Is a first class degree worth the effort?

As a semi-proud holder of a second class degree, I was delighted to hear that the leading scientist and TV presenter Lord Winston deliberately doesn’t hire people with a first. Why? Because there are two ways to get a first – be the sharpest knife in the drawer or work your arse off. Problem? The latter kind doesn’t know how to do anything else.

As Lord Winston puts it: “I know many scientists who are amazingly stupid…I would rather have young people around me who developed other interests at university and didn’t just focus entirely on getting that first.”

Of course, this rather disadvantages women, who get 56 per cent of first class degrees, according to the Telegraph. And as the Independent points out, there are still a number of really irritating people who do spend all their time at the bar cultivating other interests and still come out with a top class degree.

Lucy Kellaway, of the Financial Times, wrote a very funny piece about the whole affair. She points out that professionals seem to get so hung up on their relative success at university (which for some is many decades ago) that those with a first feel compel to make it widely known (even if they don’t sign their name with the letters “Hons, first class”) and those with a second class or below have a permanent chip on their shoulder.

So I won’t tell you my excuse.

But I will agree with Lucy that degree classifications clearly aren’t a sufficient predictor of someone’s working potential. As a result, giving someone a job on the basis of their first class degree seems just as bonkers as not giving them a job. Unfortunately, while there is no better predictor of how good someone is going to be when they get through the door, most employers still go with the ‘when in doubt’ option and choose the first.

Bottom line: degree classifications seem as useful a measure of ability as horoscopes do of fortune.

3 thoughts on “Is a first class degree worth the effort?

  1. Izzy Maxwell Watts

    This is SO depressing but hilarious at the same time…I just hold my head in my hands and laugh because I did get a first class degree but it was in Drama nothing “specialised” or academic which is a whole new issue…maybe i’ll blog about that 🙂

  2. bilalmussa

    I didnt want my first class degree, in fact i didnt even want to go to graduation but my parents forced me. If i could do my BSc all over again i would be more active in making changes for other students and doing more outreach work. After working for a year at FIS, i decided to go and do an MSc and do everything i always wanted to do rather than sit and study all day long in the library. I didnt realise how much satisfaction i could gain and at the same time my marks have only fallen by a margin. When i tell interviewers about the things i do at university they are impressed and really ask for more information about what i intend to do in the future if i worked for them. On that note to the first class grads : “Forget the degree, its all about the change you make”

    1. jinxedgeneration Post author

      Hi bilalmussa, I totally agree. I strongly believe that university is about far more than just getting a paper qualification. It’s important, for sure, but so is doing something worthwhile and lasting – getting experience and making a change.


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