Is There A Point of the First-Class Degree Anymore?

Written by Rebecca Gaskill |

Today one in five students graduate with a first-class degree| Photo Credit: Carl Bjorkman


With tuition fees climbing to £9250, competition to get the best grade from the best University for the best value, is fierce. The huge interest of 6.1% on your student loans while you’re studying does not help students with their financial stress. This pressure continues after graduation with the variable interest rates dropping to a still substantial 3.1%. This inevitably leads to the question of whether a degree from your University is worth the cost and will a first-class degree give you a leg up in the future for postgraduate qualifications and graduate jobs?


Will a first-class degree give you a leg up in the future for postgraduate qualifications and graduate jobs?


There have been arguments that the value of a first has declined in recent years. The Higher Education Student Statistics found that in 2016/17, 26% of students gained a first class degree compared to only 18% in 2012/13, becoming more common than the traditional Desmond (2:2) 20% of students gaining this grade. A quarter of those attending Russell Group Universities gained the top grade, whilst a 2:1 was still the most popular grade with 49% gaining the qualification in 2016/17. However, this hasn’t stopped those with a first-class degree from gaining an advantage in terms of their pay post-graduation.


However, all is not lost for those who don’t make the top grade.


First Class degree holders gain a 3% pay premium over those with a 2:1. However, all is not lost for those who don’t make the top grade. 2:1 holders gain a 7% premium over a 2:2 and a 2012 study found that 2:1 and above is still the most common selection criteria, with 76% of employers screening out 2:2 or worse.

This may be the point where you worry about not achieving a first class degree, but 2:1 degree holders are still valuable, estimated at being worth 81k in wages over their working life.

Considering that the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) estimated that 83% of those with English student loans won’t clear the debt (including interest) within the 30 years, student debt becomes less of a concern in the face of the pay premiums that degrees provide. A degree definitely becomes an important feather in your cap when applying for jobs and graduate roles.

A 2:1 degree can have its advantages with some employers viewing it as the mark of a more rounded individual. Lord Winston, a prominent scientist and politician, deliberately hires those with 2:1’s believing that it makes individuals more driven by exploring and developing other interests. This is a trend being followed by other employers, Ms Perkins who hires for a top intellectual law firm – ‘Stevens Hewlett and Perkins’ – believes that those with first-class degrees don’t have the interpersonal skills necessary to excel in the legal field.

It must also be noted that all is not lost if you don’t hit that coveted first-class degree all is not lost when applying for graduate jobs. The ‘Big Four’ accounting firms (Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG & PwC) have recently become advocates of those with mixed skill sets and a lower second degree as a minimum opens the doors for more graduates. Companies such as Google, ASDA, Aldi and Government graduate schemes ask for a minimum of a 2:2 and with starting salaries for the Civil Service Fast Stream at 28k while companies like Aldi have a starting salary of 44k.

Companies know that your degree is just one of the important parts of your CV, which is why it’s so important to get involved with extracurricular activities and have fun. Your degree does not define your entire life, you have years of work experience and development ahead of you which can help you develop your career.


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