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Studying BSc Geography at Edinburgh

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By Erin, BSc Geography

It is a very daunting process selecting and narrowing down the different degrees to study at different universities. When moving through secondary school for example, it is important to remember that studying at university can be challenging but so rewarding at the same time – and it is necessary to select a degree which excites or interest you!!

For me, I was interested in the physical elements and components of geography throughout school, or more generally how the physical environment around us conducts itself and the ways in which we interact with such. When it then came to looking at different geography degrees, it became clear that not only is there a  difference between a Masters and Bachelors in Science in geography, but stark differences between geography at different universities throughout the UK.

The University of Edinburgh sticks out for this reason, offering a range of varying Honours Undergraduate geography degrees (4-year course) – an MA, a BSc and a joint honours. Edinburgh itself is one of the top 20 universities in the world, and ranked 17th in the world for geography – a pretty exciting prospect of studying with the best in the discipline. The various campuses spread among the city centre are incredible – everything you would ever need in such close proximity. I came to visit during an open day in my final year of school and knew instantly I wanted to study here!!

Photo 📷: Some group fieldwork in Wales – a great way to meet people, promise the girls are as happy as me!!

The BSc course at Edinburgh was then from that point on my firm choice. The course has such a great foundation, with all the compulsory courses helping to deepen the overall understanding in geography. Studying geography as a natural science, the degree has a focus on the earth’s surface processes and ongoing environmental change. The degree is more broad in 1st and 2nd year (Pre-honours), and then allows for specialisation in 3rd and 4th year depending on what your main interest are.

In my first 2 years, I took a range of optional courses all within the School of Geoscience, but Edinburgh offers a very unique approach. Optional courses out with the school of Geoscience can be taken, from the many different schools and departments within the university (particularly within pre-honours years). So there are very little limits and you don’t have to choose credited courses within the geography department alone – although all of their courses are amazing!! This means you are able to branch out to mathematics/languages/other sciences etc. This ability to choose courses based on what you’re interested in means you can tailor your degree from the beginning, essentially making the most enjoyable and curated experience possible!!

Pre-honours years are therefore very exciting, with the mix of physical and human geography compulsory courses, and the addition of the optional courses you select based on your interests. There are many field-trip opportunities within these years, a residential trip to the Scottish Highlands in the first few weeks of your 1st year (daunting but a great way to meet people), and a residential trip to Snowdonia in Wales at the beginning of 2nd year. With optional courses, there are many opportunities to go on day trips, plus Edinburgh in general is an excellent physical geography study location, in close proximity to the ancient volcano of Arthur’s Seat.

Photo 📷: Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Craggs, of volcanic origin, located a 10 minute walk from the geography building on Drummond Street.

When moving into your honours years (3rd and 4th year), you begin to narrow down and specialise in particular aspects of physical geography. For me this is both glacial and volcanic systems, So I have selected particular courses that fit best with these interests. In 3rd year there is normally a residential field-trip to southern Spain – our was online due to covid, and you can read about it in my previous blog post!! In 4th year for BSc, there is an opportunity to go to Iceland, which is actually one of the main reasons I chose Edinburgh to study geo!!


1st Year

Semester 1 (Sept-Dec) – Human Geography*, Fundamental Methods in Geography*, Earth Dynamics

Semester 2 (Jan-May) – Physical Geography*, Sustainability Society & Environment, Oceanography

2nd Year 

Semester 1 – Research Skills in physical Geography*, Global Change*, Natural Hazards

Semester 2 – Geomorphology*,  Environmental Geography*, Social & Cultural Geography

3rd Year

Semester 1 – Key Methods in physical Geography*,  Nature of Geographical Knowledge*, Principles of Geographical Information Systems (GIS)

Semester 2 – Research Design in Physical Geography*, Physical Geography 3rd year Field Course*, Volcanoes Environment & People


So the courses above with the stars (*) are the compulsory courses within the BSc degree (the courses without were my optional courses), and more of information on such can be found across many of the university and geography departments online resources. The department has lots of different specialising staff members – those interested in ice sheets, climate change, landscape morphology, volcanoes, sustainability (to name just a few!!). Not only are you being taught by some of the best, they are an incredibly friendly department who offer fab guidance and advice – both academically and personally.

Photo 📷: Again a picture from the trip to Snowdonia, it’s amazing how quickly you become such close friends with everyone!! (picture credit to Kate Hain)

The University of Edinburgh not only has amazing academic opportunities, but social ones too!! There are literally societies or clubs for pretty much any interest and loads of different sports teams if that’s your cup of tea. GeogSoc is Edinburgh’s geography society, and they hold many socials/academic events/charity nights throughout the year, and offer 3 different geography department sports teams – football, netball and hockey!!

So from my experience so far, there is never a dull moment when studying Geography at Edinburgh, particularly with the BSc!! You get to know everyone in your courses and on the degree program pretty quick and its so nice to be surrounded by people with similar interests!! As previously mentioned, there many resources available online in regards to the degree structure, course options, and the city of Edinburgh itself, but don’t hesitate to get in touch!!


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