How Does an Honorary Degree Work?

August 18th, 2014 by Pearson

It just isn’t fair. Here you are studying hard for your degree, while colleges and universities are giving them out to people who have no prior academic attachment.

We’re talking about honourary degrees: awards given for a significant service in a particular field or institution. Not to be confused with an honours qualification (Hons), these accolades are often granted to visiting dignitaries, such as graduation speakers; the most common is an hon.Doctorate.

That isn’t fair!

No need to lose your temper just yet, there is a major difference between these special degrees and the one you’re working towards. Yours will be proof of your education, but the honorary kind is not seen as a qualification, it’s just a mark of prestige. Some organisations won’t even let the recipient use the title of “Dr.” in a formal setting.

OK, how do I get one?

In the past you had to be an “outsider” artist or a genius hermit in a dark lab to be considered for an honorary degree. These days if you want one, all you have to do is become a celebrity. Easy, right?

Today the hon. Doctorate is Hollywood’s hot new accessory. If you don’t have at least a couple, you’re nobody.

Who has them?

The list of award holders reads like an index of the most well known personalities in the entertainment world. In this context, whoever gave the award is extremely important, as the biggest stars want to associate with the top names in academics. It’s always an uplifting experience to see people getting rewarded for their hard work. Some of the most accomplished A-list celebs include:

• Oprah Winfrey
• Jack Nicholson
• David Bowie
• Hillary Clinton
• Aretha Franklin

On the other hand, some choices seem to mock the very idea of these awards. After all, who in their right mind would bestow such honour on:

• Kermit the Frog
• Bon Jovi
• Kim Cattrall
• Mike Tyson
• Robert Mugabe

There’s no need to stop at one honorary degree either. J.K. Rowling has no less than six, possibly because her guest-speaking expertise is in such high demand and Meryl Streep has four. However, they’re still the costume jewellery of the academic world: they look good, until you’re standing next to someone who has the real thing.

Your degree? Way more valuable and worth all the hard work!