Is an honours degree worth it? We asked 2 recent alumni for their thoughts.
You’re in your final year of your undergraduate degree. You can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Then, someone asks whether you’re going to complete a fourth year of study to graduate with an honours degree.
Should you? Is an honours degree worth it? Will the extra study benefit you enough to justify delaying your career by a year?
For Chantal Reid and Santiago Pollmeier, going on to complete their honours was indeed worth it. We asked them about why they chose to complete an honours year at UQ Business School and the career benefits of doing so.
Why did you choose to do your honours at UQ Business School?
Chantal: I did an exchange to Harvard University as part of my bachelor’s degree, where I found out about renewable energy. From that moment, I was obsessed with the topic. I knew that the honours degree would be a really great way to develop that niche sector knowledge and critical skills. I was also keen to use my honours year to further explore career options related to energy finance, which seemed risky to me at the time, rather than follow a more general finance graduate path.
Honours degree vs bachelor’s degree: what was the biggest difference between your undergraduate program and the honours year?
Chantal: The degrees are completely different, in my opinion. A bachelor’s degree gives you great foundational knowledge, whereas honours is very skills-based. The skills you learn in this degree include report writing, research and critical thinking, which are so important for success in industry as well as academia.
What key skills did you develop during the honours program?
Chantal: An honours degree pushes you so much harder than an undergraduate degree, but the learning environment is so close, personal and community-based that you can get through it. My honours year helped me develop critical-thinking skills, research skills and the niche knowledge base and expertise level required for my career. But these skills are also important in general consulting roles – or any role, really.
What are the benefits of studying an honours year?
Santiago: The honours year is incorporated into the Bachelor of Advanced Finance and Economics (Honours) at UQ. Completing an honours project puts you in a far better position to either go into industry or pursue research after you graduate than if you only graduate with an undergraduate degree. Honours degrees help you develop skills you might miss out on if you only complete an undergraduate degree. From being able to analyse problems critically, come up with solutions and troubleshoot, the skills you gain lend themselves to both professional and research careers.
When you talk to people in industry, for example when I was interviewing, it's quite common that you'll run into people that are a bit more senior that also did an honours research project during their time at university. It's a great talking point and way to connect with people and grow your network. After graduation, I’m joining the UBS global banking team in Sydney, where I previously completed a summer internship as an investment banking analyst.
How did your honours year prepare you for your career?
Chantal: I leveraged my honours degree by approaching a number of companies early in the year for feedback on my renewable energy thesis topic, incidentally networking. During a feedback meeting with KPMG’s energy team, I was unexpectedly offered a part-time job for the remainder of my honours year. Upon graduating, I decided to stay in the team, where I worked on various engagements related to the energy transition, such as developing state government policies, supporting sell-side transactions, and writing business cases for greenfield ventures.
I now work as an investment analyst at the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA). We invest in early-stage renewable energy technologies with an aim to accelerate Australia’s decarbonisation efforts. My role is to support investment decisions, which requires me to discern fact from fiction, think critically and independently, and question what people tell me.
Studying an honours degree is like a full-time job. How did you balance study with work and other life commitments during your honours year?
Chantal: During my honours degree, I initially worked at UQ as a tutor (which I highly recommend, as it streamlines your work and study) before taking a part-time job in KPMG’s energy team. I found living out of home while studying honours full time and working part time to be challenging. While I wouldn’t recommend studying honours full time and working full time, especially while living out of home, generally these difficult experiences are where the most personal growth occurs.
Santiago: I'm doing my honours full time, tutoring, and working part time. I wouldn’t recommend doing that if you haven't done it before, but if you've been working throughout your undergraduate degree and decide to go into honours, you probably have the skillset to manage your time efficiently. It's just about being smart about what you can handle – each person is different.
An honours degree is very self-driven. While the thesis is a big piece of work, I actually found managing my time easier than having to do 8 courses over a semester, like you do in a bachelor’s degree, because you've only got the one thing to focus on and you get really good at it.
How did you choose your honours topic?
Santiago: There's a variety of ways you can go about picking your honours topic. Ideally, you want to choose something that you're interested in, because that makes it a lot easier. Then, you can see if there are any UQ researchers that are in that field.
I had a great relationship with one of the lecturers from one of my undergraduate courses and I heard that she was researching a specific topic that I thought sounded interesting. My thesis topic explores cyber security risks in banking with an aim to develop a quantification framework to help bank management better understand cyber risks. So that’s how I chose my honours thesis project.
With superior analytical skills, UQ Business School honours graduates have a distinct advantage over their undergraduate counterparts when applying for professional roles. They also typically progress faster in their careers, whether professional or when using the honours program as a pathway towards a PhD.