Geography
Dubai skyline.
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Geography

Geography is a diverse discipline that bridges the arts, social and natural sciences, providing a broad education and addressing pressing issues, including: environmental change, regional and global inequalities, the transformation of global economy and culture, ethnic segregation, urbanisation, planning, natural hazards, and many more. Students obtain a coherent view of the rapidly changing world and the ways in which society influences and is influenced by it.

 

Geography at Oxford

The Oxford Geography degree focuses on the interrelationships between society and the physical and human environment. Students are introduced to the full range of geographical topics in the foundational courses, which they can then follow up in more detail in the optional papers. There is considerable emphasis on interdisciplinary approaches in the course, with opportunities to explore the cross-fertilisation between Geography and other disciplines such as anthropology, sociology, history, political science, economics, earth sciences and biology.

The tutorial system offers ample opportunity for independent work and the pursuit of subjects of particular interest. Seminars and classes offer the chance to interact with other students in discussing specific issues. Many special lectures by visiting speakers, both within and outside the School of Geography, enrich the opportunities open to Oxford geographers.

The facilities in the school are among the best in the country. The Radcliffe Science Library holds a geography collection, which has 107,000 volumes, and the Library has subscriptions to more than 200 journals, many of which are online. Computerised search and database systems are provided. Students may also use the extensive library resources elsewhere in the University. Students taking the physical geography options will use the well-equipped laboratories both for practical courses and for individual research projects.

Careers

Geography graduates have a broad set of transferable skills including literacy, numeracy and graphicacy, along with their experience of research projects and working in groups. Some graduates are able to use their geographical knowledge directly in their work or in higher degrees. In recent years Geography graduates have proceeded to employment in management consultancy, local and central government, conservation and heritage management, law, the media, teaching and research, and include an assistant manager for a multinational professional services firm, a government and public sector consultant, and a chartered accountant.

Alison, who graduated in 1999, now works at KPMG as a Knowledge Manager across a global tax business line. She believes the skills she acquired during her Geography undergraduate degree prepared her for the role: being able to deliver business messages at the highest level, being an excellent communicator, project-managing and facilitating several initiatives at once and being able to identify the important issues versus the immaterial ones (and having the confidence to shout about them).

Related courses

Students interested in this course might also like to consider Earth Sciences (Geology) or Human Sciences.

Work placements/international opportunities

The School of Geography and the Environment emphasises the importance of fieldwork since it believes there is no substitute for teaching subjects at first hand. In the first year, all students take part in local skills-related field days. Second-year students will undertake a week-long overseas residential field course. These are currently to Copenhagen and Tenerife. Some of the option subjects in the second and third years involve field trips, which in recent years have included trips to the United Arab Emirates. Independent research in the field or in archives is a key element of the dissertation. Each year, around 40% of our undergraduates choose to do their dissertation overseas, covering a remarkable range of countries worldwide.

A typical weekly timetable

A typical weekly timetable comprises lectures in the morning, and usually a few afternoon seminars or practical classes. In addition, each student will attend at least one college tutorial a week, and some college-based classes.

1st year
Courses

Four core courses are taken:

  • Earth systems processes
  • Human geography
  • Geographical controversies
  • Geographical Techniques
Assessment

First University examinations:
Four written papers plus practical notebooks

2nd and 3rd year
Courses

Geographical Research (core course)

Foundational courses(two chosen)

  • Space, place and society
  • Earth system dynamics
  • Environmental geography

Options (three chosen):
Options currently offered include: African societies; Biogeography, biodiversity and conservation; Climate change impacts and adaptation; Climate change and variability; Complexity; Contemporary India; Desert landscapes and dynamics; European integration; Forensic geography; Geographies of finance; Geographies of nature; Northlands, peoples and politics; The politics, society and culture of China; Spaces of culture; Transport and mobilities.

Assessment

Final University examinations:
Three written core papers; three written optional papers;
three pieces of submitted work on the chosen optional subjects;  fieldwork report;  dissertation (weighted as two papers)

It is highly recommended for candidates to have Geography to A-level, Advanced Higher, or Higher Level in the IB.

