Including your first-class honours degree on your graduate CV is a must

Achieving a first-class honours degree is a remarkable accomplishment, and including it on your CV is essential. But the question remains: how do you say “graduated with first-class honours” properly? Ensuring accurate representation on your CV is crucial to avoid potential misunderstandings with employers. Moreover, it ensures your outstanding degree receives the recognition it deserves. This article provides clear, guided instructions on effectively presenting a first-class honours degree on your CV. 

What does “first-class honours” mean?

Receiving a first-class honours degree means that you have achieved the highest possible grade for a UK undergraduate degree. Sometimes known as a “first” or “first-class degree,” it is awarded to students with a final grade of 70% or above. To obtain a first in undergraduate studies is a symbol of academic excellence. 

Honour degrees are classified into four categories: 

  • First-class honours (First or 1st): 70% or above

  • Upper second-class honours (2:1): 60-69%

  • Lower second-class honours (2:2): 50-59%

  • Third-class honours (Third): 40-49%

Listing the “grade” achieved on your CV if you were awarded a first or a 2:1 is common, as it can enhance your employment prospects. It indicates that you are competent in your field of study. However, if you achieved a 2:2 or a third, it's best practice to omit the grade. While it is still a valid qualification, there are specific biases it can elicit.

Why you should include a first-class honours degree on your CV

It's likely you don't need convincing that including first-class honours on your CV is a good thing, but here are a few reasons you should include your qualification on your graduate CV – and in the right way, too!

  • Showcases academic excellence: Indicates high academic achievement and in-depth knowledge of your field.

  • Enhances employability: Makes your CV stand out and increases your chances of landing an interview.

  • Reflects dedication and hard work: Demonstrates your consistent effort, determination, and motivation.

  • Eligibility for advanced opportunities: Meet the criteria for postgraduate programmes or advanced job roles, broadening career prospects.

  • Creates a strong impression: Creates a positive impact on recruiters and prospective employers, distinguishing you from other candidates.

How to write a first-class honours degree on a CV

When writing a graduate CV, your education section should be underneath your personal statement. The purpose of this is to show your recent academic qualifications straight away so that the person reading can immediately spot that you're a graduate and have secured a first-class degree.

A recruiter expects to see a few fundamentals in the education section of your CV, including:

  • Name of the institution – school, college, or university

  • Qualification with grades

  • Dates of attendance or the year the qualification was awarded

When writing that you graduated with first-class honours, follow this format: 

[Degree title], [First-class honours]

[University name], [Year of graduation]

What are the different ways to write “first-class” on my CV?

There are technically different ways to write “first-class” on your CV. It's best to avoid overly complex first-class honours abbreviations or variations that may clutter your CV or confuse employers. 

The accepted formats include:

  • First

  • 1st

  • First class

  • First class honours

Regardless of the format you choose, clarity is key. Ensure that the way you write “first-class” clearly communicates your degree classification without causing confusion.

Ultimately, the goal is to present yourself to potential employers in the best possible light. Choose a format for writing “first-class” that aligns with this objective and reflects positively on your qualifications.

Should I state the percentage of my first-class degree?

Deciding whether to include the percentage of your first-class degree on your CV requires considering its relevance and potential impact. 

While securing a first-class degree is an achievement in itself, if you've excelled and achieved well above the 70% required, you may want to showcase this accomplishment. Remember, your CV is where you can boast about your achievements. 

While most employers don't explicitly ask for degree percentages, presenting a higher percentage can differentiate you from other candidates, especially if you excel in different areas relevant to the role.

If you choose to include your percentage, ensure it aligns with the overall presentation of your CV and follows the recommended format:

BA (Hons) Applied Languages, First Class (88%)

University of Portsmouth, 2022

However, if you attended a university where percentage information was not provided, don't panic. You can contact your university to inquire about obtaining this information. If unsuccessful or if you feel it's irrelevant to include, omitting this detail from your CV is acceptable.

Ultimately, use discretion and consider the potential impact on your application when deciding whether to include the percentage of your first-class degree.

