Before you do a joint honours degree

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Graduation was a beautiful, scorching day this week as hundreds of graduates took to campus to pose next to Old Joe and tried not to melt in the heat. Graduation was also a lovely reminder of how the past four years of my degree have been spent – desperately trying to balance two separate departments and often finding joint honours a little more stressful than I anticipated. As I tottered across campus in my cap and gown, heels already killing and makeup melting, to try and make both group photos, I had to laugh. Is a joint honours degree worth it? Absolutely. But here’s a few things you might want to know first…

It can feel more ‘double’ than ‘joint’

Yes, I said that. No, please don’t hurl your single honours certificate at me. When I was in Paris and told people about my home studies, the French use the term ‘double licence’. In reality, the amount of credits taken is exactly the same so in terms of module hours and workload, it’s no different than undertaking a single honours degree.

The feeling of ‘double’ comes from constantly switching – between departments, systems and work methods. The example of running on campus between two separate group photos and drink receptions perfectly captures my experience… sometimes it felt like I needed two personalities because the halves of my degree felt completely separate. The process of learning two referencing styles, for instance, can be a fantastic skill for future work, but it’s not always the easiest to quickly switch when you’re finishing essays late at night.

It can be an organisational nightmare

Each year, when it came to choosing my modules, it required that extra moment to check I wasn’t signing myself up to magically be in two places at once. More often than not, I found my timetable balanced when using the suggested timetable but come September, module hours had changed and I was back at square one. Additionally, keeping your degree credits balanced affects your choices. The credit requirements limited my dissertation length and then I subsequently moaned, to everyone within listening distance and the poor Labrador, about being unable to fit my work inside the word count.

The first week back of final year I had to message a fellow Art student to check if there was an introductory lecture, because I had been missed off the mailing list. And, last week, I had to check if there was a separate Art reception on Graduation day because I had, again, been missed off the mailing list. Doing a joint honours degree means you need to be organised about your deadlines and schedule in case key details are lost in translation across departments.

Of course, some courses offered are designed to run as a joint honours, so this isn’t an issue for everyone. Some departments have perfected the art of balancing two subjects so that the individual student can float through their studies without needing to check if modules clash. Unfortunately, as the only student doing my combination this year, the onus has been on me to remain vigilant about any important emails missed or clashing deadlines. Brilliant organisation is definitely a skill you require, and pick up, very quickly.

It can surprise you

Particularly in my final year, I found myself making connections and links across modules I initially thought were completely unrelated. This gave my work a depth I hadn’t anticipated – and paid off with the final results. In a class about German visual culture, I found I could talk about Degeneration theory and the work of sexologists, having come across it in a French sexuality module. In a French literature module, I was able to talk (for a little too long) about Baudelaire, having studied him so closely in a previous Art class. Of course, studying two subjects that cross over such as French and Art is a bonus but you may be surprised with the links you can discover across two seemingly separate subjects.

Not only can a breadth of subject choices benefit you, but you’ll end up knowing two departments very well. So, when faced with an important decision or tough academic choice, you’ll have a variety of staff to quiz and ask for advice. When applying for jobs, I have two professors (one from French, one from Art) who have both offered to provide an academic reference, depending on which subject is more relevant to the application.

It’s worth it

Is a joint honours degree a lot of work? Yes. Ask any student balancing subjects and they’ll tell you about module complications, exam time clashes, and administrative confusion. Sometimes the physical act of running across campus between meetings or classes led to me question the practicality of my schedule. In my finals, I had deadlines falling on the same day – even the celebration of handing in my dissertation was overshadowed by handing in a French literature essay, for the same amounts of credits, at the same time.

And this isn’t unique to my subject combination. Even with courses designed to run together, the process is seemingly never flawless. But I’ve found, time and time again, this has given me complementary skills and experience. I effectively have two separate degrees to discuss in an interview and more often than not, any loss in subject specification is more than made up for in the variety of knowledge you receive. The majority of employers should also recognise that a joint honours degree requires a certain level of time management and organisation to meet multiple deadlines.

Graduation was bittersweet, as I had expected. Although it was a beautiful (and very warm) day, I felt like I was missing half of my friends – because, of course, the Art girls all graduated last year. At least I have two group photos to choose from so hopefully I’ll like one of them.

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Looking back on my degree…

 

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