All candidates must also take the Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA) as part of their application. Please see how to apply for further details.

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

Written work

Written work is not required when applying for this course.

Written test

All candidates must take the Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA), normally at their own school or college, on 5 November 2014. Separate registration for this test is required and the final deadline for entries is 15 October 2014. It is the responsibility of the candidate to ensure they are registered for this test. See the TSA Oxford website and the School of Geography and the Environment website for further details.

What are tutors looking for?

Tutors are looking for students who match academic achievement with enthusiasm, commitment and an awareness of the world around them. Candidates may be given a short article to read and discuss during the interview.

Selection criteria

Candidates may wish to refer to the selection criteria for Geography.

Suggested reading

At present we do not produce a reading list for students applying for Geography but we encourage you to read National Geographic magazine or any other Geography materials which you find interesting.

Rhys, 2nd year 

'I chose to apply for Geography at Oxford because of the uniqueness of the course and the challenge I knew it would provide. Throughout the three years you study both human and physical core topics, with the ability to select special topics on top of this in your second and third years. I am both a physical and human geographer, choosing Biogeography and Finance as my two special subjects. The highlight of the academic week is the tutorial – one of the main reasons I applied to Oxford. There are so few places where you have the opportunity to discuss your week’s work with a leading academic in their field.

Each Geography year group is relatively small, so you get to know everyone very quickly and there is a great sense of community. The field trips during Easter are also a great opportunity to get to know everyone better.

Since coming to Oxford I have joined my college boat club, as well as taking part in other activities, such as being a member of my college ball committee. The University Freshers’ Fair during Freshers’ Week has a club or society for almost every interest imaginable; for instance I am a member of the Law Society, which has some great socials!

Each day at Oxford brings new challenges and opportunities, and there is never a dull moment.'

Helen graduated in 2006

She is now a chartered accountant in the Corporate Tax Department at Deloitte LLP. She says:  

‘My degree gave me a really broad basis of knowledge and understanding of global issues on which to build more technical skills. The focus on self-study and development as well as more formal lectures has really helped with the transition to a career where I need to be self-motivated and manage my workload.’

Rebecca, Geography, who graduated in 2012

The most unexpected thing about my course:

'The breadth and depth of geography is overwhelming. I am learning about representations of culture and the general circulation of the atmosphere at the same time, allowing me to uncover previous passions and interests I didn't know I had.'

I wish they'd told me when I was applying to university...

'That the interviews should be fun! I worried about mine before I came and sitting outside the room before being called in was nerve-wracking, but the actual interview was fun and it introduced me to some ideas I hadn't come across before. Yes it was challenging, but fun to realise ways of thinking that I hadn't come across before.'

The best thing that Oxford did for me:

'It has allowed me to continue my passion for rowing, taking it to university level while studying the subject I love. For me it's the best of both worlds!'

My favourite Oxford memory is..

'Winning the 2013 Henley Boat Race with OUWLRC. I was so excited and stressed for the race but after we had won I was so happy!'

Naomi, Geography, who graduated in 2010

The most unexpected thing about my course:

'The speed at which I have been expected to learn things, but also my ability to do this.'

I wish they'd told me when I was applying to university...

'That living away from home can be difficult and there are many compromises to make when living with other people.'

The best thing that Oxford did for me:

'It made me confident that I was clever and had a valid opinion or argument.'

My favourite Oxford memory is...

'The endless but incredibly satisfying process of being emailed an essay title and reading list (several pages long) and having no clue about the topic and often not understanding the terms in the essay question.  Yet five days later I have read lots, in the surroundings of the most beautiful and well-equipped libraries, written an essay and argued my case in front of a world-class expert.'

I'd just like to add:

'I have enjoyed my time at Oxford immensely.  If you are lucky enough to be awarded a place at Oxford, seize every opportunity you can, especially academically.  I am sad to leave, but Oxford will always be a memorable part of my life.  Thank you.'

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