Written by Ashley Fontaine, BA  English Literature and Film & Theatre

Joint honours degrees (also known as combined courses) have become increasingly popular in the last few years. According to a UCAS spokesperson, 58, 255 prospective students applied for joint honours degrees in 2013, and this number is likely to have doubled since then.

But, what exactly is it like to be a joint honours student? What do such courses offer? If you’ve just been accepted onto a joint degree at the University of Reading and are wondering what the next three or four years of your academic life will look like, then continue reading for an insight…

Common misconceptions about joint degrees

Having only just finished my second year, the memory of my first year as a joint honours student is still fresh in my mind; I still remember how excited I was at the prospect of studying a joint degree. As is the case with most joint honours students, I opted for that route because I simply couldn’t choose between the two subject areas that I enjoyed at A level. Combining my two favourite subjects – English and Creative Arts – into one course was a no-brainer for me.

Nevertheless, my excitement was also accompanied by a sense of anxiety. I studied three subjects at A level, but I knew that studying two subjects in-depth at university would be an entirely different, and challenging, experience. Typing “joint degrees” into Google wasn’t particularly helpful, as I was soon bombarded with an overwhelming amount of information, some of which was contradictory and, as I later found out after finishing my first year, a complete myth. So, here are a handful of the most common myths about joint degrees that are still doing the rounds.

  1. Joint honours students have double the workload

    This is one of the most common misconceptions about joint degrees. Degrees in the UK tend to require students, whether single or joint honours, to take a total of 120 credits. This means that joint degrees do in fact have the same workload as single degrees, and joint honours students are expected to work just as hard (not twice as hard) as single honours students.

    It should be noted that first-year joint honours students typically take 60 credits in each of their chosen disciplines to make up the total number of credits.

  2. Joint honours students need to wear two hats

    Topics often crossover between disciplines, so it’s perhaps more appropriate to say that joint honours students wear one “multi-dimensional” hat. So far, feminism, for example, has been a recurring topic throughout the entirety of my joint degree – I study English Literature and Film & Theatre. This meant that my knowledge was both transferable and useful in both disciplines.

  3. Joint honours students are more at risk of module clashes

    Departments try their best to ensure that no student has to deal with module clashes, so joint honours students are at no more of a risk than single honours students.

  4. Joint honours students have to write two dissertations.

    Joint honours students tend to have the option of writing a single (an extensive piece of work on a topic from one of the two disciplines) or a joint (an extensive piece of work on a topic that covers both disciplines) dissertation.

Tips and tricks on how to manage a joint degree

  1. Invest in a diary, planner or calendar

    Organisation and time management are essential when you are a joint honours student, so using a diary, planner or calendar to note down a weekly or monthly to-do list can help you to effectively stay on top of things. You can pick up these items online (Amazon is great for bundle deals) or in your local stationery stores (Paperchase, Rymans and WHSmith for example).

  2. Do some summer reading

    If both disciplines are heavy on the reading front, it may be best to try and get ahead of your extensive reading list by getting the majority of your reading done over the summer. Blackwell’s is a reputable bookstore located in the centre of campus for university students. The company allows customers to purchase used books online and in-store at discounted rates.

  3. Get to know each discipline’s departmental style guides

    Referencing is an important part of university. Departments expect their students to reference any sources that they’ve used to aid their work according to their preferred style guide. This process can, however, be especially tricky for joint honours students, as sometimes departments follow different styles. Therefore, it might be worth downloading the style guides from each discipline onto your laptop or desktop so you can make note of any similarities and differences.

  4. Start assignments well in advance of the deadline

    This is a general rule of thumb for all students, but it is particularly relevant to those studying a joint degree. Although departments work together to try and ensure that deadlines aren’t close together, there may be times when this is unavoidable. I experienced the latter in my first year; there were times when both departments set assignments due in for the same week, so planning and starting them early enabled me to manage the workload.

The benefits of studying a joint degree

There are a substantial number of benefits that come from studying a joint degree and, in order to put them into perspective, I’ve listed a few below:

Joint degrees give students the chance to:

  • study two different disciplines
  • develop and acquire a varied skillset
  • be assessed by a range of different assessment methods
  • meet a greater variety of students
  • decide which subject, if either, they prefer which can help with deciding career prospects
  • potentially widen their employment options.