‘Honours’ is an intensive year-long program of advanced study with research at its centre. Students take seminar classes and research and write a substantial thesis on a topic they work out in collaboration with a supervisor who is a specialist in the relevant field. Where the pass degrees give students the opportunity to explore a range of fields and concentrate on one or two areas (the majors), the honours year enables students to engage with the subject of their major in depth and learn how to practise its methods by undertaking research of their own.
The Honours year is both a preparation for postgraduate study and a capstone to an undergraduate degree. For some students, Honours is the culmination of their formal education, an experience that extends their intellectual range, hones their abilities in research, analysis, and communication, and helps them develop the body of personal and professional skills needed to see a major project though to completion. For other students, Honours is the first step on the path to careers as professional researchers and academics. Click here to see recent graduates reflecting on their Honours experience.
Student need to have results at Credit (65%) level or better in eight Senior units of study (48 credit points) in the subject in they wish to take Honours. Some departments and programs have additional prerequisites, including advanced Senior units designed to prepare students for the challenges of fourth-year study.
Most students decide to do an Honours year during the second or third year of their BA degree when they realise that they have a passion or special aptitude for a particular subject. If you think you might want to do Honours in a subject, check to see what its requirements are or talk with your department’s Honours Coordinator as you plan what units to take during your undergraduate degree.
Workload and Assessment
Each Honours program involves a mix of seminars and a thesis. Some programs require three seminars and a shorter thesis (12,000-15,000 words). Others involve two seminars and a longer thesis - up to 20,000 words. The most common format for a thesis is a long essay divided into chapters, but other formats will be appropriate in some fields. Every Honours program in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences requires students to submit between 36,000 and 39,000 words of written words or its equivalent.
Seminar work is marked by the academic leading the class. Some departments get another academic to second-mark work written for seminars. All these are read by at least two academics in the field other than the students's supervisor. These examiners write detailed reports on each thesis - which the student receives - and assign a tentative grade. The final grades for each thesis are decided on by the department or program staff collectively. Each department or program has to rank all their Honours candidates based on their thesis and seminar results.
These departmental results and nominations for the University Medals are then considered by the Faculty Honours Board, which includes the Honours Coordinators from every department in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.
Honours results are thus subjected to close scrutiny at multiple levels.
Honours is awarded in classes:
- First Class
- Second Class, First Division
- Second Class, Second Division
- Third Class
University Medals are awarded to students at the very top of the First Class Honours Bracket.
Each department or program has an Honours Coordinator, a member of academic staff who oversees all aspects of Honours in that subject area, including admissions. Coordinators are the primary sources of advice and support for Honours students.
All Honours programs are overseen by the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Honours Committee. The committee is chaired by the Associate Dean (Honours), currently Dr Chris Hilliard. Dr Hilliard welcomes students’ questions and feedback about anything to do with Honours in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.
Each year the University of Sydney offers around 50 Honours Scholarships, each worth $6000. These scholarships are open to students who are an Australian or New Zealand Citizen or permanent residents of Australia - including those students who completed their undergraduate degree at a university other than Sydney. Further information about these scholarships will be available on the Scholarships website.
Following the first year of my Bachelor of Arts degree I was certain that I wanted to undertake honours in Government and International Relations. As this discipline combined my interests in history and international politics with a strong theoretical component, I viewed it as the academic path that would best help me comprehend the modern world and its complexities. To prepare myself for honours-level research I completed several methodology focussed ‘pre-honours’ courses as well as a host of more general political science courses both at Sydney University and while on exchange at Sciences Po, Paris.
I began my honours year by examining a range of ‘failed states’ from different parts of the world. While I was initially interested in understanding why certain failed states recovered while others did not, it soon became apparent that the nature of state failure itself was poorly understood. Indeed, scholars in the field had not provided a sufficient explanation for the general causes and underlying process of state failure. Taking this task upon myself, I sought to develop a theoretical explanation for state failure by undertaking comparative case studies into Zaïre, Afghanistan and the former Yugoslavia. While this was a large and challenging project, it allowed me to write an original honours thesis that explored the logic of state failure in a way that existing research had not previously attempted.
My honours year was both demanding and immensely fulfilling. While many days were spent wading through piles of literature and were often characterised by long periods of uncertainty about my core argument, I was always rewarded with a profound sense of relief and achievement that came as I completed each stage of my research. Moreover, to study within a community of fellow honours students was a privilege and provided a means by which we supported each others’ research and sharpened each others’ arguments. Overall, whether you intend to pursue postgraduate study or are simply interested in delving into a particular question, honours provides an excellent opportunity to undertake research of the highest calibre and deepen your skills in critical thinking.
Honours, Government and International Relations
Studying Honours in Media and Communications significantly improved the skill set that I developed in my undergraduate degree and broadened my horizons professionally. The program encourages a collegial atmosphere in which Honours students and academics come together to discuss a range of issues that relate to Media and Communications. One of the things I enjoyed most about the program was having direct contact with academics who are experts in their fields and receiving their feedback on my work. The program also equipped me with excellent writing skills, the ability to manage long-term projects and extensive research experience, all skills that are now highly valued in my role in Public Relations. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is interested in exploring the area of Media and Communications further, improving their academic skills or has an interest in distinguishing themselves from other job candidates.
Honours, Media and Communications