Course Structure

Course structure can differ in several ways. There are a number of alternatives to traditional single honours degrees, including joint honours, accelerated degrees and part-time options. If you’re not sure what these different options entail, read on to find out more

Joint Honours

Joint honours are ideal for students who want to immerse themselves in more than one subject snd they are available at universities all over the UK.

Joint honours are university degrees which allow the student to study two separate subjects instead of just one. It is not the equivalent of doing two degrees – like single honours they take three, or, depending on the course, four years – it just allows students to take a greater variety of modules. Some common combination include: 

There are also some more unusual combinations:

Like any degree, joint honours are not ideal for every student, so if you are thinking about going down that route, consider the following:

  • You might have an increased workload –Whilst it is untrue that joint honours students do twice as much work as their single honours peers, they can have a bigger workload depending on the degree combination. Single honours students have the luxury of being able to use information learnt in one module across multiple modules – this is not always the case with joint honours students, especially those who opt for a more “unconventional” degree combination. What you learn from your Music class is unlikely to be applicable to your Philosophy essay.
  • You may have to switch between writing styles –As well as studying two different subjects, you may also have to learn two dissimilar styles of writing. In addition, not all subjects will have the same referencing styles – this can get confusing when writing multiple essays at once. However, this will be beneficial after university as you will have a more adaptable style of writing which will serve you well in the world of work.
  • You could miss out on modules –Studying joint honours can make the process of choosing modules more frustrating and time-consuming. With a joint honours degree there is a requirement to do a certain number of credits in each of your chosen subject. This can mean that you have to pick modules you would rather avoid in order to meet these requirements and in turn, miss out on doing modules you might badly want to do. The timetable clashes that are the bane of every student can hit twice as hard when you’re a joint honours student. Be prepared to juggle and compromise with your module selections.
  • You may feel like you don’t ‘belong’ to a school –Inevitably you will meet some of your best friends at university in your lectures and seminars, and often you will have multiple modules with the same people. This is still true for joint honours students, however studying in two separate schools can get in the way of having a sense of familiarity – you will have different lecturers, classrooms and classmates. Trying to become familiar with two different schools can be daunting. But, it can also be very rewarding. You can become friends with a greater variety of people and get to know the different areas of your university quicker, as well as being exposed to different styles of lecturing.

Joint honours and Clearing

Going through Clearing can be a daunting process and with emotions running high it can be easy to instinctively start looking for the course that exactly matches the one you applied for. However, it is worth remembering that joint honours can be much less popular than single honours. As such, there are always places available on joint honours courses through Clearing.

If you end up on a joint honours course which isn’t a perfect fit, do not worry. Further into your degree you will be able to specialise more in the aspect of your degree you must enjoy. Eventually, you may even be able to switch degrees to the single honours you wanted originally. 

Accelerated Degrees

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You can save time and money
by choosing an accelerated degree

An accelerated degree is a full bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree that is completed in a shorter time period. They provide the same amount of content as traditional degrees but take two years (or three in Scotland) instead of the more common three — five years.  


Accelerated degrees vary in structure across institutions. To find out details of how accelerated degrees are structured, go directly to the university websites. Some examples of course structures are:

  • Abertay University — A Scottish student can complete a standard four-year degree in three years. The first year is made up of two terms (30 weeks), followed by two years of three terms each (45 weeks).
  • The University of Buckingham — Two semesters, made up of two terms each. Nine weeks of teaching per term, with a two-week exam period at the end of terms two and four in both years. This amounts to a total of 40 weeks per year. Buckingham also offers entry points in September, January and July.
  • Other universities offer a three-term structure as opposed to a two-term structure, the third term taking place during the summer holiday period.
  • Universities often allow students on accelerated degrees to transfer onto an equivalent three-year degree.
  • There are often work-based learning elements, such as work placements, which form a required part of accelerated degrees.

The shortened length of the degrees is achieved by giving students less holiday. As such students are in employment or on postgraduate courses sooner than those studying traditional degrees and with less student debt. It is worth noting however that there have been proposals to lift the tuition fee cap to allow universities to charge more for accelerated degree courses.

Entry Requirement

Entry requirements vary across universities and courses. Given that the profile of accelerated degree students is different to that of traditional students, universities make allowances for students without traditional qualifications for entrance into higher education, such as A-levels.

 There are a number of things to consider before deciding to pursue an accelerated degree.

  • You will have shorter holidays — The long summer holidays that come with a traditional degree are a great opportunity to do a number of things. Students often travel, have summer jobs or internships. There is less opportunity for such ventures with accelerated degrees as holidays are much shorter. However, by finishing your degree quicker, you’ll graduate sooner and be able to travel or enter the working world after the completion of your degree. 
  • You have less choice of where you can study — Currently there are only a handful of UK institutions which offer accelerated degrees. A number of universities, notably Russell Group, are reluctant to teach accelerated degrees as the shortened breaks between terms limits the time available for lecturers to conduct research. Accelerated degree courses are most commonly provided by small, specialist institutions and newer universities. Some of the institutions currently offering accelerated degrees are:
  • Accelerated degrees attract a different type of student to traditional degrees. The ‘typical’ accelerated degree student is different to that of a traditional degree. Accelerated degrees are particularly popular amongst mature students or those looking for a change of career, as they are seen as an alternative to part-time study.  Before applying for accelerated degrees think carefully about the type of students you want to be around, as whilst you won’t be cut off from the university’s wider student body you will spend a lot of your time with fellow accelerated degree students.
  • Not every subject is deemed suitable for accelerated degrees. Accelerated degrees tend to be for vocational subjects such as management, education, law and journalism, with humanities and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects considered unsuitable for shorter degree length and are not commonly taught as accelerated degrees.

Think carefully about what your priorities are for your university experience. Is saving money and getting into the workforce sooner the number one priority? 

Part time courses

There are a number of alternatives to studying full time which you can read about. 

Other structural differences

There are of structural differences to look out for. These can occur in degrees of all variety:

  • Module choice – Some will have a large proportion of the course fixed in advance, while others will allow you to choose options to make up a substantial part of the course. There are even flexible courses where you can choose from a wide range of very diverse options. 
  • Teaching methods –Some courses will make more use than others of particular teaching methods, such as tutorials, computer-assisted learning or dissertations (large projects). Some courses are organised on a modular basis, usually with two semesters rather than three terms a year. This tends to increase the number of examinations and assessments you will have to do.

In making your choices you should think about how they will appear to an employer, as they may well prefer to see a coherently structured programme of study rather than an eclectic mix of unrelated modules.

Things to look out for

  • Most degree courses in Scotland last four years rather than three years, though some English students with good A levels can be exempt from the first year. 
  • Check where your course will be based when a university has a split site. 
  • Large adverts in the press may mean a university has lots of spaces to fill. 
  • Engineering courses are either MEng or BEng; only the MEng will give maximum credit towards Chartered Engineer status. 
  • Some courses offer the chance of spending a year or part of a year abroad. 
  • Accommodation might be guaranteed in first year, check whether it is five minutes or five miles down the road, and check deadlines, prices and other conditions. 
  • Courses based in two or more departments can feel as if they are based nowhere — check for a 'home' department where you will belong.
  • Sandwich courses involve an optional or compulsory placement year in industry, business, education or public sector — in the UK or overseas.