Undergraduate study - 2020 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

This programme is for students interested in the physical processes that shape the Earth linking physical geography with a deeper understanding of how the Earth works.

It develops an integrated understanding of the Earth as a connected system - the topography of which is developed through the interaction of surface and deep Earth processes. Life, plate tectonics, volcanoes, glaciers, rivers and people ultimately define the modern and ancient landscape.

This quantitative programme is designed to give students the skills and knowledge to interpret the landscape as a result of the interactions between tectonics and erosion, and to understand and predict its evolution over a range of temporal and spatial scales, using a combination of remote sensing (including Geographical Information Systems), laboratory experiments and fieldwork in various settings, which have in recent years included Scotland, Spain and Cyprus.


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.

Earth Dynamics

Volcanoes, earthquakes, mountain chains and the diversity of the Earth's rocks tell us that the Earth has been a dynamic planet since its formation 4.6 billion years ago. This course aims to impart an understanding of the processes which shape the Earth, and to develop practical skills in recognising the evidence of these processes in rocks, both in the field and in the laboratory.

The course will focus primarily on the materials of which the Earth is made, how the major constituents are distributed between core, mantle and crust and how this changes with time through the agencies of plate tectonics and volcanism. From this viewpoint of underlying process, the course will also consider the inherent availability of natural resources and the potential for predicting natural hazards.

Evolution of the Living Earth

This course is intended as a foundation course for all Earth Science students with emphasis on processes that operate at the global scale. In particular, the concept of the Earth system as the operation of interlinked components of the geosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere and biosphere is stressed. This concept is used to 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.

Introduction to the Geological Record

This course will teach 3D mapping and cross-section skills, as well as 4D-thinking abilities. These will be taught via integration of maps with rock identification and the course will also introduce the application of online digital databases (BGS and USGS maps; DEM; radar interferometry; remote sensing imagery) in solving global geological problems. There is an integrated field trip (one week), which is currently to the Lake District, England, to develop your field skills.

Year 2

In addition to the following compulsory courses, you can take further option courses in different schools or colleges across the University.


In Geomaterials we investigate the solid materials which constitute the Earth. We study how atoms are arranged in crystalline materials and how these arrangements influence physical properties, and ultimately, control how our planet functions. The complex relationships between mineral structure, composition, properties and stability are then investigated as we consider the main materials which make up the surface of the solid Earth, and how the study of Geomaterials is used to understand processes which have shaped the Earth through time.

Global Tectonics and the Rock Cycle

This course develops the concepts of plate tectonics on a global scale and analyses the physical processes responsible for the formation and destruction of the plates. It considers the principle active tectonic regimes of the Earth such as mid-ocean ridges, subduction zones and mountain ranges, and develops an understanding of the physical and chemical nature of the lithosphere. You will also consider the different types of rocks formed in these different regions, as well as their recycling and the accumulation of sediment over the planet, how sedimentary rocks relate to the tectonic processes, and how they are preserved in the stratigraphic record.


This course focuses on the relationship between surface processes and the development of landforms at a variety of scales in space and time. It examines endogenic processes originating within the Earth, exogenic processes occurring at the Earth/atmosphere/ocean interface and the way they interact to create landforms. For perspective the course also explores the geomorphology of other planetary bodies including Mars. There are local day trips throughout Year 2 and a residential field excursion completes Year 2.

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.

Fieldwork during Year 3 includes a residential excursion to Spain. As the content of the programme is updated to reflect the advancing subject matter, and student feedback, the location of field courses may change.

Year 4

During the vacation 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.

The compulsory course in Evolution of the Modern Earth provides a critical synthesis of evidence bearing on the Earth's evolution, from planetary formation to its present complex pattern of continents and oceans. In total, over Years 3 and 4, the workload is almost exactly 50:50 in geology and in physical geography and the balance of final assessment follows this pattern.

Final year fieldwork takes you to Cyprus (future locations may differ subject to course updates) for two weeks during the Easter vacation where many aspects of the geology and geomorphology come to life in the spectacular landscapes and 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 (2019/20)

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, located at the University's King's Buildings campus.

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

Field trips

Due to the continued support of our generous Alumni community, all travel and accommodation costs associated with compulsory field trips will be waived from 2019. Earth Science, Ecological & Environmental Sciences and Geography degrees all involve a significant element of field study and we are pleased to be able to support our students as they learn practical and highly prized skills.

Find more information about field trips on the GeoSciences website.

Field trips

Study abroad

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

What are my options for going abroad?

How will I learn?

You will be taught through a mixture of lectures, seminars and tutorials, group work, practicals and fieldwork, self-directed learning and project work. In your honours years, you will devote more time to self-directed study and will receive individual supervision for final-year project work.

You will have access to the University's specialist research facilities and laboratories for analysing rocks, minerals and fluids and measuring the physical properties of rocks.

How will I be assessed?

Assessment will be both formative and summative, with a combination of practical work, essays, oral and written examinations, independent project work, field reports and notebooks, depending on the course.

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 will also involve 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 (2019/20)

The vast majority of our graduates move straight into degree-related employment or further study. Our graduates are highly sought after by energy (including renewables) and resource companies, environmental consultancies and the financial sector, and many also find employment in the areas of environmental planning and regulation, geoconservation, science communication and education, and engineering.

We have a professional advisory board that provides support on employability skills.

Standard entry requirement

The standard entry requirement is:

  • SQA Highers: AAAA - ABBB by end of S5. If you haven’t achieved this by the end of S5 we may consider your application based on a strong performance in S6. A minimum of BBB must be achieved in one year of S4-S6.
  • A Levels: AAA - ABB in one set of exams.
  • IB: 37 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, with a minimum of BBB 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: Higher: two of Biology*, Chemistry*, Geography, Mathematics* or Physics* (*include at least one). National 5: Mathematics at grade A; if you achieved a grade B, please contact the admissions office.
  • A Levels: Two from Biology, Chemistry, Geography, Geology, Mathematics or Physics. GCSE: Mathematics at grade A or 7; if you achieved a grade B or 6, please contact the admissions office.
  • IB: HL: two of Biology, Chemistry, Geography, Mathematics (from 2021, Mathematics: Analysis and approaches only) or Physics. Diploma must include Mathematics SL 5, if not held at HL. If you do not have SL Maths please contact the admissions office.

Additional requirements

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 minimum 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 overall and award of IB Diploma with 666 at HL to include three of Biology, Chemistry, Geography, Mathematics (from 2021, Mathematics: Analysis and approaches only) or Physics.
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 Grade C

  • SQA Standard Grade 3

  • SQA Intermediate 1 Grade A

  • SQA Intermediate 2 Grade C

  • GCSE Grade C or 4

  • Level 2 Certificate Grade C

  • IB Standard Level Grade 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 92 or above with 20 in each section

  • Cambridge English: Advanced or Proficiency overall 176 with 162 in each component

  • PTE Academic: Total 61 with at least 51 in each "Communicative Skills" section

  • 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 programme you are applying to study, unless you are using IELTS, TOEFL, PTE or Trinity ISE, in which case it must be no more than two years old.

English language requirements

(Revised 05/06/2019 to provide more accurate/comprehensive information.)

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



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