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Joint honours degrees. What are they all about?

Double the trouble or twice as nice? Here’s the low-down on my joint honours experience. 

For as long as I can remember thinking about going to university, I’d wanted to study English Literature. However, having taken on media studies for four years throughout my GCSEs and A-Levels, I found another subject that I enjoyed studying just as much – and I suddenly found myself torn between what to study in higher education.

Then, I saw that Cardiff University offer a course called Journalism, Media and English Literature. And with that, my mind was made up. I’d already had my heart set on studying at Cardiff University for some time (I love the city!) and knowing about the reputation of its Journalism school and that it offered the perfect combination of degree subjects for me – I was convinced that it was the right place (and I wasn’t wrong).

If I’m honest, I had no idea what joint honours degrees were all about. I had done no research into the nitty-gritty details of a joint honours degree or what it would take to balance the two subjects beyond looking at the modules that I could be potentially taking. However, I knew I wanted to study at Cardiff and I know that I wanted to study both Journalism, Media and Cultural studies (the name of the single honours course) and English Literature – so I was set!

Fundamentally, joint honours degrees let you study two subjects together, 50:50. My course is a combination of Journalism, Media and Cultural studies and English Literature, titled Journalism, Media and English Literature, with its own UCAS code (PQ53). The two halves of my course are completely distinct, taking place in two different schools: the school of Journalism, Media and Cultural studies (JOMEC) and the school of English, Communication and Philosophy (ENCAP). I have a home school, which is ENCAP and this is the school that deals with most of the admin bits and bobs with regards to my degree, and is the school I’ll graduate with. The downside is that the two schools don’t really have much to do with each other – they’re based in different buildings, the John Percival Building and Bute Building, so they don’t arrange their timetables around each other.

This is where I’ve had the most problems with my course – the timetabling! ENCAP release their timetables nice and early with their module catalogue for the following year, whereas JOMEC release their module catalogue but not their timetable for the following year, which is released in September. In rare cases, you may have a timetable clash. This has only happened to me in my second year – I had enrolled onto three ENCAP and three JOMEC modules only to find that when the JOMEC timetable was released in September that some of my lectures from the different schools were on at the same time. ENCAP’s modules are capped, so after a certain number of people have been accepted onto a module, the module is then full. But, because JOMEC’s modules are uncapped, I was able to switch to a module that didn’t clash easily.

I do six modules per year, and three of these are with JOMEC and three are with ENCAP. There are lots of advantages to this: because you study two subjects, you have more choice when it comes to module options and your timetable is more varied because of this. In my second year, I also didn’t have to take any of the JOMEC core modules as a joint honours student, allowing me more freedom when it came to choosing.

The style of work expected by the different schools does vary for ENCAP and JOMEC. Both use a different essay submission method (JOMEC is electronic whereas ENCAP still ask for a paper copy to be handed in), both ask for a different referencing guide for essays and both have different libraries, but this is something I adapted to very quickly. Employers often emphasise the need for flexible, independent and adaptable graduates and I believe that a joint honours degree has put me in a position where I have needed to be all three. Switching between two subjects is a great skill to have and is likely to be valued by employers.

Overall, I have no extra work on my joint honours degree than I would with a single honours. I do the same amount of six 20 credit modules a semester, but I’ve found that doing a joint honours degree has meant that I’ve had more variety when it comes to assessments. English Literature has the traditional essay-based assessment (with the occasional exam depending on the modules you pick), whereas my Journalism and Media assessments have meant that I’ve written blog posts, made an online portfolio and I’ve even got a TV show idea to pitch for a coming assessment – this is alongside essay-based assessments which explore the theories behind media. English Literature can be very novel-heavy, so it’s good to have the balance of doing something more creative in another module through Journalism and Media modules.

Interestingly there are also complimentary issues explored within modules. In second year, I took an English Literature module entitled ‘An Introduction to Visual Culture’ which partially looked at advertising, and in some cases a text is looked at in both subjects – meaning that I’ve already had a head start when it comes to looking at it again.

Don’t worry about trying to fit all the assessments in either. Assessments can either be mid-term or during exam period at the end of the semester for both subjects – which means that you won’t really need to plan one around the other.

People often worry that they won’t make many friends if they divide their time between two schools, which isn’t the case at all. Journalism, Media and English Literature is a very popular course, which a lot of my friendship group are on and I have met many more people than I think I would have if I’d just studied a single honours. You also get the chance to go to two subject balls, which is a bonus!

Overall, I believe that studying a joint honours degree has boosted my employability: I have a wider knowledge than I believe I would have done, and it’s vastly helped me plan my time and organise myself better. If anything, I’ve also opened up more doors for future prospects. Given the choice again, I would still opt for a joint honours.

Are you considering a joint honours degree but haven’t made up your mind? Feel free to ask me any questions by commenting below and I’ll do my best to help!

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