Is Second Year Entry for me?

Choosing which year of entry for your degree can be a difficult decision to make. Polly looks at the pros and cons of second year entry, and offers tips that every prospective student should know before starting.

Most Scottish universities teach their degrees following on from Scottish Highers or Advanced Highers with broad based content in the first 1-2 years.

Year 1 entry is the option for most students, as it allows to settle into the new environment and build a strong foundational understanding of the courses. For many students, Year 1 is an opportunity to take optional courses, which meet their wider interests and career plans. For example, some students might take a language if they intend to take a year abroad later in their degree; and some might take another science subject to gain additional skills to keep career options open. Students might also use Year 1 to make the most of getting involved in student societies, sports, volunteering ventures and other opportunities before starting the trickier years of study.

Some students, however, might prefer to begin at a step up from the offset and second year entry might be a better option for them.  In general terms, entry to year 2 of the programme is open to those with sufficiently good qualifications in Physics and Mathematics to allow exemption from introductory level courses in both subjects.

Direct entry into second year: pros and cons

When deliberating on direct entry into second year, it is worth considering the benefits and drawbacks of how it will impact your student experience.


  • One year less of the degree so you can move on to your career
  • Challenges you with harder content and a more complex understanding
  • Improves your work ethic and time management skills
  • Shortens the degree programmes to 3 years for the BSc and 4 years for the MPhys with the corresponding financial reduction in fees and living costs.


  • Not as great an opportunity to take outside interest courses
  • Less time to familiarise yourself with university life
  • Keeping up with more experienced peers
  • Reduced scope to change degree programmes

Polly’s experience

I chose second year entry because I felt I could tackle the more demanding academic material and it would save me time and money. Particularly coming from a non-Scottish background in England meant my A levels equipped me with some of the knowledge covered in first year of my physics degree. It was daunting to begin with as I felt the imposter syndrome of being on the same course as those who had already studied at the university for a year. However, the course is created so you begin with other direct entry students who understand what you are going through.

The fast-paced course has been not only exciting, but very demanding. Although it varies from person to person, my schedule was 25 hours of timetabled work a week, not including independent study. The School of Physics and Astronomy staff are very supportive. They designed the degree to be accessible for all who are on it, and I have found the tutors helpful to ask when struggling.

All Personal Tutors keep track of how you are adapting to the course and university life, so I spoke with mine to maintain a good work-life balance. Despite a heavy workload, I still managed to have a good social life and chose to take two electives in addition.


What other students say

I interviewed students in my second-year entry course who also gave their opinions:

“I was worried about the step up but then realised there’s a whole group of people in the same boat as you so it’s not as scary as it seems, and you end up adapting pretty quickly.”


“Direct entry is definitely manageable if you are consistent with asking questions when you don’t understand something and learn good time management skills for the difficult workload.”


Also, some of the views from first year students:

“Beginning in first year allows you to settle in and have the full university experience with a slower pace designed for the least amount of stress.”


“The flexibility you have in the first two years at Edinburgh gives you a chance to explore what you enjoy and try out new things, why cut that short?”


Tips for prospective students

Here is some advice I wish I had known before starting:

  1. Have strong mathematical and physical understanding, so you can pick up more complex content better
  2. Stay organised, keep track of your deadlines and have a good filing system for either digital or paper notes
  3. Say no to things, leave time in your schedule so you can stay on top of the workload
  4. Ask for help, stay connected to other students if struggling, utilise resources like contacting lecturers with questions
  5. Be easy on yourself, understand you are starting in the second year while getting to know a new place, new people and living independently

Still unsure?

My advice is to apply for year 1 entry, unless you are confident that you will meet the grades for year 2 entry.  At the start of the academic year, you have the opportunity to speak to staff and attend classes to ensure you are on courses at the right academic level for you. If your grades meet the entry requirements for year 2, and the academic level seems right, then you can change during the start of the year.

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