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"Should I Study a Single or Joint Honours Degree?" How to Make Your Decision

2nd September 2016 Posted by: Emily Adams

WHEN you’ve finally taken the leap of faith and decided you want to attend university, the decisions don’t stop there I’m afraid, they just keep on coming – there’s now plenty more you can do to shape your future. University offers you endless choices and opportunities but choosing the right one isn’t always so simple.

Do you study a degree in maths, or a degree in maths and music? Do you study a single honours in English, or combine it with French… or Spanish… or German? Do you take the plunge with one subject, or do you take a risk, go for broke and study everything available to you?

For an incredibly indecisive individual like myself, a joint honours meant I didn’t have to make as many hard decisions. Studying English Language and Linguistics and French offered me a wider spectrum of modules to study, more topics to get stuck in to and more potential career opportunities at the end of it. Before I started university, I knew I had an interest in journalism, something studying English Language offered me modules in, but at the same time I loved speaking French and the thought of a career in translation was equally appealing. Which decision was the right one? Two years into my degree and studying these two subjects simultaneously showed me the answer. Although I loved communicating in French, studying it at degree level was not what I had anticipated. Journalism and writing however, was clearly where my allegiances fell. My choice to study a joint honours had unusually made me more decisive.

However, it wasn’t that black and white. I began to loathe studying French so much, that I started dedicating all my time and effort to English. My attendance and my grades in French started to fall until I made the decision to drop French entirely and move into a single honours English degree – a risky move, two years in. Switching to a single honours focussed my mind and my studies. Although studying joint honours has ultimately lead me to my career in journalism today, if I could have made a stronger decision before I left for uni, I might have saved myself a lot of extra work and upset.

With that in mind, what do single honours graduates make of their decision?

David Taylor, a graduate of Warwick University, studied a single honours in German and believes that focussing on one subject allowed him to try out other, different, modules without the full commitment of a degree.

“I took History of Art in my first year at Warwick, along with my German degree. Having completed a module in that, I was ready to try something else, so I did neuropsychology. If I'd committed to three years of Art History and hadn't enjoyed the first year, it would have been a big decision to drop it in favour of a single honours degree. As it was, I had the freedom to explore new subjects, something that theoretically is a cornerstone of the university experience.”

Many universities offer the option of taking ‘wild’ modules or modules unrelated to your degree to give you the chance to try something new.

Despite being satisfied with his degree choice, David understood the risk of taking a straight single honours for three years. “You need to be sure that the subject you're taking 1) is something you're sure you'll be interested in for the duration of the course, and 2) has a wide scope of subjects on the curriculum. Variety is the spice of life, so with a single honours there needs to be opportunity to spread your wings somewhat.”

Another joint honours student from the University of Kent, told me that focussing on a single subject is not always enough. The Multimedia Technology graduate said: “Although the course was very broad and offered the chance for further study, around 90% of the students on the course are now unemployed because none of them pursued any knowledge outside what the degree offered them. They were left less skilled and less employable.” The multimedia graduate continued to tell me that in the media industry, not having gained extra experience is a bad quality. “You have to be willing to seek further education.”

Whether you plan to study one or two or a multitude of subjects, it seems that looking beyond what you’re taught in the lecture theatre may be the way forward. Take the time to figure out your strengths and weaknesses, what you see yourself doing in the future and what your future university can offer you in the way of extra study and modules. I was able to take a beginners Portuguese module in my third year to make things more interesting; if I’d have loved it more than English, who knows where I could have ended up?

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