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)

mortar boardUCAS code

F642 (Geology)
F644 (Earth Sciences)

calendarDuration

3 years (BA Geology)
4 years (MEarthSci)

pencilEntrance requirementsA*AA/AAAAHeadSubject requirements  Maths, plus Chemistry or Physics
  Chemistry or Physics
  Biology, Geology, Further Maths
crossAdmissions test(s)NonecrossWritten workNone
bar chartAdmissions statistics*

Interviewed: 93%
Successful: 29%
Intake: 33
*3-year average 2016-18

phoneContact

+44 (0) 1865 272040
Email Earth Sciences

Subject requirements:       Essential       Recommended       Helpful – may be useful on course

Earth Sciences is the study of the planet we live upon. The rapidly-changing scope and nature of the subject is reflected in the course at Oxford, which provides sound and broadly-based scientific training.

We combine physics, chemistry and biology with geology, geography and palaeontology to answer fundamental questions about the origin, development, and future of the Earth. You will be trained in the skills required for the interpretation of rock materials and geological phenomena as well as applying theory and techniques from other disciplines to the study of the Earth and the environment.


You will be given the opportunity to learn about how our planet works, and address some of the major issues of our times: from the origin of the solar system, the Earth and life, to the climate system and the fate of glaciers and ice sheets. The diverse range of courses 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 its surface.

The department has an international reputation, and houses state-of-the-art laboratories and computing facilities. Students and academic staff mix and work together. Offices and teaching labs are close together creating an atmosphere in which students not only focus on their course, but also get a feel for the discoveries emerging from current research.

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.

A typical week

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. Students will find that their scheduled teaching time breaks down approximately as follows for each year:

  • Year 1: Lectures 55%, Practicals 45%
  • Year 2: Lectures 55%, Practicals 45%
  • Year 3: Lectures 60%, Practicals 40%
  • Year 4: Project 50%, Seminars 50%

Students are expected to spend at least 40 hours a week studying, including the scheduled teaching, so a good portion of students' time should be spent on private study. Tutorials are usually 2-4 students and a tutor. Class sizes may vary depending on the options you choose. There would usually be no more than around 20 students though classes for some of the more popular papers may be up to 40 students. 

Other than the field courses, all teaching takes place in the department and most tutorials, classes, and lectures are delivered by members of the Earth Sciences Department. All are world-leading experts with years of experience in teaching and research.  Some teaching may also be delivered by postdoctoral researchers from the department who are experts in their area of research. Postdoctoral researchers and postgraduate students from the Department will also assist in practical sessions and on field courses. To find out more about how our teaching year is structured, visit our Academic Year page.

Course structure

YEAR 1

COURSES

  • 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

ASSESSMENT

First University Examinations: Theory and Practical

YEAR 2

COURSES

  • 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)

ASSESSMENT

Part A1 Examinations: Theory and Practical

YEAR 3

COURSES

  • Students take a combination of core and optional papers from the following:
    • Natural resources
    • Sedimentary basins
    • The oceans
    • Climate
    • Seismology and earth structure/Vector calculus
    • Geodynamics and continental deformation
    • Volcanology, igneous processes and petrogenesis
    • Evolutionary turning points/Vertebrate palaeobiology
    • Earth materials, rock deformation and metamorphism
  • Field courses:
    • South-east Spain field course
  • Independent field mapping project (conducted over summer break between Years 2 and 3)
  • Extended essay

ASSESSMENT

Part A2 Examinations: Theory, Practical for field course: BA (Geology)

YEAR 4

RESEARCH

  • Students choose four options (out of eight to ten), generally two in each term:
    • Anatomy of a mountain belt
    • Planetary chemistry
    • Structure and dynamics of the Earth’s mantle
    • Records of major environmental change in Earth’s history
    • Palaeobiology
    • Environmental, rock and palaeomagnetism
    • Topics in oceanography
    • Topics in volcanology
  • Field courses: optional field courses as announced each year
  • Independent work: research project over 2.5 terms.

ASSESSMENT

Part B Examination: (Theory) MEarthSci (Earth Sciences)

The options listed above are illustrative and may change. A full list of current options is available on the Earth Sciences website

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

Academic requirements 

A-levels:A*AA/AAAA 
Advanced Highers:                    AA/AAB 
IB: 39 (including core points) with 766 at HL                                                                
Or any other equivalent (see other UK qualifications, and international qualifications

Wherever possible, your grades are considered in the context in which they have been achieved.  (See further information on how we use contextual data.) 

Subject requirements

 Essential:  Candidates must be studying Maths plus Physics or Chemistry to A-level or equivalent.
 Recommended: Chemistry or Physics are also highly recommended as a third subject. 
 Helpful:Biology, Geology or Further Mathematics can also be helpful to candidates in completing this course.

