What is an honours degree?
An Honours Degree is a degree which is of a superior academic standard to a non-honours undergraduate degree. A non-honours degree is also sometimes known as an ordinary degree or pass degree. Achievement of an honours degree is denoted by the appearance of the letters (Hons) after the degree abbreviation - for example BA (Hons). An honours degree is still a Bachelor's degree.
The honours degree requirements vary in different countries and educational establishments around the world and carry a different level of prestige. Many countries degree systems were influenced by the "British system", under which honours degrees may require an additional year or more of study to the three-year undergraduate programme. These countries (many of which are or were British Commonwealth countries) include Australia, Bangladesh, Barbados, Canada, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Jamaica, Kenya, Malaysia, Trinidad and Tobago, Malta, Mauritius, Nepal, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Singapore and South Africa.
In Australia and New Zealand, for three year courses an honours degree cannot be applied for, but is offered on an invitation basis to students who have performed best in the second and third years. The honours course takes the form of a fourth year of study and is considered prestigious. However, for four year courses (or longer), the British honours template is followed and honours are automatically achieved. For example: Engineering at the University of Adelaide, Australia, is a four year "honours degree" course, after which first or second class honours are awarded.
An honours degree includes an additional academic component, typically in the form of a research thesis - and students are encouraged to undertake the longer honours degree if it is available, as these carry greater professional recognition. Honours classes are in general more research intensive.
In some cases (but not all), admission to a master's degree program requires holding an honours Bachelor's degree.
"British" Undergraduate Honours Degree Classification
Here are the possible classifications of honours degree under the British undergraduate degree classification system:
First class honours degree ( also known as a "first" or 1st).
Second class honours degree, upper division (also known as a "two one" or 2:1)
Second class honours degree, lower division (also known as a "two two" or 2:2)
Third class honours degree (also known as a "third" or 3rd)
Ordinary degree (Pass, non-honours)
In the United States and Canada, a slightly different undergraduate degree system is used to denote the level of academic distinction that has been achieved. This is known as the Latin Honors system. (note the American spelling of "Honors" as opposed to the British "Honours").
Many institutes have three levels of Latin honors, and these correspond to grade point averages (which vary in different schools):
summa cum laude (meaning "with highest honor") - this is the highest level, for example 3.75 to 4.0 GPA.
magna cum laude (meaning "with great honor") - this is the second level, for example 3.50 to 3.74 GPA.
cum laude (meaning simply "with honor") (some institutes do not use this distinction level) - the third level, for example 3.25 to 3.49 GPA.
There are a other possibilities under the Latin honors system:
egregia cum laude (meaning "with outstanding honor"). This is much less common - and has been awarded to students who earned the same GPA (grade point average) required for the summa cum laude honor, but undertook a more rigorous honors curriculum.
maxima cum laude, "with very great honor", is an intermediary level honor between the summa and the magna honors. It is sometimes used in systems which reserve the summa honor for students who have achieved a perfect 4.0 / 4.0 grade point average academic record.
If the degree student has achieved a "Pass" or non-honours standard, this is indicated either by no honours being stated (as is usual in the United States), or explicitly marked as rite (this is Latin for "duly" and means that the basic degree requirements have been fulfilled). This may be seen in Germany and some other European countries.
The standard Latin honors system is also used in a few other countries - including Indonesia, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. However numerous variations on the Latin honors system are used in many European countries and a few others, such as Brazil and Russia, with the "cream of the crop" of the students achieving honors.
Honours Degree - References / further reading: