Degree Classification: A Comprehensive Guide to Achieving Excellent Academic Outcomes

In higher education institutions worldwide, degree classification serves as an important metric for evaluating students’ academic performance. It categorizes students’ achievements into different grades based on the quality of their coursework and overall academic standing. A good degree classification is highly valued by employers and can pave the way for successful careers. This comprehensive guide will delve into the world of degree classification, exploring the different grades, factors that influence their determination, strategies for achieving a good classification, and the implications for career prospects.

What is a Degree Classification?

A degree classification is a grade awarded to students upon completion of their undergraduate or postgraduate degree program. It is a reflection of their overall academic performance throughout their course of study. The most common degree classification system used in higher education institutions includes First Class Honours (First), Upper Second Class Honours (2:1), Lower Second Class Honours (2:2), Third Class Honours (Third), Ordinary Degree, and Fail.

The Most Common Degree Classification

According to data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), the majority of students in the UK are awarded an Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) degree classification. In the 2019/2020 academic year, 52% of all undergraduate degrees were classified as 2:1, followed by 29% being awarded a First Class Honours (First) degree. Only 7% of students received a Lower Second Class Honours (2:2) degree, while 5% were awarded a Third Class Honours (Third) degree. The remaining 7% either received an Ordinary Degree or failed to meet the requirements for a degree classification.

It is worth noting that the distribution of degree classifications varies across different subjects and universities. For example, in some highly competitive fields such as law and medicine, a larger proportion of students may receive a First Class Honours (First) degree, while in other subjects such as arts and humanities, the majority of students may be awarded an Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) degree.

How is a Degree Classification Calculated?

The awarding of a degree classification is often based on a combination of factors, including coursework, exams, and sometimes a dissertation or final project. The weightage of each component may vary depending on the university and subject, but typically, coursework makes up the majority of the assessment for most degrees.

Coursework can include essays, reports, presentations, group projects, and practical assignments. These are usually spread out throughout the academic year and contribute towards the final grade for each module. Exams, on the other hand, are usually held at the end of each semester or year and can be either written or practical. They test students’ knowledge and understanding of the subject matter covered in that period.

In some cases, a dissertation or final project may also be required, especially for postgraduate degrees. This is a more in-depth piece of research or work that demonstrates a student’s ability to conduct independent research and apply their knowledge to a specific topic.

Once all assessments have been completed, the grades for each component are combined to calculate the overall degree classification. The exact method of calculation may differ between universities, but it generally involves converting the individual grades into a numerical value and then averaging them to determine the final grade.

How Important is Degree Classification?

A good degree classification is highly valued by employers and can significantly impact a student’s career prospects. It serves as a measure of their academic ability, work ethic, and dedication to their studies. Employers often use degree classifications as a way to filter through large numbers of job applicants and shortlist those with the most promising academic backgrounds.

Additionally, many graduate schemes and entry-level positions require a minimum degree classification, usually a 2:1 or above. This means that students with a lower classification may be at a disadvantage when applying for these opportunities.

Furthermore, a good degree classification can also open doors to further education and postgraduate studies. Many universities have specific entry requirements for their master’s and PhD programs, and a good undergraduate degree classification is often one of them.

Strategies for Achieving a Good Degree Classification

Now that we understand the importance of a good degree classification, let’s explore some strategies for achieving one.

Start Strong and Stay Consistent

The first year of university is often seen as a transition period, and many students may not take it as seriously as they should. However, this can have a significant impact on their overall degree classification. The grades obtained in the first year may not count towards the final classification, but they can still affect a student’s average grade, which is used to determine the final classification.

Therefore, it is crucial to start strong and maintain consistency throughout the course of study. This means attending lectures, completing assignments on time, and putting in the effort to achieve good grades from the very beginning.

Seek Help When Needed

University can be challenging, and it is normal to struggle with certain subjects or assignments. However, it is essential to seek help when needed instead of letting these struggles affect your grades. Most universities offer academic support services, such as tutoring and study groups, to help students improve their understanding of difficult topics.

Additionally, don’t be afraid to reach out to your professors or teaching assistants for clarification or guidance. They are there to help you succeed and will appreciate your efforts to seek assistance when needed.

Develop Effective Study Habits

Effective study habits are crucial for academic success. This includes setting aside dedicated study time, creating a study schedule, and finding a suitable study environment. It is also important to find a study method that works best for you, whether it is taking notes, creating flashcards, or using mind maps.

Furthermore, staying organized and keeping up with coursework throughout the year can help prevent last-minute cramming and improve overall understanding of the subject matter.

Implications for Career Prospects

As mentioned earlier, a good degree classification can significantly impact a student’s career prospects. It is often used as a measure of their academic ability and work ethic, which are highly valued by employers. A higher degree classification can also open doors to more competitive job opportunities and higher salaries.

According to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), graduates with a First Class Honours (First) degree earn an average of £10,000 more per year than those with a Third Class Honours (Third) degree. This highlights the importance of achieving a good degree classification in terms of future earning potential.

Additionally, a good degree classification can also lead to further education opportunities, such as postgraduate studies, which can further enhance career prospects and earning potential.


In conclusion, a good degree classification is highly valued by employers and can significantly impact a student’s career prospects. Understanding the different grades, factors that influence their determination, and strategies for achieving a good classification can help students set themselves up for academic success. By starting strong, seeking help when needed, developing effective study habits, and staying consistent, students can increase their chances of obtaining a good degree classification and opening doors to successful careers.

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