Importance of getting a first in an undergraduate degree


I'm hoping to get an offer for the MSc Psychosocial Studies at Brighton, to start this year. I am currently a final year student at Brighton studying Applied Psychology and Sociology. My grades are fairly good and if I am consistent this semester (inc. dissertation) I could get a first, my average for the marks I have so far is 71 and that counts for half my degree, I am still waiting for my dissertation and semester 2 grades. I really want to get a first, but I am worried about 2 assignments that I handed in today, I was not happy with them and found them a real challenge. I always worry about things I have handed in, but I really don't think they're worth 70%.

I had my heart set on a first but now I'd be happy with a 2.1. The MSc course would need a 2.1 so I should be able to make the grade providing that I get an offer. However, I would ultimately like to pursue an academic career and study for a PhD after the MSc, if I don't get a first is that likely to affect my chances for being accepted onto a PhD, or being eligible for funding? What is the significance of a first for a future career?

Any advice really appreciated, also I am new and although I am looking for advice at the moment I'll try and give some to others as well, but I'm very new to postgraduate life!


Hi there! I am in my first year of a PhD in Clinical Psychology at the moment. Although I obtained a first in my undergrad degree (and then a distinction in my MSc), a lot of people doing PhDs here actually have a high 2.1 and a distinction at masters level, so I really can't see it being a major obstacle if you don't get a first. The main advantage of a first is when it comes to funding really...if you are applying for a place which already has funding attached to it then you should be fine with a 2.1. If you are applying for scholarships etc to fund a project which doesn't already have funding attached, then a first is probably quite a big advantage- the scholarship I won was based purely on academic achievement, they weren't even bothered what the research topic was, and there is no way I would have got that without a first. So in short, I think it is really worth trying for a first if it is within your reach, but if you don't get one, it isn't too much if a big deal, particularly if you can get a distinction in your masters. Good luck! KB


Hi, i got a 2:1 in my undergrad followed by a distinction at masters level and here i am on a fully funded phd!! so a 2:1 is definitely not the end of the world, especially if it is followed up by a strong masters. as for funding, obviously a 1st + distinction would be ideal, but i am proof that this doesn't have to be the case! as for a future career, if you were to go on and complete a phd no-one would care what you got at undergrad level. the only times a first would really help your chances would be if you wanted to do a phd at oxbridge, or if you didn't have a masters qualification (in my experience!). good luck (up)


Thank you both for your replies. I really am trying for a first and always have done, I thought I was ok until these two assignments. But I might end up doing well in them, you really never can tell. According to my dissertation supervisor (who also wrote me a reference) my dissertation looks promising, so hopefully I'll get a good mark; I really put everything into that and enjoyed writing it. It just all feels so uncertain at the moment, despite people who have been there reassuring me. Basically, I have had all 70+ including an 80 so far this year, apart from one 68. But as I did well in the other assignment for that module my overall mark was 71. I got 67 for my second year. So I need 70 at least for my dissertation and semester 2 modules to get a first.

But maybe I'll be fine as long as I get 65+ as a final grade, but to be honest that would be personally disappointing for me. I know I'm only an undergraduate and you're all doing bigger and better things than me but I'm getting so grade-obsessed at the moment and really tetchy about everything, I don't know how I'm going to cope at MSc level! But you've both said what my tutor said, its the distinction at Masters level that seems to make the difference.

Good luck with your PhDs...I must say I'm jealous I'd love to be doing a PhD but everyone has to start somewhere. Where are you stuying Clinical Psychology..I'd imagine thats really competitive to get into.


I got a 2.1 (and not a good one either) then a good distinction at masters and I'm finishing a funded oxbridge PhD (just scraped in on the funding - definitely would have been easier with a first). But for funding, they look at the exact subgrade so if you just miss a first they will see that. On my funding application a 2.1 had 5 sublevels, firsts had 3 and I had a bottom level 2.1 - which just goes to show how redeeming a masters can be. I'm part based in psychiatry.


in which case i happily stand corrected :-)


Nobody really cares - and if they do, they're not the sort of people you should be talking to/working for. 2:1 is perfectly fine. I got a 1st from Edinburgh uni, absolutely blazed through my undergrad - but nobody gives too much consideration to your grade, it's more about work experience and what sort of person you are. Now I'm 2 years into a PhD and quitting - things are never as bad as you might think.