If, and only if, you have chosen to take any science A-levels, we expect you to take and pass the practical component in addition to meeting any overall grade requirement.

If English is not your first language you may also need to meet our English language requirements.

Applying

All candidates must follow the application procedure as shown in applying to Oxford. Students can apply for a three-year BA in Geology or a four-year MEarthSci. These are the same for the first three years. If students are unsure which course they would prefer, it is best to apply for the MEarthSci, as it is easier then to transfer to the BA later on. Continuation to Year 4 and the MEarthSci is dependent on satisfactory performance in the Year 3. Students who do not meet the MEarthSci requirements will be awarded the BA Geology.

Written test and written work

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 potential 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 consideration of their previous knowledge of the subject being discussed.

For more detail on the selection criteria for this course, please see the Earth Sciences website.

Careers

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 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 appreciated the course’s focus on both the theoretical and practical side of geology.’

Rachael 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.’

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.)

Latest information for UK and EU undergraduates who will begin their course in 2020 can be found here. Further information for EU students starting in 2020 is available here.

The fees and funding information below relates to those who will start at Oxford in 2019.

Fees

These annual fees are for full-time students who begin this undergraduate course here in 2019.

Fee status

Annual Course fees

Home/EU£9,250
Islands
(Channel Islands & Isle of Man)
£9,250
Overseas£34,678

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

EU applicants should refer to our dedicated webpage for details of the implications of the UK’s plans to leave the European Union.

Living costs

Living costs at Oxford might be less than you’d expect, as our world-class resources and college provision can help keep costs down.

Living costs for the academic year starting in 2019 are estimated to be between £1,058 and £1,643 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

Home/EU

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

In 2019 Oxford is offering one of the most generous bursary packages of any UK university to those on a family income of around £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 living costs support.  See further details.

Islands
(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

Overseas

Please refer to the "Other Scholarships" section of our Oxford Bursaries and Scholarships 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 Fees and Charges 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.

Contextual information

The Key Information Sets provides applicants with statistics about undergraduate life at Oxford. But there is so much more to an Oxford degree that the numbers can’t convey.

The Oxford tutorial

College tutorials are central to teaching at Oxford. Typically, they take place in your college and are led by your academic tutor(s) who teach as well as do their own research. Students will also receive teaching in a variety of other ways, depending on the course. This will include lectures and classes, and may include laboratory work and fieldwork. However, tutorials offer a level of personalised attention from academic experts unavailable at most universities.

During tutorials (normally lasting an hour), college subject tutors will give you and one or two tutorial partners feedback on prepared work and cover a topic in depth. The other student(s) in your college tutorials will be from your year group, doing the same course as you and will normally be at your college. Such regular and rigorous academic discussion develops and facilitates learning in a way that isn’t possible through lectures alone. Tutorials also allow for close progress monitoring so tutors can quickly provide additional support if necessary.

Read more about tutorials and an Oxford education

College life

Our colleges are at the heart of Oxford’s reputation as one of the best universities in the world.

  • At Oxford, everyone is a member of a college as well as their subject department(s) and the University. Students therefore have both the benefits of belonging to a large, renowned institution and to a small and friendly academic community. Each college or hall is made up of academic and support staff, and students. Colleges provide a safe, supportive environment leaving you free to focus on your studies, enjoy time with friends and make the most of the huge variety of opportunities.
  • Each college has a unique character, but generally their facilities are similar. Each one, large or small, will have the following essential facilities:
    • Porters’ lodge (a staffed entrance and reception)
    • Dining hall
    • Lending library (often open 24/7 in term time)
    • Student accommodation
    • Tutors’ teaching rooms
    • Chapel and/or music rooms
    • Laundry
    • Green spaces
    • Common room (known as the JCR).
  • All first year students are offered college accommodation either on the main site of their college or in a nearby college annexe. This means that your neighbours will also be ‘freshers’ and new to life at Oxford. This accommodation is guaranteed, so you don’t need to worry about finding somewhere to live after accepting a place here, all of this is organised for you before you arrive.
  • All colleges offer at least one further year of accommodation and some offer it for the entire duration of your degree. You may choose to take up the option to live in your college for the whole of your time at Oxford, or you might decide to arrange your own accommodation after your first year – perhaps because you want to live with friends from other colleges.
  • While college academic tutors primarily support your academic development, you can also ask their advice on other things. Lots of other college staff including welfare officers help students settle in and are available to offer guidance on practical or health matters. Current students also actively support students in earlier years, sometimes as part of a college ‘family’ or as peer supporters trained by the University’s Counselling Service.

More about Oxford colleges and how you choose