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Dani Bass looks at the challenges and rewards of joint honours degrees.

Increasing numbers of students are taking on the challenges involved with a joint honours degree. This begs the question as to whether or not studying for two subjects is unnecessary additional work or can provide the best of both words for a budding academic with a keen interest in two disciplines?

Joint honour courses allow students to study two subjects rather than focusing on one. The courses are split fifty-fifty, yet with the challenges of getting to know double the number of tutors, students, departments and teaching styles, many joint honour students complain that it feels more like sixty-sixty.

‘Joint honour courses can potentially offer more variety compared to single honour courses.’

Hannah Worthington, a second year Theatre and English student says that ‘At first, studying both English and Theatre at Bristol was tough. The departments are not mutually compatible – they hardly even talk to each other. So, for a newcomer Fresher, to be assigned to a personal tutor in one subject, who had very little awareness in what the other department was demanding or expecting, was in itself, a challenge.’

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Hannah believes it is up to the students to make the courses complement each other. ‘This year for example, I have chosen to study Shakespeare in both disciplines. Last year, I went from painting a door for set design, to studying erotic Emily Dickinson poetry. Though this provided variety, it was hard to feel a belonging to both departments as I was constantly darting back and forth between the two.’

‘it is up to the students to make the courses complement each other.’

Joint honour courses can potentially offer more variety compared to single honour courses.  Max, a third year Economics and Management student, says that ‘it allows me to study a broader range of modules and tailor my degree to the industry I want to work in.’

Yet, with the variety and wider choice of modules, there comes challenges. Being part of two departments can result in students feeling like they are not part of either subject. It is difficult to be constantly choosing which subject to prioritise and clashing deadlines can pose as a major issue for joint honours students.

‘Being part of two departments can result in students feeling like they are not part of either subject.’

Annie, a second year Politics and Sociology student says ‘because my subjects are in the same school, they complement each other really well. They’ll often be overlap between topics in the subjects which adds an entirely different perspective and enriches your work. I have never had difficulty with deadlines overlapping or being too close, however I have heard that studying two subjects in different departments can be a struggle’.

There’s no denying it. Joint honours degrees can be harder. Despite having only half the contact time, half the practice and half the feedback per subject, joint-honours students are marked and compared against their fellow single honour students who have had twice the experience to develop in depth knowledge in their subject.

‘joint honours students may be increasing their opportunities post university.’

So why would someone choose to take on all this extra work? By taking on two disciplines, joint honours students may be increasing their opportunities post university.

Vince Peart, an advisor at the National Careers Service believes that a joint honours course stands students in good stead for the challenges of the workplace demonstrating independence, flexibility and self-motivation. ‘When you start your graduate career you’ll often have to deal with different subjects and styles of tasks – a joint honours course might prepare you for the rigours of the workplace.’

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Employers may favour joint honour students as they recognise the difficulty in balancing the demands of both degrees. The diverse skills obtained through a joint honours course can provide students with a range of transferable skills making them stand out in the ever-competitive employment market.

‘a joint honours course stands students in good stead for the challenges of the workplace demonstrating independence, flexibility and self-motivation.’

From a social perspective, joint honours students are exposed to a wider social network and while this can feel daunting at first, it does mean double the socials and the chance to join even more societies.

For any freshers starting joint honours, be prepared for the challenges ahead but get ready for what might be a more interesting and varied three years at university.


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