My 2.1 from a Russell Group university got me accepted for a PhD, a research assistant post and an MSc (yes, in that strange order)! There is always the risk that if two candidates are otherwise equal, the one with the first might get the offer. But otherwise I think that degree class is only one of the important factors - others being personal statement, interview performance and experience. A little 'weakness' in one area (and a 2.1 isn't exactly weak!) shouldn't thwart your plans.


It depends significantly on the subject how vital the First is to get PhD funding. It will be very difficult to get AHRC PhD funding without a First (though I'm sure someone will pipe up and say they have it with a 2.1). ESRC funding is also relatively more difficult so a First is often expected, though not always (I think you are likely to be seeking ESRC funding given your doing sociology). In the sciences it's a more mixed picture: there are relatively more studentships for less undergraduates and masters students with appropriate degree subjects, so you do find even the odd 2.2 science PhD candidate fully funded, though still a lot of science PhDs obviously do have Firsts. I am interested Snoobles, which subject is your PhD in?


I'm really worried about it after reading some of those other replies, I think I'd have to get ESRC funding, or be really lucky and get a studentship. The problem is, I've been looking at psychology studentships just out of interest and the projects that they are for are so different to what I am studying now, and to what I'd expect to do a PhD in. I would ideally like to go to Birkbeck and do the MPhil in Psychosocial Studies followed by the PhD, but I'd obviously need ESRC funding for that, so would probably need a first. So, so worried about this, and I haven't even graduated yet...PhD study doesn't look very hopeful does it?


I got a 2.1 from a RG, and I just scrapped under a distinction in my Masters at another RG uni. I got offered PhDs at everywhere I applied and got funding.

I was told that my research proposal was most important.

It seems that over the past 5 years, more and more students are getting Firsts, so maybe it is more important to have a First class or very high 2.1.


I got a 1st and don't think it made much difference in my PhD application when being compared to the 2:1 candidates. One of my supervisors got a 2:2, yet now he has a couple of 1st author Nature papers, and has had TV crews around the lab and radio interviews.

Also if you look at most academic's websites, you'll find they almost never put their undergrad degree classification up. By all means do your best but don't get too attached or stressed about it. If your plan is to do a MSc then it matters even less.



i was talking to one of my lecturers who discussing with me the fact that external examiners can put marks up as well as down, as an example he told me that his undergraduate classification was altered from a 2:1 to a 1st. I almost fell over! this guy is a walking brain and very well regarded in his field. The idea that we could have got a 2:1 really cheered me up. However obviously his progress has been due to hard work and application. Im sure these qualities are regarded as highly as getting a 1st.




I got a 2.1 (64 - so not very impressive) and a pass at MSc (again, really not impressive). I have a University studentship. I was told my enthusiasm got me the PhD.

There are hundreds of us with a less than impressive educational track record so don't even worry about getting a first. Especially as there's really not a lot you can do about it at the end of your final year! Go have some fun.



Thanks for all the replies, again its really good to hear about lots of different experiences. I have the enthusiasm, and until now I believed I had the grades but I'm panicking about that now, although I think its quite normal to panic at the end of am undergraduate degree. I have one more submission and I'm feeling a bit more hopeful about this one and I know I'll really enjoy writing it. I got 80 for the the other assessment for this module so feeling a bit more positive!
I'm just feeling really uncertain at the moment, my confidence took a real knock after unexpectedly being rejected from my 1st choice MA course (my tutors were confident that I'd get in and were shocked when I didn't), and so now I'm feeling a bit doubtful about everything. But the motivation is still there, and a PhD is my ultimate ambition, I love the subject and want to take it as far as I can.