Undergraduate study - 2022 entry
Open to the world

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

Do you want to help tackle some of the key challenges facing our society and our natural world?

As populations around the world expand and the effects of climate change become more tangible, people are becoming increasingly exposed to hazards such as:

  • flooding
  • landslides
  • earthquakes
  • volcanoes

Human activities have put pressure on Earth's limited resources and caused global warming, with far-reaching environmental impacts including:

  • changes in rainfall
  • ocean acidification
  • coastal erosion
  • loss of glaciers and ice caps
  • sea-level rise

Now, more than ever, we need Earth scientists to help us tackle the climate crisis, adapt to environmental changes, and live more safely and sustainably on our dynamic Earth.

What will I learn?

The Geology and Physical Geography programme will develop and combine your understanding of:

  • the Earth from its origin, composition and structure (geology)
  • how rivers, glaciers, volcanoes, and human impact define the modern and ancient landscape at all scales (physical geography)

We will give 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.

It is this integrated understanding that underpins research on global change and some of the world's most pressing physical environmental challenges.

This degree is designed to be flexible, and you will have opportunities to focus on your key interests through optional courses.

We also place a strong emphasis on practical experience. This means you will develop the hands-on skills prized by employers, preparing you to join the next generation of researchers.

Why study in Edinburgh?

By studying geology and physical geography at the University of Edinburgh, you will:

  • join one of the top-ranked universities in the world
  • become part of an academic community in one of the leading geosciences departments in the UK
  • enjoy access to a world of experience with our research and industry networks
  • learn from leading Earth scientists and geographers at the forefront of their fields, contributing to knowledge, action and public awareness by undertaking world-leading research in a range of Earth Science-related disciplines

By studying this degree, you can play a vital role in our transition into a more sustainable society.

Field trips

Field trips are at the heart of this programme. Your most important laboratory is the outside world, and we place a great deal of emphasis on delivering practical and field-based experiences. So you will have many opportunities to get your hands dirty.

You will go beyond the classroom so you can apply the skills you have learned to real-life situations through our local and international field trips.

You will also have the opportunity to conduct your own independent geological or geomorphological exploration.

The locations and experiences of each trip will vary, enriching you with a broad understanding of how our planet works.

Our field courses will enable you to experience different pieces of research field equipment. You will also develop your skills in 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

Field trip locations have included:

  • the Scottish Highlands
  • the Lake District in England
  • Spain
  • Cyprus

Edinburgh is an ideal location for geology, with many sites of interest right on your doorstep including the world-famous 'Hutton's Unconformity' at Siccar point, and the extinct volcano 'Arthur's Seat' right in the middle of Edinburgh city.

Field trip costs

Our compulsory field trips or field courses are free, including travel and accommodation. Our Earth science degrees involve a significant element of field study. We are proud to be able to support you as you learn practical and highly prized skills.

Field trips may be subject to change

Please note: As we update the programme to reflect advancing subject matter and student feedback, the location of our field trips may change.

Field trips may also be changed due to Covid-19. Where suitable, fieldwork will be relocated, rescheduled or alternative arrangements provided.

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

What is it really like to study with us?

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

Student experience blog


This programme is accredited by the Geological Society of London.

This accreditation recognises that the programme delivers the knowledge, skills and other attributes expected of high-quality geology and physical geography graduates.

Year 1

Your classes will be taken with other students studying:

  • geology
  • geography
  • environmental geoscience

You will:

  • gain an understanding of the processes which shape the Earth
  • develop practical skills in recognising the evidence of these processes in rocks, both in the field and in the laboratory

This includes studying the interaction between geology, chemistry, physics, and biology affecting the surface processes of the planet. Together, these form the characteristics of the environment in which we live.

You will also gain key practical skills in mapping and cross-section analysis, developed during an integrated field trip (prior trips have included the Lake District).

Choose courses outside your degree

One of the most exciting things about a Scottish undergraduate degree is 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

You will focus on:

  • materials
  • the rock cycle
  • global tectonics

This means you will:

  • investigate the solid materials which constitute the Earth
  • learn how atoms are arranged and how they influence physical properties (and ultimately control how our planet functions)
  • learn about geomorphology and the physical processes that operate to shape the Earth's surface at a range of scales

Field trips

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

You will have significant flexibility in your option course choices, as in Year 1.

