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Selecting Your Qualification

A degree is needed to become a professional geoscientist, and is offered by university departments of geology, geoscience or Earth science. Many employers now ask for a postgraduate qualification such as an MSc or PhD as well. However, there is a job market for those who do not have a degree – see ‘Options for non-graduates’.

You may wish to choose a more specialised kind of degree course which concentrates on a particular aspect of geoscience such as Environmental Geology or Geophysics. It is also possible, as with other subjects, to combine your study of geoscience with other subjects in joint degree or modular degree programmes.

The degree accreditation page lists currently accredited courses, which provides you with added assurance that a department's teaching is of the highest quality, and has been approved by an independent body of academics and industrialists.

What do I need and how do I apply?

For students entering full-time geoscience courses from school, evidence of basic competence in science is normally required (eg two A/AS level/Scottish Higher passes in sciences). Preferred subjects are physics, chemistry, biology, geology and a mathematical subject. Geography is acceptable for some courses; geology is welcomed but not essential. You should check precise admissions requirements with the departments that interest you and/or with the guidance offered by the University Central Admissions Service (UCAS). If you know that you wish to pursue a geoscience career but cannot be more specific present, you are advised to study a single subject degree or to restrict a joint degree to other related science subjects. This will make it easier to progress to a further degree (MSc, PhD) later if you wish.

Your careers advisor or sixth form teacher will advise you on how to apply for a university place via UCAS. Note that applications can only be made on-line, either by individuals or through a school group. There is a deadline of January in the year of intended entry for most subjects, with a clearing system in the summer for last minute or amended applications, dependent on exam results.

What does 'BSc' etc mean?

About 40 UK universities offer degree courses in geoscience. There are nearly 200 higher education institutions in the UK, of which about 100 are universities. A feature of geoscience higher education in the UK is the large number of vocational taught Masters courses on offer. The Natural Environmental Research Council (NERC) - the main UK funding body for geoscience research - supports some of these Masters courses by the award of advanced course studentships.

UK higher education is still undergoing widespread change and expansion, following the Dearing Report on Higher Education in the Learning Society published in 1997.
A traditional first degree takes 4 years in Scotland, and 3 years elsewhere. However there is a range of different degrees to choose from, which are summarised below.

  • BSc: this is the classic 'Bachelor of Science' course. You will usually see it written as BSc (Hons) which means with ‘Honours’. Students will follow a timetable of lectures and practical sessions (microscope work, mapping techniques etc) and are usually required to undertake a piece of independent research at the end of the second year.
  • MGeol: this is a 4 year non-postgraduate masters degree. The first two years are likely to be the same as for a BSc at the same university, but there will be a wider range of taught units and a research element.
  • MSci: Essentially the same as an MGeol, this is a 4-yr non-postgraduate masters degree. Both an MGeol and the MSci are good preparation if you anticipate continuing your education with a PhD/DPhil.
Note that these are general details, and some institutions may differ.