Earth Sciences (Geology) | University of Oxford
Earth Sciences
Titanite from Graubunden, Switzerland.
(Image credit: Oxford University Museum of Natural Hist / Oxford University Images).

Earth Sciences (Geology)

The Earth Sciences are changing rapidly in scope and nature. The course at Oxford reflects these changes, and provides sound and broadly based scientific training. Students are trained in the skills required for the interpretation of rock materials and geological phenomena as well as applying theory and techniques from physics, chemistry, materials science and biology to the study of the Earth and the environment.


Earth Sciences at Oxford

The department has an international reputation, and houses state-of-the-art laboratories and computing facilities. Students, teachers and visitors mix and work together. Offices and teaching labs are close together but with plenty of shared open space, so you will become part of a vibrant community. This creates an atmosphere in which a student can not only learn the basics, but also get some feel for the discoveries emerging from current research.

The diversity of the subject is reflected in the range of courses which cover processes from the Earth’s interior, as mapped by seismic waves, to the evolution of the Earth’s crust documented in the rocks at the surface, to ocean and atmospheric circulation, through to the evolution of life on Earth.


Typical destinations for Earth Sciences graduates include the energy industry, the environmental sector and engineering/ technical consultancies. Some enter unrelated professions, in which the analytical and problem-solving skills they have developed are highly sought after. Around 40% continue to study, through a PhD or further master’s course.

Martin, who graduated in 2009, works in the mining industry for De Beers Canada as a Field Geologist. He says: ‘My Oxford degree helped me to develop the knowledge, understanding and confidence to approach geological problems in a critical and informed manner. I appreciate the course’s focus on both the theoretical and practical side of geology.’

Rachael, who graduated in 2007, works for BP as a Geoscientist. She says: ‘I am currently working as an Operations Geologist in London for a project based in North Africa. My degree gave me the technical basis for my career, but more importantly it taught me how to think out complex issues from basic principles and to motivate myself to produce the best results I can.’

Related courses

Students interested in this course might also like to consider Biological Sciences, Chemistry, Geography, Human Sciences, Materials Science or Physics.

Fieldwork/international opportunities

The Earth Sciences course includes several excursions. These link closely to material covered in lectures, and convey the practice of geology, geophysics, geochemistry, and palaeontology in the field environment. This work culminates in an independent project to study and map an area chosen by the student. Many of the field excursions take place out of term time, so students must be available outside term.

A typical weekly timetable

During years 1-3, your work is divided between lectures, tutorials, and practical classes. In year 4 you have the opportunity for independent work on special topics or in a research laboratory.

1st year

Students take all courses in five parallel streams:

  • Planet Earth

  • Fundamentals of geology I
  • Fundamentals of geology II

  • Physics, chemistry and biology for Earth Sciences

  • Mathematics for Materials and Earth Sciences

Field Courses

  • Pembroke field course (pre-session)

  • Arran field course (introduction)

  • Local field courses


First University Examinations
(Theory and Practical)

2nd year

Students take all courses in five parallel streams:

  • Earth deformation and materials

  • Palaeobiology

  • Petrology

  • Geochemistry and ocean chemistry

  • Mathematical and geophysical tools

Field Courses

  • Dorset Field Course

  • Assynt Field Course (Mapping)


Part A1 Examinations (2nd year, Theory and Practical)

3rd year

Students take a combination of core and optional papers from the following:

  • NNatural resources

  • Sedimentary basins

  • The oceans
  • Palaeoclimate and sea level

  • Seismology and earth structure/ Continental deformation

  • Volcanoes and environment/Igneous processes and petrogenesis

  • Evolutionary turning points/Vertebrate palaeobiology

  • Earth materials, rock deformation and metamorphism

  • Mathematical and geophysical methods

Field Courses

  • South-east Spain field trip
Independent field mapping project (conducted over summer break between 2nd and 3rd years)
Extended Essay



Part A2 Examinations (3rd year, Theory, Practical for Field Course)
BA Hons (Geology)

4th year


Students choose four options, generally two in each term (four / eight–ten):

  • Anatomy of a mountain belt

  • Planetary chemistry

  • Seismology

  • Records of major environmental change in Earth’s history

  • Palaeobiology

  • Environmental, rock and palaeo-magnetism

  • Topics in oceanography

  • Topics in volcanology

Field Courses
Optional field courses as announced each year

Independent work
Research project over 2.5 terms 


Part B Examination (Theory)
MEarthSc Hons (Earth Sciences)

The content and format of this course may change in some circumstances. Read further information about potential course changes.

Candidates are required to have Mathematics plus Physics or Chemistry either to A-level, or to Advanced Higher, or Higher Level in the IB, or an equivalent qualification. Chemistry or Physics are also highly recommended as a third subject. Biology, Geology or Further Mathematics can also be helpful to candidates in completing this course.

Oxford University is committed to recruiting the best and brightest students from all backgrounds. We offer a generous package of financial support to Home/EU students from lower-income households. (UK nationals living in the UK are usually Home students.)


These annual fees are for full-time students who begin this undergraduate course here in 2016.

Fee status

Tuition fee

College fee

Total annual fees

(Channel Islands
& Isle of Man)

For more information please refer to our tuition fees page. Fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on likely increases to fees and charges.

Living costs

Despite what you may have heard, it's no more expensive to study at Oxford than at any other university. In fact, our world-class resources and college provision can help you to lower your living costs.

Living costs for 2016/17 are estimated to be between £970 and £1,433 for each month you are in Oxford. Our academic year is made up of three eight-week terms, so you would not usually need to be in Oxford for much more than six months of the year but may wish to budget over a nine-month period to ensure you also have sufficient funds during the holidays to meet essential costs. For further details please visit our living costs webpage.

