given this degree a student will have had to accumulate a percentage between 40 and 50%.They can also be referred to as a 3rdor ‘third’.People with aThird-Classdegree are at a disadvantage when it comes to employability, as most employers are looking for someone with a higher degree, as they are more likely to do the job better.


ASecond-Classdegree can be split into two main sections: lowerSecond-Classhonours and upperSecond-Classhonours.

A lower Second-Class honours degree is achieved by students with a final percentage of between 50-60%.They are also known as a 2:2, or ‘two-two’. This is the lower of the two Second-Class degrees. You are also at a disadvantage with this degree, although not as much of a disadvantage as people with aThird-Classdegree.

An upperSecond-Classhonours degree can also be referred to as a 2:1, or ‘two-one’.This is the higher of the twoSecond-Classdegrees and is awarded to those who gained a final percentage of between 60-70%.People with this type of degree are at more of an advantage when it comes to job interviews, as this is the type of degree many employers are looking for.


Finally, aFirst-Classdegree. AFirst-Classdegree, commonly known as a ‘first’ or 1st, isthe highest honours degree achievable, and is well respected by employers.Students must get a percentage above 70% to be awarded this degree, thus it is very challenging indeed. This degree is widely respected in the working world and puts you at a great advantage in job interviews, as you are more likely to be prioritised for the role.

How Do You Achieve a First-Class Honours Degree?

To be awarded a 1stclass honours degree, you must accumulate a percentage of 70% or above. To a student who is not in university currently, this may not seem to difficult, however when you take into accord that the average student scores between 50 and 60%, it suddenly becomes a more challenging goal to complete.

How Long Does It Take to Get a First-Class Honours Degree?

The majority ofindividuals go to university for years, and this applies to those aiming for aFirst-Classdegree too. If you are aspiring toacquireaFirst-Classdegree,you do not need to go to university for any longer than any other bachelor or honours student.

Since you don’t apply for aFirst-Classhonoursdegree (it depends on your grades whether you are given one) it means you have to be at university for the same amount of time.

If studying full-time (estimated at around 32-36 hours per week studying and learning),gaining a bachelors or honours degree will take you 3 years, clickhereto find out more.If studying part-time (an estimated 16-18 hours of studying and learning per week)it will take you a total of 6 years to complete– this is double the amount of time. Checkthisarticle to find out more.

How Common is a First-Class-Honours Degree?

Receiving a First-Class honours degree is a relatively rare thing to achieve. In 2018 and 2019, only 18% of students received a First-Class honours degree. This is a number that has been gradually increasing since 2015. See thislink for more details.20% of females received a First-Class honours degree, whereas only 16% of males did in 2018/19.

The leading university isRoyal Academy of Music,as 70.6% of their students qualified for a First-Class honour’s degree.

Second isImperial College London, with 44.7% of their students receiving First-Classhonours.

They are followed by:University of Surrey(44.4%),Royal College of Music(42.1%),University College London(39.5%) andConservatoirefor Dance and Drama(38.3%).The statistics mentioned arecited fromthis website.

Law is the hardest subject to receive 1stclass honours in, as this degree is already notorious for its extremely difficult coursework and heavy workload. Only 6% of graduates graduate with a 1stclass degree. Subjects following Law are Mass Communications and Documentation (9.6% achieved 1stclass honours), Business and Administrative Studies (10.3%) and Education (10.6%).

Mathematics is the easiest degree to get First-Class honours in statistically, as 30% of students achieved this. Mathematics is followed by Engineering and Technology (21.6% achieved First-Class honours), Physical Sciences (20.3%) and Computer Science (18.4%).

What Are the Advantages of a First-Class Honours Degree?

Achieving aFirst-Classhonours degree requires ample hard-work, time, and effort, but is all this exertion worth it in the long run? What are the advantages of this type of degree?

The most prominent advantage of a First-Class degree is employability. Attaining one gives you a higher chance of success at job interviews. Employers are searching for the best workers to fulfil the available role, and someone with First-Class honours is definite to outshine someone with a lower qualification, such as a 2ndorThird-Classdegree.

If you are looking to enter into a highly competitive work industry, such as Hospitability or Law, gainingFirst-Classhonours does put you at a higher advantage and develop a higher likelihood of acceptance.AFirst-Classhonours degree puts you one step ahead of the game and means you have more priority for a role in the workplace.

What Are the Disadvantages of First-Class Honours Degree?

The main disadvantage of aFirst-Classhonoursdegree is that although you are most likely to be given higher priority when it comes to being employed, it is not always a certainty the company will employ you.

Various people with aFirst-Classhonoursdegree have struggled to find a job despite their achievements- it just depends on the circumstances at the time.The employer may not feel you are well-suited for the role, or maybe they are looking for someone similar, but just not quite you. These are issues you cannot control but unfortunately will most likely come across in your life, regardless of whether you have obtained aFirst-Classhonours degree or not.

Can You Fail Your Honours Degree?

The short answer is, unfortunately yes.If you did not attain the minimum percentage needed(40%) you will most likely be awarded a degree without honours. Although this will not be perceived as afailureby employers,itcan be disappointing for those who aspired to graduate with honours.

You can alsofail completely and not achieve adegree at all, if your percentage was too low to be considered for a normal degree. If you want to find out more about your options if you fail your degree then check out this student article here.

Can You Do a Master’s Degree Without First-Class Honours?

A master’s degree is thenextstep up from abachelor’sdegree and is thesucceeding stagefor those who have finished their undergraduate course and would like tofurther continuetheir higher education.

Are you eligible for a master’s degree if you didn’t getFirst-Classhonours?The short answer is yes!Anyone with a degree is eligible for amaster’s.

However,if you do not have an honours degree, youmaystill be eligible for a master’s degree,althoughyou may have to have attained a higher percentage than those who graduated with honours.

On rare occasions, you may be accepted to do a master’s degree without attaining a bachelor’s previously, however this circumstanceis extremely uncommon.

Can You Still Get a First-Class Honours Degree If You Drop Out?

Unfortunately, no.Achieving a First-Class honours degree, or any honours degree at that, means staying at university for the entirety of the course.

If you drop out after your first year of study as afull-timestudent, you will be awarded a Certificate of Higher Education, and 120 credits.If you drop out after your first year as a part-time student however, you will not be awarded anything as you haven’t accumulated enough hours of study and credits to be awarded this certificate.

If you drop out after your second yearas afull-timestudent, you will be awardedtheDiploma of Higher Education and 240 credits. If you drop out after your second year as a part-time student you will be awarded a Certificate of Higher Education, which is explained above.

By your third year as a full-timestudent,you will have finished the course and been awarded your bachelors/honours degree. As a part-time student,you will have to complete 4 years of university to be awarded the diploma of higher education, and then a further 2 years to amount to 6 yearswhen you will be awarded your final degree.

Dropping out in the middle of the school year before the school year has ended means you will not qualify for the certificate you would have been awarded at the end of that year.For example, if you were afull-timestudent who dropped out in December of their second year, you would be awarded the Certificate of Higher Education instead of the Diploma as you haven’t accumulated enough credits.


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