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Should I do an honours degree?

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Young male graduate in graduation regalia and smiling and standing in front of a small group of graduates

An honours year offers many advantages for a student. Here we answer some frequently asked questions about honours degrees and look at what an honours year might mean for you.

At some point during high school or during your studies, you’ll hear some of your classmates saying they’re going to do a double degree, or an honours degree, and you may wonder what they mean and whether you should do one too. Here’s what you need to know.

What’s an ‘honours’ degree?

‘Honours’ does sound grandiose, and that’s because the honours degree system began in Britain during the Edwardian era. The system was designed to separate bachelor degree graduates into categories of academic achievement – being first class, second class and third class honours.

What’s the difference between a bachelor degree and an honours degree in Australia?

In Australia, an honours degree is a higher standard of tertiary qualification than a bachelor degree. It shows that you’ve stepped up your level of academic knowledge. It usually involves an additional year of study (an ‘appended’ honours degree) and has a research component.

Technically speaking, a ‘Bachelor Degree’ is a Level 7 qualification of the 10-level Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) and a ‘Bachelor Honours Degree’ is a Level 8 – the same level as the postgraduate qualifications, Graduate Certificate and Graduate Diploma.

The AQF states that the aim of an honours degree is to “qualify individuals who apply a body of knowledge in a specific context to undertake professional work and as a pathway for research and further learning”. So, the key word is ‘research’.

Does Curtin University offer honours degrees?

At Curtin, we offer honours degree courses across our 10 study areas: Agriculture, environment and sustainability; Architecture and construction; Arts and creative industries; Business, innovation, management and law; Culture, society and Indigenous; Education; Engineering, mining and surveying; Health; Information technology; and Science and Physical Sciences, geosciences and mathematics.

Most of our bachelor degree courses will take three years, or six semesters, to complete if you study full-time. Completing an honours degree usually means an extra two semesters of study.

Why are some standard Curtin University degrees called ‘honours’ degrees?

Some of our courses take longer than three years of full-time study to complete. Due to the extra volume of knowledge and study required, and the research component, they’re designated as honours degrees. Sometimes, courses with ’embedded’ honours are fulfilling accreditation requirements by external professional organisations.

Curtin honours degree courses that take four years of full-time study to complete include our range of Advanced Science courses and Interior Architecture, Occupational Therapy, Pharmacy, Physiotherapy, Speech Pathology and Surveying courses.

Our range of 10 Engineering courses are also four-year, honours degree courses, most of which are accredited by Engineers Australia and recognised internationally by the by the international engineering signatories to the Washington Accord. Not all engineering courses in Australia are honours courses – TAFE engineering courses, for example, don’t have an honours option, but students who have a TAFE engineering qualification may be eligible to enrol in a Curtin Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) course.

What is a double degree?

Instead of doing a single degree, such as Environmental Biology, you might choose to study for two degrees at the same time – say, Environmental Biology and International Relations – that will give you unique skill sets for your particular career goals. Or, a double degree like Mechatronic Engineering and Computer Science can give you more career choices in overlapping fields, with the flexibility to adapt to changing job trends.

What happens in an honours year?

You’ll increase your academic knowledge in your discipline or field in two ways: by exploring more about your field, and by undertaking a meaningful research project and writing a thesis on your topic under the supervision of a Curtin research academic.

Any discipline is suitable for research, which generally begins with an honours degree, but there are some fields that students study in because they want to be researchers and contribute to advances in knowledge in that field.

For example, in her honours year, Curtin graduate Ashleigh Angus explored the testimonies of 17th century accused witches in Scotland – fascinating!

Kyran Brooks completed an honours year at the Centre for Crop and Disease Management (CCDM) at Curtin, focusing on the management of a particular fungal disease that damages canola crops. During his honours project, Kyran used state-of-the-art technology, and worked alongside some of Australia’s leading agricultural pathologists.

What will I gain from an honours degree?

Of course, you’ll have gained a lot more knowledge about your field – which can set you apart from other applicants competing for lucrative professional roles. You’ll have also demonstrated that you can perform research – completing a research project demonstrates to potential employers that you can work independently, and plan and carry out a complex investigative task within a defined period.

But the benefits are many and varied. Ashleigh said that her honours degree taught her how to research and construct an argument in a short period of time.

“Throughout my honours year I also learnt how to answer a single research question in two ways: through a miniature thesis and a creative project,” she explained.

Kyran said that his honours year at the CCDM provided him with the skills to understand scientific methods in-depth “and to think critically about how new research by scientific organisations, such as the CCDM, can be included into everyday farming practises to improve the sustainability of agriculture.”

Jefferson Allan is another CCDM honours graduate, and he believes that if you’re interested in research or aren’t exactly sure what you want to do, then an honours project is a great way to gain practical experience and try something new.

“I think it sets you up pretty well for all kinds of work, as it teaches you to be more independent,” he said.

What does ‘first class honours’ mean?

‘First Class Honours’ is the highest of the four honours classifications – in Australia, it means that a graduate achieved a result of 85–100%.

What’s the difference between an honours degree and a masters degree?

An honours degree is the first tertiary qualification with a research component. After gaining an honours degree, you might want to continue your research path and study for a Masters Degree in Research (AQF Level 9) followed by a Doctoral Degree (AQF Level 10).

Can you do a masters without an honours degree?

Yes, but usually not the research masters degree. There are three different types of masters degrees – one is a research masters degree and the other two are coursework-based qualifications.

How do I apply for an honours degree?

If you’re a high-performing Curtin student, about halfway through your third year you’re likely to be invited to join an honours program. If you accept, you’ll continue with your studies past third year to gain an honours qualification.

If you’re excited by new knowledge and can see yourself as a researcher, you could be destined for a doctoral degree, starting with an honours degree!

To find out more about honours degrees at Curtin, visit

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