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Can’t decide? Combined Honours could be for you

I’m here to dismantle your preconceptions on the popularly ‘infamous’ life of a Combined Honours student!

Before I came to Durham, I had a clear idea I wanted to work in the third sector. I loved languages, had an interest in politics and wanted to travel as part of my future job. International Relations sounded like the perfect degree for me, but I was terrified of jumping into a BA based on what I’d heard about it when I had no experience in international politics.

This is not uncommon with degrees. We are told by our schools, our parents or we search online about what paths would suit our prospects best. Nevertheless, most of us exiting A levels and the IB have actually no clue what a Politics, Anthropology, Business, Marketing and so on degree entitles. I’d heard of numerous people whose expectations had been completely let down and they’d changed course halfway through their degree. I couldn’t afford that and didn’t want my choice to disappoint me.

Then I found the Combined Honours in Social Sciences option in Durham.

Now, apparently it is a popular belief that Combined Honours students are overworked, overstressed and have more dissertations than anyone else. This is a myth. I have the same number of credits as everyone else, and I’m only writing one dissertation! (I can’t even begin to imagine having two). I also have plenty of time to enjoy my life in Durham.

So how does it work?

What Combined Honours allows you to do is to combine 2, 3 or 4 disciplines in the Social Sciences in your first year, narrowing it down to 2 or 3 in the next two. For me, doing Combined Honours as my BA allowed me to explore the world of Social Anthropology briefly through my first year while concentrating on International Relations and French. This knowledge of Anthropology proved very useful, not only when studying the development of various countries, but also in deciding what I want to do after my degree.

During my second and third year I have to do a minimum of 40 credits, and a maximum of 80 in 2 or three disciplines (up to a total of 120 credits). Another great advantage is that you can take some credits from Liberal Arts degree too (a combined degree with a focus in Arts and Humanities subjects), so if you want to combine a language, education, art history etc. with something more social sciences-oriented, you can! I concentrated on International Relations, with 80 credits, and did 40 credits in French both my second and third years ( I also did a year abroad in between).

What has this allowed me to do? I saw little point in doing International relations without continuing to study languages. After all, languages do move the world. Combined Honours allowed me to perfect my French and take a year abroad with the Modern Languages department, while still specialising in International Relations. Another very positive aspect is that, had I not enjoyed International Relations as I hoped to in the first year, I could’ve cut it from my degree, and specialised on a different social science, without having to change my BA.

The Combined Honours department is incredibly helpful when it comes to information, the only tricky part of being a Combined Honours in Social Sciences (CHSS) student is keeping in contact with your various departments. When your degree overarches quite a few areas, for instance, I am both in the School of Government and International Affairs (SGIA) and the Modern Languages and Cultures (MLAC) department, not only do you have more independence in terms of module choices, career paths etc. but it’s also your responsibility to keep in touch with the various departments and remain aware of the different requisites. You are your own mediator. This may seem like a lot of work, but it comes down to keeping an eye on your emails. That’s it!

I’m living back in Grey College for my final year

Am I glad I did Combined Honours?

Definitely. No other degree around the UK would’ve allowed me to do International Relations in-depth, while still putting a bit of weight into my French studies. I feel like I’m coming out of my BA with a solid knowledge of both, ready to take on a new challenge. I hope to go into International Development, having some knowledge of anthropology, as well as languages experience puts me in a great position! Combined Honours has allowed me to tailor my degree to my liking, and it could not have gone better.

It may seem confusing at the beginning, you do need to read the structure of the course and prerequisites carefully, but once you’re in, it becomes a lot simpler than it seems. If like me, your interests are broader than one area, or you’re not too sure you will enjoy a particular path, Combined Honours may be for you.

If you are still unsure feel free to drop me a message and ask me more detailed questions!

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Marina Mestres-Segarra

Heya! I’m Marina, a Combined Honours 4th year from Grey College. I’m from Barcelona but have a lot of experience living abroad and travelling to random places (which means I know plenty of useless facts). I breathe and bleed coffee, so you’re most likely to find me in town, having some liquid goodness, dancing around or fundraising for charities. If not, check the airport, it’s always a good bet too. Follow me on Instagram @wheretofindmarina
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