Honours vs. non-honours degree: Which is better?

9 minutes reading time (1719 words)

Deciding on your higher education path can be overwhelming, especially with so many options out there. The education system is known for its high standards, challenging academics, and prestigious institutions that are respected worldwide. If you're an international student, you might be wondering whether to go for an honours degree or a non-honours degree.

So, what's the difference? An honours degree is typically more in-depth and research-focused. It includes extra coursework, a significant project or thesis, and aims to deepen your knowledge in a specific field. On the other hand, a non-honours degree is more about covering a broad range of subjects within a shorter time frame, with less emphasis on research.

As you weigh your options, it's important to understand these differences. This will help you make an informed decision that aligns with your academic and career goals. Whether you're aiming for a research-intensive path or a quicker route to entering the workforce, knowing what each degree offers can guide you in the right direction.

Pro Tip: Honours programmes require a 10-20% higher GPA than Non-Honours, ideal for top-grade students.

What is an Honours Degree?

An honours degree is an advanced undergraduate qualification signifying higher academic achievement, unlike a standard bachelor's degree. Offered in the UK, Canada, and Australia, it includes in-depth coursework and a research project or thesis. Understanding what is an honours degree is crucial, as it enhances research skills, critical analysis, and problem-solving abilities. A bachelor with honours provides a competitive edge in the job market and prepares for postgraduate studies.

What's an Honours Degree in Australia & New Zealand?

In Australia and New Zealand, an honours degree is a prestigious undergraduate qualification that signifies a higher level of achievement compared to a standard bachelor's degree. Let's delve into the key aspects of obtaining an honours degree in these countries.

An honours degree can be offered in two ways:

  • As an Honours Year: Adds an extra year to your bachelor's, focusing on advanced courses and a research thesis or project within your major.
  • As a Standalone Programme: A separate one-year postgraduate programme pursued after completing your bachelor's degree.

Course Structure: The structure includes advanced coursework and a substantial research project or thesis. This combination equips students with critical thinking, analytical, and problem-solving skills.

Duration & Benefits: An honours degree typically adds one year to your studies. However, the benefits are substantial. Honours graduates gain:

  • Direct Path to PhD: High-performing students in honours programmes can sometimes bypass a master's degree and proceed directly to a PhD, fast-tracking their academic career.
  • Deeper Subject Knowledge: You'll develop a stronger understanding and expertise in your chosen field.
  • Research Skills: The research project hones your critical thinking, analysis, and problem-solving abilities.
  • Competitive Edge: An honours degree demonstrates your academic commitment and research potential, making you a stronger candidate for postgraduate studies or competitive job markets.

What's an Honours Degree in the United Kingdom?

In the UK, obtaining an honours degree typically takes around three years. However, your academic performance significantly influences the type of honours degree you will be awarded.

Grading System for Honours Degrees

UK honours degrees are classified based on overall academic performance, with emphasis on marks achieved in later years. The typical classifications are:

  • First-class honours: Awarded for exceptional performance, usually requiring an average of 70% or higher.
  • Upper second-class honours (2:1): Denotes strong academic performance, typically with an average of 60-69%, and is highly valued by employers and postgraduate programmes.
  • Lower second-class honours (2:2): Represents satisfactory achievement, with an average of 50-59%.
  • Third-class honours: Indicates meeting the minimum requirements to graduate with an honours degree.

Duration and Study Requirements

An honours degree programme typically lasts 3 years, depending on the field of study. The programme includes lectures, seminars, tutorials, coursework assessments, exams, and potentially a final research project.

Significance in Career and Further Studies

  • Highly valued by employers in the UK.
  • Preferred for further studies, especially research-oriented master's and PhDs.
  • Enhances job prospects and academic opportunities.

Classification is linked to a second class lower CGPA or second lower class CGPA, which reflects the academic performance required for specific honours classifications.

What's an Honours Degree in Ireland?

In Ireland, an honours degree (Hons) is a prestigious undergraduate qualification that shows you've achieved higher academic success than an ordinary degree. Knowing what is hons in degree is key because it involves more challenging coursework and often a major research project.

Academic Requirements

  • Requires around 180-240 credits.
  • Typically takes 3-4 years to complete, longer for fields like medicine and architecture.
  • Entry requirements: two higher-level C3 grades and four ordinary-level D3 grades (some universities require three higher-level C3 grades and three ordinary D3 grades).

Comparison with Ordinary Degree

  • Ordinary Degree: Usually takes three to four years and covers standard academic content.
  • Honours Degree: More in-depth study, often requiring a final-year project or dissertation.

Professional and Academic Benefits

An honours degree provides numerous benefits. Graduates often find better employment opportunities and higher salaries compared to those with an ordinary degree. The types of honours degrees include first-class honours, upper second-class honours (2:1), lower second-class honours (2:2), and third-class honours. Each classification reflects different levels of academic performance, influencing career prospects and further study opportunities. For instance, second class upper honours are highly regarded by employers and postgraduate programmes.

What's an Honours Degree in the USA?

An honours degree in the USA signifies an advanced level of academic achievement beyond the standard undergraduate degree.

Benefits of an Honours Degree:

  • Enhanced academic recognition
  • Increased opportunities for research and internships
  • Access to specialised honours courses
  • Personalised advising
  • Priority registration

Examples of Honours Programmes:

Honours Programmes delve deeper into specific fields within Bachelor's degrees, offering programmes like:

  • Honours Bachelor of Arts in English Literature
  • Honours Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology
  • Honours Bachelor of Engineering in Mechanical Engineering
  • Honours Bachelor of Commerce in Accounting
  • Honours Bachelor of Science in Computer Science.

Comparison with Regular Degree Programmes:

Compared to regular degree programmes, honours degrees typically involve more rigorous coursework, higher GPA requirements, and additional academic expectations.

Impact on Career and Further Education:

Earning an honours degree can have a significant impact on both career prospects and further education opportunities.



Entry Requirements

High GPA, strong test scores, compelling essay.

Types of Honours Degrees

First-class, upper second (2:1), lower second (2:2), third-class.

Bachelor with Honours Meaning

Signifies academic excellence and distinction.

Is Lower Second Class Honours Good?

2:2 is an accomplishment but may limit some opportunities.

Second Class Lower CGPA

GPA range for lower second-class honours.

Breaking Down the Cost for Honours Degrees

Transitioning from secondary education to higher education is a significant step for students. The foundation stage, though non-compulsory, serves as a bridge between secondary school and university, helping students adapt to academic and cultural differences abroad. On average, international students pursuing an honours degree abroad can expect to spend between $14,620 and $24,720 per year on tuition fees, textbooks, administrative costs, accommodation, food, transportation, and miscellaneous expenses. Government subsidies often make this stage more affordable, and crucial for meeting the entry requirements for various types of honours degrees like First-class honours, Upper second-class honours (2:1), Lower second-class honours (2:2), and Third-class honours.


Choosing between an honours and a non-honours degree depends on your goals. Honours degrees offer a deeper, research-oriented education with classifications like First-class honours, Upper second-class honours (2:1), Lower second-class honours (2:2), and Third-class honours, providing advanced skills and a competitive edge for postgraduate studies, including the potential to skip a master's and go directly to a PhD. Non-honours degrees focus on a broader overview with less intensive coursework, ideal for those looking to enter the workforce sooner. Understanding these distinctions will help you make an informed decision that aligns with your academic and career aspirations.

International students should consider their academic interests and career goals. For personalised advice and further guidance, visit AECC.


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