This page will explain the British Undergraduate and Postgraduate degree classification system. Although this system is peculiar to the UK it has been adopted (sometimes with minor variations) by many other commonwealth countries around the world.

The classification system is a grading code that is used to differentiate between the various attainments of degree holders. Degree classification is important as it is widely accepted by both employers and graduates as a measure of academic achievement. For instance on a practical level and in the real world it is common for many international corporations, blue chip companies and employers to only offer interviews to graduates who have attained a first or a 2:1 grade.

No matter what degree classification a graduate achieves, it is important to remember that they should always walk away from a course with a thorough understanding of the subjects they have studied.


First-class Honours (70% and above) – also known as a First or 1st
In a majority of universities this is the highest honours that can be attained with roughly only 10 % of students reaching this level. It is however only a small number of universities that award graduates a First-Class Honours with Distinction which is also sometimes known as a starred first. At Oxford it is called a ‘congratulatory first’.

To attain this high level of achievement a student must display constant excellence throughout their entire course. Although it is difficult to achieve, the future career rewards for those who do are significant. It goes without saying that it should be the goal of every undergraduate to achieve a First.

Double first
This refers to first class honours in two separate subjects, for example, English and Physics.

Second-class Honours (50% – 70%) also known as a two one
In the UK the vast majority of university students will achieve this grade, which itself is subdivided into;

Upper Second-Class Honours (60% to 70) – also known as a 2:1 (pronounced as two one)
For some time now this has been the most common degree grade awarded in the UK. The majority of employers looking to recruit graduates will be looking for candidates to have this level of degree classification, therefore in a way it’s a benchmark.

Lower Second-Class Honours – (50% to 60%) also known as 2:2 (pronounced as two two)
Although not as good or valued as a 2:1 it is still acceptable to many employers.

Third-class Honours (40% to 50%) – also known as a third
In most modern universities this is the lowest classification. Nationally only about 20% of students achieve this.

Ordinary Degree (35% to 35.9%) – also known as a pass.
This is considered to be a pass but without the honours. Although not as highly regarded as a ‘honours’  degree they are still worth having.

Honors degree
Honours degrees are based on a undergraduates average mark throughout their course, although in some degrees the first year does not count towards a students final classification.

The class of an honours degree is based on the average mark of the assessed work that a student has completed. The letters ‘Hons’ may only be used by a candidate who has been awarded a degree with ‘honors’. For instance BSc (Hons) or BA (Hons).

General notes on UK degree classifications

  • British university degrees can be awarded with or without ‘honours’.
  • The degree classification although strict is not rigidly fixed and does allow for a small amount of flexibility. This means that if their average mark is near to the assessment requirements then the university officials can use their discretion and elevate a candidate into a higher class.
  • In Scotland the honours are usually only awarded for degree courses that last longer than four years.


Advanced degree
These qualifications are higher than a Bachelors degree and similar in value to a First, MA (Masters) or PhD (doctorate).

Aegrotat degree
At the discretion of the university these can be awarded to candidates who have been unable to take their examinations or complete their degree due to illness. They are honours degrees but without classification and are handed out on the belief that the candidate would have passed if they had continued with their studies.

Stands for Bachelor of Arts and is derived from the Latin ‘artium baccalaureus’. A Bachelor of Arts is entitled to put B.A after their name or B.A (Hons) for a honours degree.

Bachelors degrees
These are also sometimes known as an ordinary degree. Successful completion of a course can lead to qualification as a bachelor of medicine (MB), bachelor of arts (BA) or bachelor of science (BSc).

This is a abbreviation for Cantabrigian and which translated means “of, or pertaining to Cambridge”. In academic circles it denotes that a degree is from Cambridge University.

Doctorate – PhD – Doctoral degree
A terms that is derived from the Latin word ‘doctor’, and is also known as a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy). In the UK it is the highest level of award that can be given to a student and is accepted around the world. It can be earned in almost any subject area and is normally awarded to postgraduates or scholars who have carried out extensive and original research into their particular subjects. A PhD can take between three to four years more on top of a Bachelors degree.

DPhil (abbreviated from Doctorate of Philosophy)
Coming from the Latin ‘philosophiae doctor’ it is a highly regarded postgraduate qualification awarded by universities.  Although the word ‘philosophy’ is used in the degree title, the subject studied does not necessarily have to have any relation to philosophy at all. The work ‘philosophy is only used to to refer to its original Latin meaning.

International Baccalaureate  – (IB)
This is a diploma programme that is aimed at students aged between 16 to 19, is internationally recognised and is also growing in popularity within the UK. It is available in a wide range of subjects and is at level 3 on the National Qualifications Framework.

A Doctor of Philosophy degree is the highest academic degree that a student can earn. To be accepted onto a PhD program students must show evidence of exceptional ability in their coursework, preparatory work and overall graduate studies. It is estimated that less than one per cent of the population earns the qualifications. Once awarded a PhD a person is entitled to use the title ‘Doctor’.

The two  main criteria for earning a PhD are:

  • Mastering your chosen subject completely by exploring, investigating and thinking about everything you have read or studied.
  • Through research and intellectual effort helping to expand the knowledge about the subject.

Students must demonstrate their mastery of their subject by writing a dissertation (also called a thesis) that shows convincing evidence of their capacity to pursue scholarly research in their chosen field of study. On top of this they will have to go through an oral examination on the thesis that they have submitted. Occasionally they may also be required to undertake other tests as the examiners may decide.

Postgraduate degrees
These are qualifications for students who wish to continue their studies in a particular field or subject after they have attained a bachelors degree. The four main types of postgraduate qualifications are;

  • postgraduate certificates
  • postgraduate diplomas
  • masters degrees
  • doctorates


Associate of Arts  – (A.A)
This is a US degree and is given out by colleges to students who have successfully completed a two year course.

Below is a list of academic terms that are commonly used in universities or other higher education institutions.

Admissions Cycle
This refers to a universities admissions procedure that typically starts in September of each year and lasts for one year. After this period another one starts.

Application Number
When a candidate completes a UCAS application form they are given a unique reference number. It will be included on any official correspondence you receive from them.

If by the end of the admissions cycle you have not secured a place at your preferred university then you may use the ‘clearing’ process to try to gain entry to a university that still has places open.

Conditional Offer
This means your application to a university has been accepted on condition that you meet certain criteria, usually certain grades or Tariff points etc.

Course Code
Each degree or higher education course in the UK will have its very own unique Course Code as a reference i.e. M100. The letter and every number represents a course or category.

Deferred Entry
As the name suggests this means being accepted onto a degree course and having your enrolment date in the future, usually after one year.


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