Careers Advice Blog

Do I really need a first?

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When I received my final degree score a few weeks ago I went whooping and dancing through my house, playing music and pouring celebration drinks. On the same day a friend of mine got her results email and its contents prompted her to remain in her room for hours sobbing down the phone to her family. We’d both received the same score and achieved high 2:1s.
While my friend had little reason to be upset given that we both made it onto our sought after postgraduate courses, her reaction is one that is surprisingly common. Students are often led to believe that, amongst a sea of other graduates, the standards are set unreachably high. Perfection has become the ideal in many student minds, perhaps through pressure from parents or graduate recruitment agencies asking “How will you stand out?”, and many of us are setting ourselves unrealistic personal goals that do us more harm than good.
It’s true that standing out amongst thousands of other graduates in a hostile job market is difficult, but I’m here to tell you that while a first might appear like the pinnacle of undergraduate achievement it’s by no means essential for future success.
Research, research, research
Do some research. Even the most prestigious of graduate schemes and postgraduate study programmes will often accept a 2:1 – and sometimes a 2:2 if you’ve got other valuable skills or experience! Yes, top jobs require top candidates who have proved their intellectual ability, but striving relentlessly for a first can hold you back. 
The question, “How will you stand out?” need not be answered with, “Having perfect grades.” A first is all well and good but if you’ve spent every second of your university life trying to achieve it at the expense of your social life and extra curricular activity you may even be less employable than someone with a much lower grade. Employers are looking for standout candidates, not robots. A higher grade can be undermined by a lack of experience, while an average grade can be looked over if there’s also a killer internship or amazing skill under the candidate’s name.
Don’t let it hold you back
With students increasingly encouraged to strive for perfection, it is important to protect those who can become ill as a result. Of course, universities should encourage all students to do their best and fulfil their potential, but perfectionist students” can often push themselves too hard, resulting in unhappiness whatever the grade outcome.
So, the answer to whether or not you need a first is quite simple: you don’t. A 2:1 will not hold you back, especially if you can prove that you’re keen to enter the field you want to and show you’re willing to work hard. What’s most important both for employment prospects and general health and happiness is striking a good balance between your academic, extra curricular and social life and accepting that what makes you stand out most is not a number on a piece of paper but your personality and unique capabilities.
Do you think students nowadays believe they need a first unnecessarily? Tell us in the comments below.
Photo: Artotem / Flickr

I’m an aspiring journalist going into my 3rd year studying Philosophy and Sociology at The University of Exeter.

I was recently elected the new Editor of Exeposé, the university’s independent student newspaper, after editing the Games section in my second year. I’ve also just finished up as News Editor at the Hastings Independent in my home town, having spent my summer organising the section alongside completing work experience with a publishing company.

I love to write on all kinds of subjects and look forwards to submitting plenty of articles for Career Camel and beyond!

Gemma JoyceDo I really need a first?

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