Undergraduate study - 2021 entry

BSc Geology and Physical Geography

UCAS code: FF68

Duration: 4 years

Delivery: Full-time

School: GeoSciences

College: Science and Engineering

Study abroad

Introducing BSc Geology and Physical Geography

How can we better understand the Earth we live on?

Do you want to know more about the processes that shape the Earth's surface, and help solve some of the key challenges facing our changing natural world?

This programme offers you the best of both Geology and Physical Geography. It integrates these subjects into an understanding of the Earth from its origin, composition and structure through to how rivers, glaciers, volcanoes, hill slopes and human impact define the modern and ancient landscape at all scales.

Many people confuse geology and geography. Both of these subjects study the Earth and have some overlapping similarities.

  • Physical geography is the study of the physical properties on the surface of the Earth.
  • Geology is the study of Earth's history, as well as its composition and the processes that have affected it over time.

This programme gives you an integrated scientific understanding of the Earth as a connected system, the topography of which is developed through the interaction of surface and deep Earth processes. This integrated understanding underpins research on global change and some of the world's most pressing physical environmental hazards.

You will develop the skills and knowledge to interpret the landscape as a result of the interactions between tectonics and erosion. Furthermore, you will be able to understand and predict its evolution over a range of temporal and spatial scales.

This programme places a strong emphasis on practical experience. You can explore a variety of techniques such as:

  • remote sensing
  • geographical information systems (GIS)
  • computer modelling* laboratory experiments
  • fieldwork in a variety of settings

If you choose to study this programme at the University of Edinburgh, you will become part of an academic community in one of the leading geosciences departments in the UK, and one of the top-ranked universities in the world. You will learn from geologists and geographers who are the forefront and drivers of change and are undertaking world-leading research in a wide range of areas.

Field trips

Field trips are at the heart of this programme, and you will have many opportunities to get your hands dirty during local and international field trips. The trips will take you beyond the classroom, where you can apply the skills you have learned towards real-life situations. There will also be the opportunity to conduct your own independent geological or geomorphological exploration.

On our field courses, you will learn a range of field and data analysis techniques, covering topics such as:

  • drawing 3D geological maps
  • documenting and analysing the types of rocks within an outcrop
  • geological and geomorphological mapping
  • glacier and river erosion and deposition

There will be opportunities to use as many different pieces of research field equipment as possible. For example, you will use field tools to obtain and interpret field measurements such as electrical resistivity, laser range-finders, magnetism and seismic surveys.

The sites and experiences of each trip will vary, enriching you with a broad understanding of how the world works. Previous locations have included the Scottish Highlands, the Lake District in England, Spain and Cyprus.

Please note:

As the content of the programme is updated to reflect the advancing subject matter and student feedback, the location of field trips may change. Field trips may also be changed due to Covid-19, and where suitable, fieldwork will be relocated or rescheduled.

We will also look at alternative arrangements that will ensure you achieve the quality learning outcomes of your degree. Any changes will be announced as soon as possible.

Decisions will be made to safeguard the health and safety of our students, staff and community, and to ensure the highest standards for educational experience.

*(Revised 13 November 2020 to included notice about field trip changes.)

Field trip costs

The School of GeoSciences does not charge extra fees for compulsory field trips or field courses. Our earth science degrees involve a significant element of field study, so we are pleased to support our students as they learn practical and highly-prized skills.

Due to the continued support of our generous alumni community, all costs of travel, accommodation and subsistence on compulsory field trips will be covered by the programme. However, incidental/personal expenses are to be met by the student. Students are also responsible for their own expenses for fieldwork associated with their dissertation project. These will be dependent on the destination.

What is it really like to study with us?

Visit our student blog, where our students share their experiences of undergraduate study, living in Edinburgh and everything in-between.

Focused pathways

This programme gives you the opportunity to shorten the length of your studies by one full year. If you know exactly what you want to do and are eager to get started on your career as soon as you can, then these focused pathway options might be for you.

You can earn the BSc (Hons) qualification in just three years or the integrated masters (MEarthSci) in 4 years. You could even complete the three-year BSc then undertake a full one-year postgraduate masters to earn yourself two separate degrees just over four years.

Through this focused route, there is an inevitable reduction in course flexibility, as you will study the specialised courses of geology with fewer option courses.

When starting your studies with us, you will join a student cohort who are commencing their second year (Year 2) of study. However, there is no additional increase to your study workload.

You will undertake the same number of courses in your first year as your Year 2 peers, but you will be completing the Year 1 and Year 2 compulsory courses within your first year. This means you will have fewer option courses than your peers, but will still complete all of the required compulsory courses.

