Do you think doing Honours is necessary?

A student wrote to me with the following question:

I am currently a social work major who went through the diploma education in engineering before university. I am torn about doing Honours. Personally, I don’t really have a passionate thesis to work on and I am a person who values working experience more than academic learning. However, the common concerns I hear from people on the repercussions of not doing Honours typically relate to employability, salary and progression issues which I personally thought were secondary to my life goals. But I would like to hear your opinion as well before making a decision. Do you think doing Honours is necessary?

A Bachelors with Honours is essential if you are thinking of joining the public sector because they do care about it very much, but it’s not the end of the world if you don’t have Honours. I have a friend who’s very assertive, and she got a very good civil service job without Honours. She only has a B.A. (Philosophy).

No one in the private sector actually cares about your degree or whether you had honours. If the job requires a degree, it’s only because having that piece of paper says that you can endure the hard work of university life and will be able to endure the hard work of working life. I know this because I have another friend who’s the head of HR in a huge MNC. All this comes from her, not from me. She also had no Honours, just a B.A. (Philosophy).

The degree only matters for your first job, and maybe the second one if you didn’t achieve much for the first. After that, no one cares what you studied or whether you had Honours. They’ll be looking at what you’ve achieved in your previous jobs. Once again, in terms of progression, it doesn’t matter.

Salary is based on how well you are able to negotiate salary with the hiring manager. It’s more people skills than it is paper qualification. Of course, in the public sector, there are salary ceilings based on a combination of paper qualification and work experience. But if you a degree holder, these things won’t affect you very much. It’s really more about the people skills, like the skill of negotiation, rather than paper qualification that matters. Just so you know the same assertive friend who used to work in the civil service without Honours is able to negotiate a $6-8k/month salary in all her jobs in the private sector. So it’s really the people skills that determines your salary.

Now suppose you want to graduate with Honours. The question now is whether to do Honours by research (thesis) or by coursework (modules). I will say that thesis is very essential if you want to do graduate school in the future, or any job that involves research. Because doing the Honours thesis is a process where you pick up a lot of research methodologies and where you learn how to critically evaluate the things you research. The reality is that if you want to do any job really well, this is a very good skill to have regardless of where you intend to go. There are many jobs – including admin support jobs – where tasks given to you require some degree of research. Having the experience of doing research will help you greatly because you would have the experience and know-how to begin. I know some people who struggle to do their work in the working world because they lack such research experience. They don’t know how to begin Googling for relevant information, or how to sift through the information for what’s relevant. Some don’t even know how to deal with website analytics reports or survey data. If you did thesis, you would have learnt how to execute such tasks with great academic rigour, and be able to provide solid analysis that will impress your bosses.

If you didn’t do thesis or don’t want to do thesis, it’s not the end of the world. You can learn it on your own. That said, you won’t learn it as well outside of a thesis programme because you won’t be challenged as hard when learning such things on your own.

Author: Jonathan Y. H. Sim

Jonathan Sim is an Instructor with the Department of Philosophy at the National University of Singapore. He is passionate about teaching and he continues to research fun and innovative ways of engaging students to learn effectively. He has been teaching general education modules to a diverse range of undergraduate students and adult learners at the University.

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