Why you don’t need to worry about an honours degree to work in Asia



The Honour’s degree system in Australia is a popular option for undergraduate students but unfortunately the benefits are difficult to transfer as a job seeker in Asia. In fact, the extra year could well be delaying the start of your career. This article will help you rationalise the decision to say ‘no’ to your lecturers and say ‘yes’ to starting a career in Asia!


1) You can’t skip into a PhD in Asia

The beauty of studying an Honour’s degree in Australia is the ability to bypass a Master’s degree and jump straight into studying a PhD. However, in Asia this shortcut does not apply and a Master’s degree is a required pathway to studying a PhD.

A Master’s degree in Asia normally taking 2-3 years to complete. So a quicker path to studying a PhD in Asia is to skip honours, enrol in an 1-2 year Master’s degree in Australia, and then make a b-line to Asia. If on the other hand time is not a major consideration, there are plenty of scholarships to study in Asia. Scholarships are available for postgraduate studies, alongside a year of foreign language instruction depending on the country and degree structure.

hong kong skyline


2) Employers don’t know any better

Another selling point in Australia for studying an Honour’s degree is to one up on graduates with only a three year degree. In Asia though, undergraduate degrees are structured as a four year degree including a final year thesis and an oral defence. An Honour’s year therefore doesn’t exist. Employers in Asia will therefore assume that you have completed a thesis and developed applied research skills anyway. An ‘Honours’ on your CV is probably more likely to be mistaken for good grades as it is in America (which is actually not a bad thing). However, they key here is you don’t necessarily have to complete an extra year slaving over a thesis to prove your research skills to an employer in Asia.


3) Few non-academic jobs available in research

While there are opportunities to work in academia in Asia on a low salary, most jobs for foreigners are not in applied research. The main reason is that applied research is easy to localise. Also, in most cases employers are looking for a bilingual speaker, of which there is an oversupply of cheaper local candidates. Asia as well does tend to attract an oversupply of foreigners with a liberal arts degree and a strong interest in applied research.

Most decent jobs in Asia for foreigners are in business development, client relations, marketing, sales, content writing, digital marketing and senior management, which are more difficult roles to localise. Working for a think tank in Asia is an option. Though they typically offer low pay and little in the way of career progression. In countries like China it’s difficult to find work as a foreigner in a domestic think tank.



4) Career Procrastination

Honours for some people really is borderline career procrastination. Students, and especially Arts majors, whack on an extra year because they’re still not sure what to do in life. Combine the zealous nature of your lecturer to recommend Honour’s and all of a sudden you’re 10 months in and you still have no idea what you want to do!

Unless you really want to work in academia, university lecturers are also the last people you want to ask for career advice. This is because:

a) Lecturers generally have little experience working outside a university, and tend to have a narrow view on career trajectories – and especially in relation to Asia.

b) Lecturers need a healthy intake of Honour’s students each year to keep them in the job!

If academia is not for you, you’re better off doing everything you can to find a job in Asia or in Australia first. This way you can expose yourself to more people outside the university and work out for yourself what you like and don’t like in a job. Later on when you’ve decided what career path works best for you, you can come back and study an MBA or a postgraduate degree to advance your career. The worst thing you want to do is over study and find out that profession is not for you.


5) Work experience trumps study experience

Whether in Asia or Australia, HR Manager’s will tell you that employers value work far greater than study experience. Previous work experience is naturally a reliable indication of your ability to execute tasks and work effectively in a professional environment.

The opportunity cost of an Honour’s degree is a year of potential work experience. Even a year’s work experience in Australia would help catapult you to the front of the pack in Asia, as most job applicants are fresh graduates with little work experience. This is especially so among Europeans where jobs in Europe are hard to come by at the moment.

While studying an Honours degree in Australia makes sense for those pursuing a career in academia, and it won’t disadvantage your job opportunities in Asia, it’s just simply not the ‘gold plating’ your lecturers make it out to be.



The key to finding work in Asia is to:

Gain work experience in Australia first to lift your credentials (especially for those who want to work in outbound advisory to Australia from an office in Asia) and to qualify for a work visa (which requires two year’s work experience in some countries such as China); or
Get to Asia as soon as possible to intern, find work or study a language in-country to prove your commitment and get yourself in front of potential employers.


If you’ve already studied an Honours degree or halfway through, don’t worry! At the end of the day it’s not going to disadvantage job applications in anyway and it’s also only a 10 month commitment.


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Olly Theobald

Director at Asia Options.
Olly works in Hangzhou China and is enthusiastic about entrepreneurship, e-commerce, Asia education, data science, and foreign languages. Olly is a graduate from RMIT University and the Hopkins Nanjing Center for Chinese and American Studies. Olly speaks Mandarin and Korean.

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