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Torn between History and Politics? Why not both? Here’s everything you need to know about joint honours degrees at Edinburgh

Torn between History and Politics? Why not both? Here’s everything you need to know about joint honours degrees at Edinburgh

Considering doing a joint honours degree? Here‘s some honest insight into all the best bits and all the challenges of these degree programmes from Ash, one of our student writers.

I’m in my third year studying History and Politics and, spoiler alert: despite some challenges, I love my joint degree!

Advantage 1: Application of knowledge across disciplines

One of the best things about studying more than one subject is the opportunity to apply what you’ve learnt in one class to another! For example, I have been taking a few history modules on the British Empire and colonialism, and it is always incredibly interesting to see how these past events have a huge influence on contemporary politics and international relations, such as the continuation of colonial penal laws in constitutions. Being able to make connections between the topics you’ve studied in different classes is incredibly interesting, and it is also handy for assignments too!

Advantage 2: Choices

Something that drew me to Edinburgh was the variety of courses to choose from. By taking a joint honours degree, you have the chance to take courses from both disciplines, and also outside modules in your first and second year! When I started at Edinburgh, I wasn’t ready yet to narrow down my interests – too many things seemed interesting to learn about. The great thing about joint degrees is that you have this opportunity to explore in two degree areas, and you don’t have to specialise in just one right away. Taking courses in such a wide range of specialities means that you end up accumulating a breadth of knowledge, alongside so many transferable skills.

Advantage 3: Future opportunities

Having finished your joint honours degree, you have not only the degree like everyone else but also a unique set of skills and qualities that will set you apart from other people. I’ve found that the multi-tasking required of me to keep track of my different courses and requirements for each part of my degree has helped me to manage my time better, and I am now used to having lots of different things going on. I am able to work in a job alongside my uni work without them affecting each other. Additionally, you really keep your career options open into both fields, which will be great down the line when you are applying for further education or jobs!

The other side 

However, there are definitely additional challenges that come alongside doing a joint honours – whilst I have found pros outweigh the cons, it’s still important to consider both sides so you have a realistic idea of what it’ll be like.

Challenge 1: Conflicting timetables

Taking subjects from two different areas, especially from two different schools, like in my case, sometimes means that your timetable isn’t always as smooth as others’, and you might find you have a super packed exam timetable, or two essays due the same day! I did expect this because I had been warned of it, and it’s not always the case, but I had a few instances where I had to sprint in between buildings on campus because my two mandatory courses were on right after each other. I wouldn’t let it put you off, but you should be aware of the possibility.

Challenge 2: Differing expectations

Since the History department and the Politics department are, after all, two different subject areas, they have some divergences which takes a bit of time to get used to. They mark in their own ways, have different citation methods and you have to learn different methodologies for essays. So, especially in first year, you are not just learning the course content or doing the reading, you have to start to understand how the discipline works. Being a joint honours student, you have to do this twice – and it is obviously more work. But it also means you learn two styles of referencing instead of one (hello transferable skills!), learn to look at an issue from different approaches (very useful in all sorts of situations) and use different methodologies for research!

Challenge 3: Responsibility

Of course, in university everyone is responsible for managing their time and education themselves, but I think that joint honours students feel this the most. Sometimes you miss out on information because of the way mandatory modules work, which is slightly different to single honours students. And I definitely did feel slightly out of my comfort zone at first, but I had lots of support from History and Politics, who are obviously no strangers to students on joint degrees. I used office hours, I emailed for help, I did more reading and it paid off. I can say that after my first year, I felt so much more comfortable in my choice and I knew I made the right one for me.

If you want to have more choices for courses, give yourself a number of different opportunities in the future and find fascinating, unexpected ways that your subjects might overlap, then I urge you to consider a joint honours programme. Whilst there are some ways in which a joint honours degree make life just a little more challenging – like getting adjusted to two different ways of teaching and learning, these can be dealt with and you can always ask your Schools or your student advisor for support. If I could go back in time, I would honestly choose the same, joint degree.

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