You must be suitably qualified to apply for a focused pathway option (also known as Year 2 Direct Entry or Second Year Entry). Ensure you view the entry requirements under ‘Second Year Entry’ below.


This programme is accredited by the Geological Society of London.

Year 1

Your classes will be taken with other students studying geology, geography and environmental geoscience. In addition to the following compulsory courses, you can take further option courses in different schools or colleges across the University.

You will gain an understanding of the processes which shape the Earth, and develop practical skills in recognising the evidence of these processes in rocks, both in the field and in the laboratory. You will also study the interaction between geology, chemistry, physics and biology affecting the surface processes of the planet that together form the characteristics of the environment in which we live. You will also gain key practical skills in mapping and cross-section skills.

There will also be an integrated field trip to develop your field skills. Prior trips have included the Lake District.

One of the most exciting things about a Scottish undergraduate degree is the fact that you have the opportunity to take a significant number of courses outside your degree programme in Years 1 and 2. You can choose to take courses that are closely related to your degree, or try something completely different and new to you.

Year 2

From Year 2, you will focus on materials, the rock cycle and global tectonics; investigate the solid materials which constitute the Earth; and learn how atoms are arranged and how they influence physical properties, and ultimately, control how our planet functions.

You will learn about geomorphology and the physical processes that operate to shape the Earth's surface at a range of scales.

You will also be introduced to geophysics, such as the origins of planets and their interior physical processes, as well as identifying subsurface petroleum reserves.

You will take part in several local day trips, as well as a two-week residential field camp. Previous locations have been to the Scottish Highlands.

As in Year 1 you will have significant flexibility in your option course choices.

Year 3

You will study both geology and physical geography course modules and can select optional courses from a prescribed list within your specific interest field, e.g. glaciology, remote sensing, hydrocarbons etc.

Compulsory courses develop deeper theoretical and practical knowledge of the Earth and include structural geology through to igneous and metamorphic petrology, as well as developing your core competencies in quantification of processes.

To prepare you for your independent field work in Year 4, you will take part in a 14-day field course. Prior locations have included Spain. As the content of the programme is updated to reflect the advancing subject matter, student feedback and our commitment to reducing our carbon footprint, the location of this course may change.

Year 4

During part of the summer holiday (vacation) period following Year 3, you are required to begin work on an Honours project in geology and physical geography. The topic is devised in conjunction with an advisor and generally reflects your interests. This independent research project is progressed and written up during Year 4 and becomes an important component of your Honours assessment.

This flexible programme allows you to pursue your interests in the final year and, in addition to compulsory courses, you have a choice of options to take, all of which are aligned to the programme aims.

In total, over Years 3 and 4, the workload is almost evenly split between geology and physical geography and the balance of final assessment follows this pattern.

You will also take part in final year fieldwork for two weeks over the Easter break, where many aspects of geology and geomorphology come to life. Prior locations have included Cyprus, where students were immersed among the the spectacular rock exposures there.

Programme structure

Find out more about the compulsory and optional courses in this degree programme.

To give you an idea of what you will study on this programme, we publish the latest available information. However, please note this may not be for your year of entry, but for a different academic year.

Programme structure (2020/21)

Our facilities

In Year 1, many of your lectures will be taught in the Central Area close to the city centre. Practicals and other teaching take place within the School of GeoSciences, King's Buildings campus. Depending on courses selected, in later years you will be located primarily at the King's Buildings campus.

Depending on the option courses selected in your programme, you may also study at various University campus locations in the vibrant city of Edinburgh.

You can access the University's libraries and IT facilities, and the School's laboratories provide personal workspace with computing and microscope facilities during your honours years.

The School houses a wide range of cutting-edge facilities and services and is involved in a number of collaborative centres of research excellence.

As part of your programme, you will have access to this range of high-tech facilities enabling chemical and physical analysis of various types of samples. Some of these samples will be collected by you during field excursions, which are a central component of our programmes. During these excursions, you will also conduct field measurements using various techniques used in ecological, atmospheric and earth sciences.

In addition to these analytical facilities, there are excellent computing facilities including geographic information systems (GIS), meteorological and geophysical computer models. You will become familiar with many of these facilities and techniques while studying here.

Research and Teaching Facilities

Study abroad

You will have opportunities to study abroad through the University's international exchange programme.

What are my options for going abroad?

In addition to the university wide exchanges The School of GeoSciences has a number of subject specific exchanges with partner universities within Europe, Canada, and New Zealand. Study abroad is normally taken during the 3rd year.

