Undergraduate study - 2018 entry

Subject area: Earth Sciences

Why choose Earth Sciences at the University of Edinburgh?

  • Earth Sciences was rated 'excellent' in the most recent Teaching Quality Assessment, and ranked 22nd in the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2016. The School of GeoSciences was identified in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014 as having the greatest concentration of 'world leading' and 'internationally excellent' researchers in the UK.

  • We are one of the largest groupings of earth scientists in Europe. As a result, we are able to offer a broad range of courses in most aspects of earth sciences from introductory levels through to specialist research levels.

  • Our programmes provide a broad range of compulsory courses, and flexibility through option choices, in fundamental and applied subject areas. We focus on individual, student-centred learning and teaching. You will also have the opportunity to take part in overseas fieldwork trips to destinations that may include Cyprus, Jamaica, France, Germany, Spain and Iceland.

  • Edinburgh is one of the best locations for studying earth sciences in the UK, with easy access to areas of outstanding geological and geographical importance which attract visitors and geoscience experts from all over the globe, and which have helped provide the foundations for our understanding of the subject.

Study abroad

The most challenging part of my programme is probably field work. It is non-stop work but you learn so much and it's great to use the information from the classroom in real-life situations.

Kyle Laing 3rd year BSc (Hons) Geology & Physical Geography
Kyle Laing 3rd year BSc (Hons) Geology & Physical Geography

Studying Earth Sciences at Edinburgh offers you an opportunity to study all aspects of the Earth, from formation, planetary accretion and evolution of life through to present day surface and environmental processes and the impact of global climate change.

The earth sciences embrace many of the natural and physical science subjects, including mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology and geography, to understand the Earth and its development through time.

Our programmes all have a strong practical element where your observational, analytical and quantitative skills are developed, including computer modelling and programming.

Fieldwork is central to all our programmes and is an important part of building a sense of community during your studies. Destinations may include local iconic landmarks, such as geologist James Hutton's unconformity at Siccar Point in East Berwickshire, and locations abroad, such as Jamaica, Spain and Cyprus.

Second-year entry

Suitably qualified students may opt to apply for direct entry to Year 2 in the majority of our Earth Sciences programmes. In this case, content flexibility is reduced, but the length of your study is the same as a comparable degree in the rest of the UK.

Year 1

You will study your compulsory subject(s) plus option courses to be selected either from related subjects (e.g. geology, geography, archaeology, astronomy, oceanography, environmental processes, meteorology and computer science) or from elsewhere within the University. If you are studying one of the geophysics programmes, you will take courses in mathematics, physics, geophysics and geology. All programmes include fieldwork trips around Edinburgh and the Lothians and most programmes also include trips to destinations further afield, which in the past have included the Lake District.

Year 2

Each programme has a prescribed set of compulsory courses dedicated to that stream. In addition, you will select option courses from across the School or University depending upon your interests. Depending upon your programme and chosen subjects, there are various field trips around Scotland.

Year 3

Your studies will focus on your chosen branch of Earth Sciences with specified courses. You will also carry out independent fieldwork projects and have the opportunity to take part in field trips, including residential courses that have previously been to north-west Scotland and Spain. For students studying Environmental Geoscience there has previously been a two-week residential field trip to Jamaica focusing on terrestrial and marine processes of environmental/ecological importance.

Year 4

You will continue with your specialised studies through compulsory and option earth sciences courses. Fieldwork possibilities, subject to change as our programmes adapt to teaching needs, include residential trips to Cyprus, Germany, France or within the UK, depending on your programme. In addition, you will complete your honours dissertation work with individual supervision.

On programmes with a professional placement, you will spend Year 4 working in industry or with a professional organisation.

Year 5

(MEarthSci/ MEarthPhys only)

You will complete high-level courses and a dissertation in a subject area of your choice. The MEarthSci programme incorporates an additional element of student led field work, which is currently to Iceland. All of our integrated masters programmes provide you with the opportunity to advance your research skills and gain a deeper understanding of your subject.

Are there additional costs?

We provide a 50 per cent subsidy for all students on core fieldwork courses. Other awards are also available for eligible students.

Our facilities

In your first year, 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.


Students on our Geophysics with Professional Placement programmes may spend up to 12 months working in industry or with another professional organisation. Placements for other programmes are in the form of short or vacation internships, which you can arrange yourself or with the help of the careers service.

Study abroad

You will have opportunities to study abroad through the Erasmus programme and/or the University's international exchange programme. The year in which you are eligible to go abroad depends on your specific programme, so please check with relevant coordinators as early as possible.

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.

On MEarthPhys programmes 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.

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.