Financial support


A full loan is available from the UK government to cover tuition fees for students undertaking their first undergraduate degree*, so you don’t need to pay your tuition fees up front.

In 2016 Oxford is offering one of the most generous bursary packages of any UK university to those on a family income of £42,875 or less, with additional opportunities available to those from households with incomes of £16,000 or less.  This support is available in addition to the government grants and loans.  See further details.

(Channel Islands and Isle of Man)

Islands students are entitled to different support to that of students from the rest of the UK.

Please refer the links below for information on the support to you available from your funding agency:

States of Jersey
States of Guernsey
Isle of Man


Please refer to the "Other Scholarships" section of our Oxford support page.

*If you have studied at undergraduate level before and completed your course, you will be classed as an Equivalent or Lower Qualification student (ELQ) and won’t be eligible to receive government or Oxford funding

Fees, Funding and Scholarship search

Additional information for Earth Sciences (Geology)

Students are required to undertake field work in every year of this course: two trips in the first year and another two in the second year, then one trip in the third year and one more in the fourth year. Costs for these trips will covered by the department.

You will also need to undertake a field mapping project in the vacation between the 2nd and 3rd year. The department will contribute £400 to each student, which is considered to be the minimum amount needed to do the project, probably based here in the UK.  You are very welcome to go further afield if you prefer but you would need to find or raise any additional funding that you need.

Thanks to external donations, the department provides all field and safety equipment free of charge. The department will also provide first aid kits and additional safety equipment for the mapping project, for a small deposit which is returned to you when you return the equipment.

All candidates must follow the application procedure as shown in applying to Oxford. The information below gives specific details for students applying for this course.

Both the BA in Geology and MEarthSc in Earth Sciences are exactly the same for the first three years. Students can then choose to continue with the four-year Earth Sciences course or leave with a BA in Geology. The MEarthSc is not open to anyone who has not completed the first three years of the course. If students are unsure which course they would rather follow, then we would advise them to apply for the four-year course, as it is easier then to change to the three-year course later, rather than the other way around.

Written work and written test

You do not need to take a written test or submit any written work as part of an application for this course.

What are tutors looking for?

Tutors are looking for highly motivated individuals with the intellectual skills necessary to do well on the course. As part of the interview process, candidates may be asked to comment on geological specimens, or carry out simple calculations, but always with due recognition of their previous knowledge of the subject being discussed.

Selection criteria

Candidates may wish to refer to the selection criteria for this course.

Suggested reading

At present we do not produce a reading list for students applying for Earth Sciences but we encourage you to read New Scientist, National Geographic or any other relevant materials which you find interesting.


Martin, who graduated in 2009

He currently works in the mining industry for De Beers Canada as a Field Geologist. He says:   

‘My Oxford degree helped me to develop the knowledge, understanding and confidence to approach geological problems in a critical and informed manner. I appreciate the course’s focus on both the theoretical and practical side of geology.’

Contextual information

The Key Information Sets provide a lot of numbers about the Oxford experience – but there is so much about what you get here that numbers can’t convey. It’s not just the quantity of the Oxford education that you need to consider, there is also the quality – let us tell you more.

Oxford’s tutorial system

Regular tutorials, which are the responsibility of the colleges, are the focal point of teaching and learning at Oxford. The tutorial system is one of the most distinctive features of an Oxford education: it ensures that students work closely with tutors throughout their undergraduate careers, and offers a learning experience which is second to none.

A typical tutorial is a one-hour meeting between a tutor and one, two, or three students to discuss reading and written work that the students have prepared in advance. It gives students the chance to interact directly with tutors, to engage with them in debate, to exchange ideas and argue, to ask questions, and of course to learn through the discussion of the prepared work. Many tutors are world-leaders in their fields of research, and Oxford undergraduates frequently learn of new discoveries before they are published.

Each student also receives teaching in a variety of other ways, depending on the course. This will include lectures and classes, and may include laboratory work and fieldwork. But the tutorial is the place where all the elements of the course come together and make sense. Meeting regularly with the same tutor – often weekly throughout the term – ensures a high level of individual attention and enables the process of learning and teaching to take place in the context of a student’s individual needs.

The tutorial system also offers the sustained commitment of one or more senior academics – as college tutors – to each student’s progress. It helps students to grow in confidence, to develop their skills in analysis and persuasive argument, and to flourish as independent learners and thinkers.

More information about tutorials

The benefits of the college system

  • Every Oxford student is a member of a college. The college system is at the heart of the Oxford experience, giving students the benefits of belonging to both a large and internationally renowned university and a much smaller, interdisciplinary, college community.
  • Each college brings together academics, undergraduate and postgraduate students, and college staff. The college gives its members the chance to be part of a close and friendly community made up of both leading academics and students from different subjects, year groups, cultures and countries. The relatively small size of each college means that it is easy to make friends and contribute to college life. There is a sense of belonging, which can be harder to achieve in a larger setting, and a supportive environment for study and all sorts of other activities.
  • Colleges organise tutorial teaching for their undergraduates, and one or more college tutors will oversee and guide each student’s progress throughout his or her career at Oxford. The college system fosters a sense of community between tutors and students, and among students themselves, allowing for close and supportive personal attention to each student’s academic development.

It is the norm that undergraduates live in college accommodation in their first year, and in many cases they will continue to be accommodated by their college for the majority or the entire duration of their course. Colleges invest heavily in providing an extensive range of services for their students, and as well as accommodation colleges provide food, library and IT resources, sports facilities and clubs, drama and music, social spaces and societies, access to travel or project grants, and extensive welfare support. For students the college often becomes the hub of their social, sporting and cultural life.

More about Oxford’s unique college system and how to choose a college