Student Exchanges

How will I learn?

The exciting nature of geology and geography means you will have a diverse learning experience throughout your years with us. You could be discussing how climate and tectonics interact to shape mountain belts one day, or you could be running numerical model simulations of a glacier the next. Teaching can be through a mix of lectures, tutorials, practical classes and workshops, field trips and project work.

You will have access to the University's specialist research facilities and laboratories for analysing rocks, minerals and fluids. You will use our cutting-edge computational facilities to visualise and explore scientific data that you will create in your advanced projects.

You will also develop a range of transferable skills, including:

  • report writing
  • oral presentations
  • data analysis and interpretation
  • critical thinking
  • group working

As the programme progresses, you will enhance the ability to work independently and manage project work. Your geology training will also equip you with unique skills in problem solving, making you ideally suited to work in environments where solutions to complex challenges need to be found on the basis of limited available data.

Through your degree you will be expected to study for approximately 200 hours per 20 credit course. How this time is divided varies, and is dependent on the courses you choose to study in your programme as well as the nature of the topics explored. Typically you will do 60 credits of study for each of the two semesters, normally 3 courses. This study time includes time allocated for self-directed learning as well as “contact time” with staff which includes be lectures, tutorials, practicals and field trips.

Depending on the option courses you choose, during the first two years (pre-honours) you should expect to have approximately 17 hours a week of lectures, tutorials, and practicals. As you progress into the 3rd and 4th years of study (honours) you will be expected to spend more time on independent work and self-directed study.

In your final year, you will design your own project dissertation with guidance from our expert academics, helping you develop skills to become a researcher in your own right.


One of the main ways we teach is through lectures and these are main form of contact you have with academic staff. Most lectures last 50 minutes.


Practicals allow you to apply knowledge acquired in lectures and tutorials and develop a range of practical skills. It’s important to recognise that the skills you acquire in practicals are transferable beyond the immediate course. They can be applied in other courses, in dissertations and even beyond your degree.


Many courses include tutorials. Tutorials are a form of small group teaching that is facilitated by a tutor. Tutorials are an essential opportunity for you: * to discuss specific topics in more depth * to develop skills in critical thinking* to communicate your understanding* work as part of a team* to receive feedback, and* to ask questions.

Field trips

Field trips are a major component of our Earth Science degrees. Field trips are hard work, fun, and will provide some of the most memorable moments of your degree. They are excellent ways of learning, enabling you to apply the knowledge and skills you have developed in lectures to real world contexts. Field trips are part of your course and there are no additional costs.

Self-directed study

Emphasis is placed on independent work and you will need to be well motivated and organised.

How will I be assessed?

You will be assessed in a variety of ways, depending on the courses you choose to study in your programme and the nature of the topics explored.

Assessment might include:

  • written or practical exams and quizzes
  • practical evaluation in the field or field notebooks
  • coursework such as essays
  • individual or group projects
  • presentations

You will also be assessed on computer programming exercises, and in the final year of all our programmes there are elements of assessed presentation and scientific writing skills. Most senior honours courses and projects in the earth sciences will also involve computational modelling elements.

Programme details

Find out more about this programme's aims, what you will learn, how you will be assessed and what skills and knowledge you will develop.

To give you an idea of what to expect from this programme, we publish the latest available information. However, please note this may not be for your year of entry, but for a different academic year.

Programme details (2020/21)

Studying the earth sciences gives you a wide range of career opportunities. The vast majority of our graduates move straight into degree-related employment or further study.

You can seek a career in either government and private organisations such as renewables and resource companies, environmental consultancies, as well as the financial sector. Graduates have also gained employment in the areas of science communication and education.

Examples of roles our graduates have obtained include geospatial mapping, geotechnical engineer, environmental engineer, environmental planning and regulation, geoconservation, carbon capture and storage, geo-consultant, geological surveyor, waste resource management, hydrogeologist, resource discovery, environmental consultant, sustainability consultant, minerals surveyor, or energy resources management.

The programme is designed for you to develop the competencies most prized by graduate employers:

  • a sound knowledge of basic science
  • a deep understanding of your chosen discipline
  • an ability to synthesise complex data
  • critically analyse information
  • effectively present your work

Additionally, the programme will equip you with the critical thinking and research skills to prepare you for competitive entry into relevant postgraduate degree programmes. A significant number of our students progress to further postgraduate study and research in areas such as geology, geographical information systems (GIS), hydrogeology, geomorphology, glaciology, geoenergy, town planning and environmental management.