Year 3

You will study both geology and physical geography course modules. You can also select optional courses from a prescribed list within your specific interest field, for example:

  • glaciology
  • remote sensing
  • hydrocarbons

You will study compulsory courses and develop:

  • deeper theoretical and practical knowledge of the Earth
  • your knowledge of structural geology
  • your knowledge of igneous and metamorphic petrology
  • your core competencies in quantification of processes

Specialist field course

You will also develop skills in research design and take part in a 14-day field course, to prepare you for your independent fieldwork in Year 4.

Prior field courses have been to the south of Spain.

Field courses may be subject to change

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

Your independent research project

You are required to begin work on an Honours project in geology and physical geography, during part of the summer holiday (vacation) period following Year 3. You will agree on a topic with an advisor, reflecting your own interests.

You will progress and write up this independent research project during Year 4. This becomes an important component of your Honours assessment.

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

Over Years 3 and 4 your workload will be almost evenly split between geology and physical geography. The balance of your final assessment also follows this pattern.

Final year fieldwork

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 you will be immersed among the spectacular rock exposures.

Focused 3-year BSc(Hons) pathway

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
  • earn the integrated masters (MEarthSci) in 4 years
  • 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.

Focused pathway options

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’.

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 (2021/22)

Our facilities

In Year 1, many of your lectures are taught in the University's Central Area close to the city centre. Practicals and other teaching take place within the School of GeoSciences or the wider King's Buildings campus.

In later years you will mainly learn at the King's Buildings campus, depending on courses selected.

The King's Buildings campus is around 15 minutes from central Edinburgh via bus.

You may also study at various University campus locations in the vibrant city of Edinburgh, depending on the option courses selected.

Access to facilities

You can access the University:

  • libraries
  • study spaces (some study spaces are open 24 hours)
  • IT facilities
  • social spaces
  • leisure facilities

In addition, the School's laboratories provide a personal workspace with computing and microscope facilities during your honours years.

The School of GeoSciences houses a wide range of cutting-edge facilities and services, providing several collaborative centres of research excellence.

You will:

  • have access to this range of high-tech facilities enabling chemical and physical analysis of various types of samples
  • collect some of these samples during field excursions, which are a central component of our programmes
  • 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 computer models
  • geophysical computer models

You will become familiar with many of these facilities and techniques while studying here.

Research and Teaching Facilities

Virtual Visit

Join us for a Virtual Visit of the University! Our interactive platform can take you on a guided tour through Edinburgh or help you explore the campus for yourself.

Start your journey here

Study abroad

You will have opportunities to study abroad in Europe or 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 in:

  • Europe
  • Canada
  • New Zealand

Study abroad is normally taken during the 3rd year.

Student Exchanges

How will I learn?

You should review the Programme Structure - Degree Programme Table to see compulsory and option courses. Refer to individual course details to see the types of learning activities you will participate in.

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
  • running numerical model simulations of a glacier

Teaching can be through a mix of:

  • lectures
  • tutorials
  • practical classes and workshops
  • field trips
  • 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.

How long should I study?

You will be expected to study for approximately 200 hours per 20 credit course, throughout your degree.

How this time is divided varies, and is dependent on courses you choose to study and nature of the topics explored.

Typically you will do 60 credits of study for each of the two semesters, usually three courses. This study time includes time allocated for self-directed learning as well as 'contact time' with staff, which could be through lectures, tutorials, practicals or field trips.

You should expect to commit to approximately 17 hours a week of lectures, tutorials, and practicals. This will depend on the option courses you choose, during the first two years (pre-honours).

You will be expected to spend more time on independent work and self-directed study, as you progress into the 3rd and 4th years of study (honours).

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


Most lectures last 50 minutes and many are recorded to support the revision of the material covered. The main form of contact you will have with academic staff will be through lectures.


You will apply the knowledge acquired in lectures and tutorials through practicals. The skills you learn in practicals are transferable beyond the immediate course and can be applied:

  • in other courses
  • in dissertations
  • beyond your degree


Tutorials are a form of small group teaching that is facilitated by a tutor. Many courses include tutorials. Tutorials are an essential opportunity for you to:

  • discuss specific topics in more depth
  • develop skills in critical thinking
  • communicate your understanding
  • work as part of a team
  • receive feedback
  • ask questions

Field trips

Field trips are a significant component of our Earth science degrees and are:

  • hard work and fun (they will provide some of your most memorable moments)
  • an excellent way to learn, enabling you to apply the knowledge and skills you have developed in lectures to real-world contexts
  • part of your course (there are no additional costs)

Self-directed study

You will need to be well-motivated and organised, emphasis is placed on independent work.

