I'm a bit new to the whole 1.1 , 2.1 degree business.. can someone tell me:
1) all the kinds of degrees you can get and how good they are
2) are there any specific requirements (eg. extra courses or activities?) to get the best degree?
3) does getting a 1.1 degree rule out the possibility of an active social life ?
1) Basically, there are two types of degree: Honours degrees and Ordinary degrees (with Honours being more prestigious). Most degrees offered by universities are Honours, including Oxbridge. Wikipedia does the job very nicely - I've added a little bit to it though.
Honours degrees (usually written "B.A. (Hons)" or "B.Sc. (Hons)") are of a superior academic standard, and are usually awarded for the more traditional academic subjects such as English, Philosophy, Mathematics, Economics etc. An Honours degree is always awarded in one of four classes depending upon the marks gained in the final assessments and examinations. The top students are awarded a first class (1.1) degree, the next best, an upper second class degree (usually referred to as a 2.1), the next a lower second class degree (usually referred to as a 2.2), and those with the lowest marks gain a third class degree. An Ordinary or unclassified degree (which does not give the graduate the right to add "(Hons)") may be awarded if a student has completed the full honours degree course but has obtained a very low pass mark which is insufficient to merit a third-class honours degree.
Ordinary degrees are unclassified degrees awarded to all students who have completed the course and obtained sufficient marks to pass the final assessments and examinations. Ordinary degree courses usually have lower entry requirements than Honours degree courses. Although Ordinary degree courses are often considered to be easier than Honours degree courses, this is not always the case, and much depends on the university attended and the subject being studied. In many of the 'new' universities now offering a large range of modern degree subjects, Ordinary degree students are able to transfer to an Honours degree course in the same subject if an acceptable standard is reached after the first or second year of study.
2) Not necessarily. Your degree classification (1.1, 2.1 etc.) depends solely on your academic performance and the marks you achieve in your exams at university. Being a rugby player doesn't make it easier to get a 1st. However, sometimes attending extra classes may give you more knowledge, therefore making it easier to get a 1st, if you see what I mean - but this is a moot point.
3) Generally speaking, yes. However, it does depend on two things; the course you're doing and your ability. Getting a 1st in some subjects is easier than it is in others, only due to the nature of the subject (not the marks) and normally, at more prestigious universities, it is harder to get a 1st, than at a less prestigious universities, because the exams are harder and you may get less support. If you manage your time well, you may still be able to get a 1st with an active social life, but it is quite hard too. Having said that, getting a 1st boosts your employment prospects massively.
I got a First Class Honours (Economics with Econometrics) without that much free time sacrifised ... although I'm quite clever naturally but one thing I did find is just going through lectures/notes for each subject once a week just to make sure you understand it (doesn't matter if you rememberise it completely).. That was about 12 hours a week + 6 hours for dissertation + 6 hour contact times.... grand total 24 hours/week studying. (Add about 6 hours for the week before essays/tests to compensate for those).
But most of that 30 hours was during the working day (I had massive gaps between lectures/seminars... you know start at 11am, next lecture 4pm.. there's 4 hours work there).