As one of the largest groupings of geographers and geoscientists in the UK, our research and industry networks give you access to a world-class experience with real-world relevance. Under the guidance of our academics, who are leaders in their field, you will gain sought-after skills in geological and geographical research.

Standard entry requirement

The standard entry requirement is:

  • SQA Highers: AABB - ABBB by end of S5 or AAAB by end of S6. BBB must be achieved in one year of S4-S6.
  • A Levels: AAA - ABB.
  • IB: 34 points with 555 at HL - 32 points with 555 at HL.

Minimum entry requirement

The minimum entry requirement for widening access applicants is:

  • SQA Highers: ABBB by end of S6. BBB must be achieved in one year of S4-S6.
  • A Levels: ABB.
  • IB: 32 points with 555 at HL.

More information for widening access applicants

Required subjects

The grades used to meet our entry requirements must include:

  • SQA: Highers: two of Biology, Chemistry, Geography, Mathematics, or Physics at B. National 5s: English at C and Mathematics at A. If you achieved a B in Mathematics, please contact the College of Science and Engineering Admissions Office.
  • A Levels: two of Biology, Chemistry, Geography, Geology, Mathematics, or Physics at B. GCSEs: English at C or 4 and Mathematics at A or 7. If you achieved a B or 6 in Mathematics, please contact the College of Science and Engineering Admissions Office.
  • IB: HL: two of Biology, Chemistry, Geography, Mathematics (from 2021, Mathematics: Analysis and approaches only) or Physics at 5. SL: English at 5 and Mathematics (from 2021, Mathematics: Analysis and approaches only) at 6 (if not at HL). If you do not have Mathematics please contact the College of Science and Engineering Admissions Office.

Find out more about entry requirements

International applicants

We welcome applications from students studying a wide range of international qualifications.

Entry requirements by country

Mature applicants

We welcome applications from mature students and accept a range of qualifications.

Mature applicant qualifications

For direct entry to second year the standard requirements must be exceeded, including the following:

  • SQA Advanced Highers: AAB to include two of Biology, Chemistry*, Geography, Mathematics*, or Physics* (*include at least one).
  • A Levels: AAA in one set of exams to include three of Biology, Chemistry, Geography, Geology, Mathematics, or Physics.
  • IB: 38 points with 666 at HL to include three of Biology, Chemistry, Geography, Mathematics (from 2021, Mathematics: Analysis and approaches only), or Physics at 6.
Other entry pathways

Entry to many degrees in Science & Engineering is possible via other qualifications (eg HNC/D, Access, SWAP).

You must demonstrate a level of English language competency at a level that will enable you to succeed in your studies, regardless of your nationality or country of residence.


For SQA, GCSE and IB students, unless a higher level is specified in the stated entry requirements, a pass is required in English at the following grades or higher:

  • SQA National 5 at C
  • SQA Standard Grade at 3
  • SQA Intermediate 1 at A
  • SQA Intermediate 2 at C
  • GCSE at C or 4
  • Level 2 Certificate at C
  • IB Standard Level at 5 (English ab initio is not accepted for entry)

English language tests

We accept the following English language qualifications at the grades specified*:

  • IELTS Academic module overall 6.5 with 5.5 in each component
  • TOEFL-iBT (including Special Home Edition) 92 or above with 20 in each section. We do not accept TOEFL MyBest Score to meet our English language requirements.
  • Cambridge English: Advanced or Proficiency overall 176 with 162 in each component
  • Trinity ISE: ISE II with a distinction in all four components

We also accept a wider range of international qualifications and tests.

English language qualifications must be no more than three and a half years old from the start date of the degree you are applying to study, unless you are using IELTS, TOEFL or Trinity ISE, in which case it must be no more than two years old.

English language requirements

*(Revised 27 April 2020 to include TOEFL-iBT Special Home Edition.)

This information is part of a government initiative to enhance the material that higher education institutions provide about their degree programmes.

It is one of many sources of information which will enable you to make an informed decision on what and where to study.

Please note that some programmes do not have Discover Uni data available.

Tuition Fees

Tuition fees for BSc Geology and Physical Geography

Additional costs

The School of GeoSciences does not charge extra fees for compulsory field trips or field courses. Costs of travel, accommodation and subsistence on compulsory field trips will be covered by the programme.

However, incidental/personal expenses are to be met by the student. Students are also responsible for their own expenses for field work associated with their dissertation project. These will be dependent on the destination.


For more information on how much it will cost to study with us and the financial support available see our fees and funding information.

Fees and funding

More information

How to apply

School: GeoSciences

College: Science and Engineering