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Degree classification: A complete guide

Updated on April 7, 2015

Whether you’re just starting your first year in uni or are frantically finishing off your dissertation in the third, the topic of degree classification can make for an overly confusing one. Here I take a look at the various degree classification levels, how these each are achieved and what other compounding considerations may be given by employers when weighing up the value of your degree.

Degree Classifications: A Quick Overview

British undergraduate degree classification

British undergraduate degree classification is the formal grading structure used by UK universities, as well as institutions in other countries that have also adopted the classification structure (with these countries including: India, Australia, Bangladesh, Hong Kong, Kenya, Ghana, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Myanmar, Nepal, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka, South Africa, and Trinidad and Tobago).

What does the ‘Honours’ element of a degree mean?

A degree is awarded either with or without honours, and whilst in years gone by honours would equate to an additional year of study, today it merely means that the degree achieved is subject to a classmark (e.g. A First, a Second, a Third). Therefore the vast majority of students, around 80%, will achieve a degree with Honours.

First-class Honours degree classification (70% or over) - Known as a First

In most instances and for the majority of UK universities a First-class honours degree classification is the highest garding that can be achieved, with approximately 10% of students achieving this level (although this does differ from subject to subject and from one university to the next).

Double First-class Honours Degree classification

This degree award pertains to a course that features two distinct subjects (such as English and Sociology, for example).

Second-Class Honours degree classification (50% - 70%) - Known as a Two One

A Second-Class Honours degree is the level achieved by the largest proportion of graduates. The level consists of two inner levels of achievement, which are as follows:

Upper Second-Class Honours degree (60% to 70%) – Known as a 2:1

This top tier within the Second-Class degree level is the most commonly awarded and as such it often serves as an employer's minimum classification requirement, or in the least a yardstick upon which all applicants are compared.

Lower Second-Class Honours degree (50% - 60%) – Known as a 2:2

Whilst this second tier falls below the Upper Second-Class award it is still considered as an adequate degree for the purposes of judging attainment and academic ability.

Third-Class Honours degree classification (40% - 50%) - Known as a Third

For the majority of Universities a Third-Class degree forms the lowest degree classification there is; currently there are around 20% of students who will pass at this level.

Ordinary degree classification (35% - 40%) - Know as a Pass

Whilst his classification still officially awards a degree, it is awarded without Honours and is not as well regarded as a degree classification with Honours.

Degree classifications: How percentages relate to the traditional A, B and C grades

Many students may at first be confused by the sudden departure from the traditional grading system of As through to Ds, however the percentage system is really not so far removed from it. What’s more there are also many universities who still mark by providing a traditional grade.

Degree Classifications UK 2014

Degree Institution Snobbery… is there some truth behind it?

Whilst I was approaching the completion of my access course and considering my options as to which universities I’d be applying to I was introduced to the concept of institution snobbery, which equated to mean that employers would sometimes look more favourably upon an applicant from certain universities as when compared to those from others that may be found further down the league table.

This begs two questions: how common is degree snobbery and is it warranted?

Establishing how common degree snobbery is can be a difficult task, after all, no employer would openly admit to being discriminatory based upon an applicant’s previous educational institution. However considering whether or not it is warranted is a somewhat more straightforward matter. To do this we must consider the way in which a class, any class, within a university is graded. In its most basic terms, there can only be so many firsts (or A grades) given out, and when this quota has been filled, the unlucky runners-up fall into the categories below, relative to the performance of those above. Whilst this may at first seem nonsensical, it must be considered that such a marking system may just maintain a structure that features grades that reflect each student's ability in and as they compare to their peers.

From this however we begin to realise that actually achieving a first in the universities further up the league table as compared to the ones lower down is a whole lot easier than in the latter.

Traditional Mark
Percentage Mark
Degree classification
Upper Second
Lower Second
Fail (compensated)

Five tips for upgrading your degree classification


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