Honours is a fourth year of study, an extra year taken after completing a degree. It is not quite undergraduate, but nor is it postgraduate. What is it then? That depends on what you want to use it for. A BA with Honours is more attractive to an employer than a simple BA. Only the best students (usually Distinction average and higher) are admitted to an Honours program, and the research skills and independence learnt in the program are those that employers want. So, you might use Honours as a means of enhancing your degree.
On the other hand, you might see Honours as a transitional year, and the year is indeed an invaluable introduction to postgraduate research. The skills developed during the Honours course include the ability to:
- carry out original research from a variety of sources;
- think critically and logically about the nature of the research material;
- use that research material to produce a substantial individual project or one’s own initiative;
- demonstrate a command of the methodology and critical terminology of a particular discipline; and
- write clearly with a command of the concepts and theory relevant to the field.
To put it another way, half of your Honours year will be made up of coursework, while at the same time you will be developing, researching and writing a thesis. This thesis might be in any of the writing areas covered in the writing and editing units of the undergraduate degree, and will be fifteen to twenty thousand words. You will be supervised by an appropriate member of staff.
Of the four credit points for coursework, at least two are for research training, which includes practical research skills, research epistemology and the theoretical and analytical contexts for research and advanced study in particular disciplines. These skills are vital for postgraduate research; alongside the Honours thesis these units provide a crucial grounding for the next step to a higher degree.
If you are considering doing Honours, start to consider what you might do for your thesis. Perhaps develop a few ideas. One of the skills you will need to develop in Honours is the discipline of setting yourself deadlines. It is best to do as much work as possible on the thesis in first semester. Remember, not all ideas work out, so leave yourself plenty of time for ‘adjustments’.
A final tip: a high distinction average in Honours should make you an attractive candidate for a PhD program, but also consider that an exceptional mark might give you a shot at a scholarship.