A Guide to University Degree Classifications in the UK

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While grades aren’t everything, they tend to be important at every part of the education system at least in the UK. If you choose to study at university, this is no different.

The grading system is a little different to the A’s and B’s of the lettering system that you may be used to. It isn’t even similar to the new 9-1 GCSE grading system of English exam boards. At undergraduate level, the grading system is completely different. Universities use the degree classification system.

In short, a degree classification is a grade that you can get from doing an undergraduate degree or a postgraduate degree in the UK. There are four main grades in this system: first-class honours degree (1st), upper second-class honours degree (2:1), lower second-class honours degree (2:), a third-class honours degree (3rd).

Degree Classification Percentage Grade
First-Class Honours (1st) 70% +
Upper Second-Class Honours (2:1) 60%-69%
Lower Second-Class Honours (2:2) 50%-59%
Third-Class Honours (3rd) 40%-49%
   

These percentage grades typically come from a weighted grading system. This is where universities will use a small portion of your Year 1 and Year 2 grades, as well as your last year grade to calculate your final grade.

Continue reading for more information about what a degree classification actually is and the different types. This can be particularly useful to you if you want to take an undergraduate degree or if you are already taking your degree and want to know more about how it is graded.

What is a Degree Classification?

At university level, the grading system is completely different to what you would have experienced during the A-Levels or even BTECs that you would have previously studied. Instead of a grade between A and E or distinction and passes, you will receive a degree classification.

A degree classification is a grade that you can get from an undergraduate degree or postgraduate degree such as a master’s degree. The degree classification system is used to show and differentiate between different rankings of grade that a student has achieved in their degree. For more information about what a degree classification is check out this article.

The main grades within this system are a first-class honours degree (also known as a first), an upper second-class honours degree (also known as a 2:1), a lower second-class honours degree (also known as a 2:2) and a third-class honours degree. For more information about these degree classifications check out this article.

What is a First-Class Honours Degree?

A first-class honours degree is a grade that you can get at universities in the UK. It is the highest grade on the degree classification system. To receive a first-class honours degree (or a first) students will need to gain a minimum of 70% as their final grade.

At many universities in the UK, this grade is often calculated from a weighted grading system. This means that to get a first-class honours degree students will need to work hard and score well on assessments or exams as well as any coursework that they are given in their second and third years as it will contribute to their final grade. For more information about the weighted grading system and how it relates to getting a first look here.

You may want to check with your specific university about what system they use to calculate your final grade, this is especially if your degree course runs for more than 3 years. For more information about what a first-class honours degree is check out this article.

What is an Upper Second-Class Honours Degree?

An upper second-class honours degree is another grade in the degree classification system that you can get at universities in the UK. It is the second highest grade in the degree classification system. It is also known as a 2:1 (which is said “two one”).

To gain an upper second-class honours degree or a 2:1 you have to get at least 60% as your final grade. As mentioned above, this final grade is often calculated via a weighted grading system that will generally have your year 1 and year 2 grades at a much lower weighting than your year 3 grade (or final year if it is longer). For more information about this system look here. For more information about upper second-class honours degrees in general check out this article.

What is a Lower Second-Class Honours Degree?

A lower second-class honours degree is another grade in the degree classification system. It is the next grade level after an upper second-class honour’s degree (or 2:1) as you could probably tell from the name. It is also known as a 2:2 (which is said “two two”).

In order to gain a lower second-class honours degree, students need to get a final grade of at least 50%. Once again, this grade is typically calculated via a weighted grading system, but it is best to check with your university to be sure. Many universities have this information on their websites, but you may also want to check in-person. For more information about a 2:2 click here.

 As you need to get a final grade between 50% and 59% to get a lower second-class honours degree, it is comparable to the C grade of A-Levels. This is because while it will depend on the grade boundaries of the paper, a C grade is typically within that region. For more information about percentage A-Level grades look here.

What is a Third-Class Honours Degree?

A third-class honours degree is another type of grade that you can get in the degree classification system at UK universities. It is the grade below a 2:2. It is also the lowest level of honours degree that you can get in the UK. A third-class honours degree can also be known as a third or 3rd.

To achieve a third-class honours degree at the end of your university degree, you will need to get at least 40% as your final grade. This grade will still come from whatever grading system your university uses. Typically, this is the weighted grading system. For more information on third-class honours degrees in general check out this article.

As you need between 40% and 49% in your final grade to achieve a third-class honours degree, it is quite similar to a D grade that you may get while taking A-Level courses. This is because a D grade will typically fall somewhere in-between 40% and 49% although it can vary based on the grade boundaries for the specific exam or course. For more on this comparison between A-Level and university degree classification system grades click here.

What is an Ordinary Degree in England, Wales and Northern Ireland?

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland (as well as some other parts of the world), it is another type of grade that you can get at the end of your university course. It is the grade below a third-class honour’s degree. Although, it is technically not a part of the degree classification system. This is because it is a degree without honours. It may also be known as a pass or an unclassified degree.  

You may be awarded an ordinary degree (or a pass or an unclassified degree) if you fail to achieve a third-class honours degree by a small margin. For more information on degree grades in the UK and their percentages check out this article.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, you would typically have registered for the honour’s degree programme. The entire process including the choosing of modules is exactly the same as an honour’s degree. The only way for you to enter the ordinary degree programme in this way is if you aren’t doing too well in the honour’s degree programme.

 At some universities, they will pick this up from Year 1 if you pass only 100 credits instead of the needed 120. You will then transfer to an ordinary degree. However, you will still take 120 credits in Year 2 and if you pass all of them then you will be able to get back onto the honour’s degree programme. Please note that this may vary depending on the university you go to. For more information about the process of ordinary degrees check out this guide. It may also be useful to check the website of your university (or any university you’re interested in going to) to find out their own process for ordinary degrees.

What is an Ordinary Degree in Scotland?

An ordinary degree in Scotland is quite different to that of the one in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. This is because in Scotland, an ordinary degree is a qualification in its own right. It is once again a degree without honours. Due to this, in Scotland according to the SCQF grade levels, it is a level 9 qualification. This is one grade lower than an honours degree according to these levels as one is a level 10 qualification. For more information about these levels look here. An ordinary degree can also be known as a designated degree.

The process of getting an ordinary degree is much like the process of getting an honours degree which you may be more familiar with hearing about. The difference being that you sign up to a different course altogether. The ordinary degree will last 3 years regardless of if it is a bachelor’s degree or a Master of Arts degree. For more information about the process of getting an ordinary degree in Scotland check out this article.

 A Master of Arts degree is once again not the same as ones in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. This degree is instead an undergraduate qualification that has a slightly different structure and will take 4 years to complete instead of 3. It is the equivalent of a normal bachelor’s degree not an integrated master’s degree. For more information about Master of Arts degrees in Scotland look here. On an ordinary degree, the lack of the word “honours” or its abbreviation “hons” will indicate that it is an ordinary degree. For more information about Scottish ordinary or designated degrees in general look here.

What Even is an Honours Degree?

Now that you have hopefully learnt about all these different types of degree classification and about what an ordinary degree is in both England, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as in Scotland, you may feel slightly less certain about what an honours degree even is.

In the UK, an honours degree is a type of degree that is at a higher level of achievement than an ordinary degree. The difference between these degree types is that with an honours degree you will need to complete a larger number of credits throughout your course than if you were doing an ordinary degree. For more information about honours degrees look here.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, this can be referred to as a sort of grade as ordinary degrees are still at the same level as honours degrees as they are both level 6 qualifications. For more information about these levels click on this guide. However, in Scotland, honours degrees are the level above ordinary degrees as they are two quite separate qualifications. This is very clear as an ordinary degree will only take 3 years although a typical Scottish degree will take 4.

How Do You Write Your Degree Classifications?

Having done all that hard work to get your degree classification, it is important for you to know how to write it in the most professional, impressive and clear way. This is particularly for your CV, but you may also want to write it onto other applications. If you are looking for a job or to continue to a higher level of study, then this will be an especially useful skill to learn.

The best way to put your degree classification on your CV is to follow this template:

[Degree Type] [Degree Name] (Degree Class), [Years Attended]

[University Name], [University Location]  

If you received a first-class honours degree, it can look most professional to simply call it a “1st” in that slot. For more information about this template and more on how to write a first-class honours degree on your CV check out great this article. If you got an upper second-class honours degree you may want to write it in the same way as 2:1.

However, if you received a lower grade you may want to not include what grade you got but remember to include the “honours” or “hons” part unless you received an ordinary degree. For more tips on writing your CV check out this article.

What Does Each Degree Classification Really Mean?

It is all well and good knowing what these degree classifications are. But without knowing this actually means in a wider context this isn’t actually that useful.

First-Class Honours Degree

As the highest level of degree classification in the UK, a first-class honours degree comes with plenty of opportunities (as well as bragging rights). One of these is that a first-class can improve your chances of getting employed. This is particularly because first-class honours degree can show that you know your subject well and also that you are hardworking and dedicated to excelling.

It isn’t 100% certain that you will get the job especially as other very important factors go into the recruitment process, such as work experience and character. But if you are able to get the grade and other important skills experience then it will definitely give your CV a boost. For more information about skills that can make you more employable look at this article.

Upper Second-Class Honours Degree

As the second-highest degree classification in the UK, an upper second-class honours degree or a 2:1 is still really impressive. Getting a 2:1 can be incredibly beneficial to you especially if you want to go on to further studies and undertake some kind of postgraduate qualification. For example, many universities will require you to have a 2:1 as minimum for studying a master’s degree. For more information about master’s degrees check out this article.

Once again, a 2:1 is still an impressive qualification and so it can also make you more employable as it can still show that you are a hardworking and dedicated individual. For more information about the benefits of an upper second-class honours degree check out this guide.

Lower Second-Class Honours Degree

While a lower second-class honours degree isn’t the best qualification, it is still quite a good qualification to have. This is because it means that you got your honours degree and at least 50% as your final grade, which is pretty good.

However, it can be looked at less favourably by employers and higher education institutions, particularly universities. This is because they typically look at upper second-class honours degrees as their standard requirement for hiring or selecting candidates. You may even completely miss the entry requirements for a master’s degree as the minimum requirements is often a 2:1.

While this isn’t the best way to start your career, it isn’t all doom and gloom. First of all, grades are beginning to mean a lot less to employers. There are even many notable ones that employ graduates that have achieved a 2:2. For a list of these employers look here. Also, some universities will only require you to have a lower second-class honours degree to be able to study a master’s degree. For more information about what you can do with a lower second-class honours degree look here.

Third-Class Honours Degree

While you may feel disappointed with a third-class honour’s degree, especially as it may not be the most favourable with employers or to get a postgraduate qualification. There are still many people who got a third-class honours degree yet still managed to be some of the most successful people (particularly on TV). These include Carol Vorderman, David Dimbleby and Hugh Laurie. For more successful people who didn’t get the best grades at university check out this list.

On top of that, there are numerous people who didn’t even go to university or simply dropped out yet managed to be incredibly successful. One key example of this is Steven Bartlett, the new investor on Dragon’s Den. For more information about how he went from university drop-out to millionaire check out this article.

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