How to list a first-class degree in progress on your CV

If you are part-way through your university course, you should consider adding your unfinished degree to your CV

The format is identical to a complete degree, with a minor wording change:

[Degree title], [Predicted grade]

[University name], [Due to complete in Month Year]

If you are predicted a first-class honours, it might look like this:

BA (Hons) in Economics & Accountancy, predicted First Class Honours

Sheffield Hallam University, due to complete in July 2024

Examples of writing a first-class honours degree on your CV

Here are examples of how to write a first-class honours degree on your CV for undergraduates:

Bachelor of Arts in English Literature, First Class (88%)

University of Cambridge, 2023

Bachelor of Science in Biology, 1st Class Honours (91%)

Imperial College London, 2022

Bachelor of Engineering in Mechanical Engineering, First Class (85%)

University of Manchester, 2023

Bachelor of Laws, First Class Honours

London School of Economics, 2022

Undergraduate Master's Degree in Civil Engineering, 1st (89%)

University College London, 2023

MEng (Hons) Aerospace Engineering, 1st Class (90%)

University of Southampton, 2023

BA (Hons) History, First Class Honours

University of Edinburgh, 2022

BSc (Hons) Computer Science, 1st Class

University of Warwick, 2023

When to include a first-class honours degree on your CV

Adding a first-class honours degree to your CV is beneficial throughout your career, but its emphasis may shift depending on your career stage and situation as a job hunter. Here are some general rules to follow:

1. Recent graduates (0-5 years experience)

Look to showcase your first-class degree prominently at the top of your CV. Your academic achievements are likely your strongest asset, setting you apart from candidates without such high distinctions.

2. Mid-career professionals (5-15 years experience)

While your first-class honours degree is important, balancing it with your professional experience and achievements is crucial. Employers will evaluate your work history and educational background, so be sure to clearly represent both on your CV and make the call on whether you need to include “first-class honours” to support your candidacy.

3. Late-career professionals (15+ years experience)

Your degree in your education section is still worth mentioning, but your CV should focus more on your professional experience and accomplishments. At this stage of your career, employers will likely find your work history more relevant than your academic credentials, so it's okay to downplay "first-class honours" if needed. Focus on showcasing the valuable workplace skills and experiences you've gained instead.

4. Career changers

If you're switching careers, it's important to emphasise your first-class honours degree on your CV if it's still relevant to your new career path. Highlighting your academic achievement can appeal to prospective employers, even in a different field, as a first-class degree not only represents excellence but also suggests high potential.

5. People with a career gap

If you've been out of work for a little while, including your first-class honours on your CV can significantly strengthen it and bridge that gap. Highlighting your academic excellence underscores your achievements and can alleviate any concerns prospective employers may have about your time away from the working world.

6. Technical professions

If you work in an industry like engineering or IT where a degree is essential, especially a first-class honours, it should be prominently featured on your CV. Technical professions highly value strong academic backgrounds, and highlighting a top-tier grade will bolster your candidacy.

7. Academics and researchers

If you're pursuing a career in academia, your first-class honours degree should play a pivotal role in your CV. Educational qualifications hold significant value and are closely scrutinised in academic and research fields. Be sure to highlight your academic excellence to emphasise your qualifications effectively.

8. Job seekers with extensive professional development

Alongside degrees, CVs often feature a variety of educational accomplishments such as A-Levels and skills-based courses. If this applies to you, include your first-class degree alongside other certifications. This demonstrates not only your academic achievement but also your dedication to continuous learning and professional development.

To ensure your academic achievements are appropriately highlighted and help enhance your job prospects, always adjust the prominence of your first-class degree based on your career stage and job-hunting context.

When to remove “first-class honours” from your CV

Once you get your first, second or third job, your first-class honours degree becomes less and less important. You'll be learning and cementing new key skills the further you climb up the career ladder, so your education section will slip further down the CV until it's under your career summary – and often at the end of the second page, once you get deep into your career.

While you may still want to include details of your degree on your CV for the rest of your working life, such as the type of degree, subject matter, and name of the university, writing first-class honours on your CV will be optional. This is because you'll have proven yourself in your work life, and if you have completed your degree more than five years before, you can remove the grade.

Let your academic efforts shine

Taking the time and effort to showcase your achievements on your CV is worth it. You're at the top of your game, holding a first-class degree, so make sure everyone knows about it!

Getting a CV job-ready can be confusing and time-consuming, especially if you still need to figure out how to show off your grade. Let the professionals at TopCV take the strain. Check out our CV review service, where your current CV will be checked over… for free!   

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