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The basics
Study abroad : Subject Guides

What is an honour’s degree?

We explain what an honour’s degree means and exactly what it is. We cover graduating with honours, the differences between degree types and how an honour’s degree is graded.

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When investigating your study abroad options you would have become more aware of the types of qualifications that are available to study. From diplomas and certificates to associate degrees and PhDs, there are quite a few choices. Perhaps what may be less clear is exactly what they are and what they mean. We’ve got you covered on this front and in this article we place honour’s degrees under the microscope. We take a look at what an honour’s degree means, what it is, how it's different from a bachelor’s degree, and how it might be graded or classified. 


What does an honour’s degree mean?


It’s important to consider that the definition of an honour’s degree may differ depending on the country you’re studying in, however, there is consensus as to what the qualification means. An honour’s degree refers to an undergraduate degree that has an additional level of study, which is designed at a higher standard than that of a general bachelor’s degree. The degree is a demonstration of a higher level of achievement and education at the undergraduate level. 


Universities usually offer either a degree with honours or an honour’s degree as a separate qualification from a three-year undergraduate qualification. In the case of the latter, this usually takes an additional year to complete. Countries that offer honour’s degrees as a separate year of study include:



Countries where an undergraduate degree is offered inclusive of the honour’s designation, depending on a student’s level of achievement, are:



What does a degree with honours mean?


A degree with honours is awarded to you if you have completed your undergraduate qualification to the required standard and achieved well academically. A degree with honours does not indicate a particular grade achievement, but there are usually criteria attached to it being awarded, such as the maintenance of certain academic achievement and grades. Remember that a degree with honours is not awarded in all countries and only in those where the designation is offered as part of the degree. Always check this with your desired institution. 


If you do receive a degree with honours, you may be assessed based on the UK undergraduate grading system. The possible levels of achievement are as shown in the table below:


Classification Mark OU Mark Equivalent grade
First class (1st) 70% + 85% + (OU) A
Upper second class (2:1) 60-69% 70-85 + (OU) B
Lower second class (2:2) 50-59% 55-70% (OU) C
Third class (3rd) 40-49% 40-55% (OU) D
Fail 0-39% 0-39% (OU) E/F


Find out a bit more about what it’s like to study in the UK.


What is the difference between an honour’s degree and a bachelor’s degree?


The major difference between a bachelor’s degree and an honour’s degree is the undergraduate academic level at which you study. Remember that some bachelor’s degrees are offered with or without honours and you will have to take a step up to achieve the honours qualification. In some countries, this means applying for an honour’s degree programme and studying this as a separate degree. You will therefore have both a bachelor’s degree and an honour’s degree, which is different to the aforementioned degree with honours. 


Telling the difference between the degrees when you are researching your options can be as simple as looking for the difference in the abbreviation for the qualification. For example, an ordinary Bachelor of Arts degree is usually assigned the abbreviation BA whereas a Bachelor of Arts degree with honours will use BA (Hons) or in the case of a BSc or BSc (Hons). 


You are also able to apply for what is known as a single honours undergraduate degree where you select a subject of specialisation to concentrate on. These often provide you with an integrated and complementary curriculum, as opposed to studying individual subjects individually. 


Find out why so many international students choose the USA as a study abroad destination


How is an honour’s degree graded and classified?


The classification of an honour’s degree depends significantly on where you study. In the UK there is a designation based on the achievement of certain grades and associated percentages within your degree. If your study in the USA or Canada this will be done based on your GPA score, which also has an associated percentage or letter grade score. 


If you are studying in a country where an honour’s degree is a separate qualification you will usually need to have achieved a minimum of a 70 per cent pass or a B+ to be accepted into an honour’s degree programme. The competition for places, especially for certain subjects can be quite lively so making sure you keep your grades up is important.


Using the international grading system can give you a good indication of how an honour's degree is marked and graded. 



Letter grade


80 - 100%



70 - 79%


Very good

60 – 69%



50 – 59%



49% & lower

E / F



Find out what makes Canada unique for international students. 


What types of honour’s degrees are there?


This may at first appear to be a trick question as it could refer to both the grading received for an undergraduate degree if study in the UK or to the subject specialisations and curriculum for an honour’s degree, both in the UK and other countries. There are few kinds of degrees with honours on offer including:


  • Joint or combined honour’s degree (studying multiple subjects individually at undergraduate level). 
  • Single honours degree (an undergraduate subject specialisation focusing on one subject)
  • Degree with an honours project (a thesis, project or assignment required for a pass with honours).
  • Four-year degree with honours (undergraduate degree study that increases in academic level per year)


Discover more about combined honour's degrees at the University of Exeter



If you are studying in a country where an honour’s degree is a separate qualification, which may also be classed as a professional degree, you may study in one of the following areas:



You can find more about the different types of degrees you could study at university including vocational degreesassociate degrees, and master’s degrees. We also have some good advice on how to successfully select a degree that will suit you. You can get started with your search for the perfect degree with our course matcher tool

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