What skills will I learn?

You will have access to a range of cutting-edge research facilities throughout your studies. In addition, programme academics will incorporate the latest research in the teaching you receive, and share their discoveries with you.

You will be trained through a variety of techniques such as:

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

You will enhance your ability to work independently and manage project work as the programme progresses.

Your geology training will also equip you with unique skills in problem-solving, making you suited to work in environments where solutions to complex challenges need to be found on the basis of limited available data.

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

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

How will I be assessed?

You should review the Programme Structure - Degree Programme Table to see compulsory and option courses. Refer to individual course details to see the types of assessment included.

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.

An 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 may also be evaluated in computer programming exercises. Some senior honours courses and projects in Earth sciences will involve computational modelling elements.

In your final year, you will also be assessed on elements of presentation and scientific writing skills.

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.

Additionally, our programmes 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
  • environmental management

Where do our graduates find employment?

Our graduates are highly sought after by:

  • government
  • energy (including renewables) and resource companies
  • environmental consultancies
  • the financial sector

Many also find employment in the areas of:

  • environmental planning and regulation
  • geoconservation
  • science communication and education
  • engineering

Our graduates have gone on to success in various roles including:

  • geospatial mapping
  • geotechnical engineer
  • environmental engineer
  • environmental planning and regulation
  • environmental consultant
  • carbon capture and storage
  • geo-consultant
  • geological surveyor
  • energy resources manager

Graduates also gain careers in sectors that seek graduates in quantitative science, such as:

  • management
  • finance
  • teaching

The School of GeoSciences is one of the largest groupings of geoscientists in the UK, giving you access to our wide range of research and industry networks.

You will be equipped with sought-after skills in geological and geographical research, under the guidance of academics who are leaders in their field.

Professional advisory board

We have a professional advisory board that provides support on employability skills. 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, multi-dimensional data and deal with uncertainty
  • critically analyse information
  • project management skills
  • effectively present your work

Careers Service

We support you to recognise the wealth of possibilities ahead, while at University and after graduation.

Our award-winning Careers Service plays an essential part in your wider student experience at the University, providing:

  • tailored advice
  • individual guidance and personal assistance
  • internships and networking opportunities (with employers from local organisations to top multinationals)
  • access to the experience of our worldwide alumni network

We invest in your future beyond the end of your degree. Studying at the University of Edinburgh will lay the foundations for your future success, whatever shape that takes.

Careers Service

Standard entry requirement

The standard entry requirement is:

  • SQA Highers: ABBB - BBBB by end of S5 or AABB by end of S6. BBB must be achieved in one year of S4-S6.
  • A Levels: ABB - BBB.
  • IB: 32 points with 555 at HL - 30 points with 555 at HL.

Minimum entry requirement

The minimum entry requirement for widening access applicants is:

  • SQA Highers: BBBB by end of S6. BBB must be achieved in one year of S4-S6.
  • A Levels: BBB.
  • IB: 30 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. Higher Applications of Mathematics is not accepted in place of Higher Mathematics. 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 via the Enquiries link below.
  • 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 via the Enquiries link below.
  • 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 5 (if not at HL). If you do not have Mathematics please contact the College of Science and Engineering Admissions Office via the Enquiries link below.

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: Highers at AABBB to include three of Biology, Chemistry, Geography, Mathematics or Physics. Plus Advanced Highers at BB to include Biology, Chemistry*, Geography, Mathematics* or Physics* (*include at least one). Higher Applications of Mathematics is not accepted in place of Higher Mathematics.
  • A Levels: ABB in one set of exams to include three of Biology, Chemistry, Geography, Geology, Mathematics or Physics.
  • IB: 32 points with 555 at HL to include three of Biology, Chemistry, Geography, Mathematics (from 2021, Mathematics: Analysis and approaches only), or Physics at 5.
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

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.

Our Earth science degrees involve a significant element of field study. We are proud to be able to support you as you learn practical and highly-prized skills.

Costs of travel, accommodation, and subsistence on compulsory field trips are covered by the programme, due to the continued support of our generous alumni community.


  • you are responsible for any incidental/personal expenses
  • excursions as part of optional courses entail extra fees, which vary depending on the nature of the field trip
  • you are also responsible for your own expenses for fieldwork associated with your 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