How our degrees work
What's so great about a four-year degree? Questions answered about our degrees and how they work.
A four-year honours degree gives you the benefit of developing a deeper knowledge of your chosen subject area. In your first two years you will be able to study subjects outside of your core discipline, before specialising in your third and fourth years.
At the end of your fourth year you will graduate with an MA (Hons). This is the standard undergraduate humanities degree awarded at the University of Edinburgh.
- Breadth of Study. The flexible nature of our degrees enables you to expand your academic range by studying subjects outside your major discipline during the first two years.
- Joint Degrees. A huge range of joint degrees offers you the opportunity to study two disciplines in real depth.
- Third Year Abroad. We arrange exchanges with major international universities, allowing you to study overseas during your third year and still receive three years of study in Edinburgh.
- Final-Year Dissertation. A feature of the fourth year is a dissertation undertaken by all students. This piece of original research, of up to 12,000 words, represents the culmination of your undergraduate career and the demonstration of your abilities as an independent scholar.
- Academic Maturity. The added experience and intellectual depth that you will gain over the course of four years is widely recognised and greatly valued by employers.
Find out more about the four-year experience:
We often refer to our degrees as degree programmes. These degree programmes are made up from a collection of units called courses.
Courses are units of teaching and learning, which carry a certain number of credits. Every course you undertake in the School will have a specific course organiser and at least one unit of assessment (examination/coursework). Most of the courses within the School of History, Classics & Archaeology run over one semester and account for 20 credits. Other Schools may be different (and this may impact any joint programmes we run with them).
Coursework is independent work completed over the course of your degree, outside of an exam environment, that is submitted for assessment. In addition to completing coursework, you will also take examinations.
Credits or credit points are assigned to a course to reflect the workload. In an undergraduate year you will typically take courses amounting to 120 credits.
Dissertation is a compulsory year-long project undertaken in your fourth year of study. It counts as two courses and is worth 40 credits. It is an extended piece of scholarship in which you study a topic in depth under the supervision of a member of the academic staff.
Exam diets are the periods at the end of the first and second semesters when the bulk of examinations take place. Not every course at the School requires you to take exams during both diets; sometimes you may only submit coursework at the end of a semester.
Honours years are the third and fourth years of your degree. During these years you begin to specialise in certain areas and study topics at a greater depth. To progress to the honours portion of your degree, you have to accumulate a certain number of credits in your first and second years (or 'pre-honours' years). Assessment marks from your pre-honours years do not go towards your final degree, however they are used to judge whether you will progress on to your third year (sometimes called 'junior honours').
Labs or lab classes are teaching sessions in which students carry out practical, 'hands on' tasks within a laboratory environment. These classes are an important element of our Archaeology degrees.
Lectures are large classes attended by all students on a particular course. They involve a presentation on a particular subject, usually one hour long, by a member of the academic staff.
Seminars are discussion-based classes, which involve a greater depth of independent work and preparatory reading than tutorials (see below). Seminars are staff-led, but have a clear focus on student research and input.
Tutorials are staff-led regular classes focusing on materials lectured on in that week. They are usually one hour long.
Our Degree Regulations & Programmes of Study website gives detailed information about the credit values of specific courses.
You can apply for a joint or combined degree and specialise in two subject areas from within and outside the School.
We offer a huge range of degree programmes, many of which we refer to as 'joint degrees' or 'joint honours'. If you enrol on a joint degree, you will study two different subjects (instead of only one) at the same time throughout your entire degree.
For instance, if you are studying a History and Politics joint degree, you'll do a mixture of History and Politics courses across the four years of your degree. In your fourth year, you will decide whether to complete a History or Politics dissertation (this is an example, specifications differ per degree). We offer a range of joint degrees that combine different subjects from within the School (e.g. History and Archaeology; Archaeology and Ancient History) as well as from other schools in the University (e.g. History and History of Art; Economic History and Business; Archaeology and Social Anthropology; History and Politics; English Literature and History; French and Classics).
Joint degrees are different from 'single honours' degrees, in which you choose to specialise in a single subject and will mainly study courses in that subject. However in years one and two, you may well be able to choose courses from outside subjects. Studying a joint degree at Edinburgh provides you with wide-ranging academic foundations and a broader qualification to apply for postgraduate degrees or employment.
Joint degrees and single honours degrees involve the same amount of class hours, assessments and credits; neither is more comprehensive than the other, only the range of subjects differs.
Our four-year programmes are split into two halves: pre-honours and honours.
The first and second years of a four-year programme are referred to as ‘pre’ or ‘sub’ honours years. In these years you prepare for your specialism and have more flexibility with the courses you complete.
Pre-honours exam marks are not counted as part of your final degree, however they will be used to assess your progress. The decision about whether or not you will continue on to your third year will be taken based on your pre-honours exam results.
Results from years three and four, your honours years, are typically counted towards your final degree mark/class. During this portion of your degree you will study more specialised topics at greater depth.
An MA is a Master of Arts. It’s the standard undergraduate degree awarded to students within the School. Most universities in the UK award undergraduate humanities degrees under the title Bachelor of Arts; at Edinburgh we do things a little differently.
At this university (and many other historic institutions within Scotland) a Master of Arts with Honours – or MA (Hons) – is the conventional undergraduate degree, different only in name to the standard BA (Hons). Despite the name, an MA at Edinburgh is not a postgraduate qualification.
If you come to study as an undergraduate at the School of History, Classics and Archaeology you will undertake a four-year degree. At the end of these four years, you will be awarded a Master of Arts with Honours, provided you have completed the full degree.
A four-year MA (Hons) received at Edinburgh is equivalent to a three-year BA (Hons) received elsewhere. Once you have completed your MA here you will be in an excellent position to apply for a postgraduate degree, whether at Edinburgh or another university in the UK or around the world.
Our academic year is split into two semesters, one running from September until December and the other from January to May. Each semester includes 11 weeks of teaching and a number of weeks for coursework, revision and exams. The period at the end of each semester where examinations take place is sometimes referred to as the 'exam diet'.
Semester two includes a week for the Festival of Creative Learning, where normal teaching is suspended for the week to allow students and staff to participate in innovative and creative events.
The University website gives a summary of an academic year structure:
The semester dates are published well in advance of the current year on the University's Semester Dates website:
Information about the Festival of Creative Learning:
Information about exam diets and timetables: