What is Edinburgh Like as a City to Live and Study in?

The capital city of Scotland, Edinburgh is regularly voted as the best city to live in the UK and also one of the top cities in the world to live, study and work. You can also watch the School of Chemistry in 60 seconds video to see what studying here is like.

What Issues Should I Consider When Choosing Between Year 1 or Year 2 Entry?

The decision over whether to enter 2nd year directly is often one over which students hesitate.  If you have obtained the school exam grades that qualify you to do this you will automatically be given this option, but you don’t have to take it; the decision must be made when you start in Edinburgh.  The biggest benefit is that you will complete your degree a year earlier, and for many this is sufficient for them to secure the decision.  However, the other consequences must be considered. Some of the flexibility highlighted in the FAQ on ‘Should I choose MChem or BSc?’ will be reduced if you start in Year 2; for example it is very difficult to keep open the option of transferring to another degree at the end of Year 2. The breadth and number of courses you can take alongside your chemistry courses is also inevitably reduced.

Each year we have a significant number of students taking the direct entry route (typically 15-20) so one of the concerns often expressed, that of the potential difficulty of integrating with a cohort of established year 2 students, should not be a major problem. Another concern, that there will be some vital aspect of the 1st year course that you did not cover at school and will cause you problems, is addressed by our ‘Catch-up Chemistry’ course, a series of 25 video lectures that cover the whole of the Year 1 curriculum which you can work through in your own time.  Ultimately the decision is yours and should be made once the pros and cons have been carefully weighted up.  Your Personal Tutor will be very happy to discuss the issues with you during ‘Welcome Week’ ahead of the beginning of your first semester.

Should I Choose BSc or MChem?

The Chemistry, Medicinal and Biological Chemistry and Chemical Physics degrees at Edinburgh are available at either Bachelors, BSc(Hons), or Masters, MChem(Hons), levels.  The BSc degrees are 4 year programmes and the MChem are 5 years; however, the option exists for very well qualified candidates to enter the 2nd year directly, thus reducing the programmes to 3 or 4 years respectively.

The BSc degrees provide a rigorous coverage of the discipline that is common with the MChem programmes for Years 1-3. For the Chemistry and Medicinal and Biological Chemistry programmes there is considerable flexibility in Years 1 and 2 allowing you to tailor your courses to achieve a number of different objectives:

  • Study additional relevant chemistry and other science and engineering courses to support your degree, e.g. biology, physics, geosciences, mathematics, computer science/informatics, chemical engineering, environmental chemistry, materials chemistry, chemical pharmacology.
  • Choose courses more widely from across the university to provide a broader education in Years 1 and 2. You could choose to continue a subject you enjoyed at school, e.g. geography or economics, learn a foreign language, either as a beginner or to continue with your studies from school, or try something completely new like archaeology, politics or philosophy – there are many 1st year courses that have no prerequisite entry requirements.
  • Choose courses in 1st year that are common to the curricula for both chemistry and another science or engineering discipline, thus enabling you to retain the option of transferring into the 2nd year of a degree in the second discipline at the end of the first year. This is a significant advantage of our degree structure and provides confidence that you are not necessarily making an irreversible decision to study chemistry, even if you are convinced that it is correct for you at the outset. Transfers to degrees in biology, chemical engineering, physics, geosciences or mathematics are possible through this route, just let your Personal Tutor know when you arrive and they will be able to advise you on which courses to take in 1st year.

Differences Between BSc and MChem

The choice between BSc and MChem is best considered in the context of what you plan to do once you have graduated.  The MChem degrees were introduced to provide a higher level of training and skills relevant to those who intend to progress to a career as a professional chemist in an academic, public service or industrial setting. This does not mean that the BSc degrees would not also make these careers an option, indeed it is still possible to progress to a PhD with a good BSc degree, but a Masters level qualification helps to distinguish you as a highly trained and qualified chemist in a world where you are competing against many other well qualified candidates for jobs. Fortunately transfer between the two degree streams is possible until the end of Year 3, so you have plenty of time to consider the best option for you and make an informed decision once you have been here for a year or two. Therefore, if in doubt the best advice would be to apply for the MChem as approval from funding agencies for reducing the duration of your degree is often easier to obtain than for increasing it.

The 4th Year of the programmes is where students take their advanced level courses.  For Chemical Physics and Medicinal and Biological Chemistry degrees the courses are largely prescribed as required by the specialisation necessary for these degrees; however, for the Chemistry degrees students have free choice to select the courses of interest from those available. The courses are assessed at different levels, with more demanding exams for the MChem students. BSc students undertake a research project within one of the research groups in Edinburgh alongside their taught courses, but also have the option to complete a Science Education Placement as an alternative.  These place students in a local school to undertake research on an aspect of chemistry education and provide an ideal preparation for students intending to follow a career in teaching.

For MChem students Year 4 is when they complete their taught courses so that by the end of the year they have taken their last exams.  The year also includes a course to train students in the skills and methodology of research centred around a small-group project on a topic of interest to them.

The final year of the MChem degrees have only one activity, the research project.  There are three options available depending upon preferences for context and location: Edinburgh based, Industry based or International in the chemistry department of one of our partner universities around the world.

What are the Options for the MChem/MChemPhys Final Year Projects?

The final year of the MChem/MChemPhys degrees are devoted entirely to research providing the exciting opportunity to explore an area of chemistry that interests you in great depth, and apply the skills and knowledge that you have mastered over the preceding four years. There is a choice between three locations/contexts for your research.

  • Edinburgh based. You will join one of the many world class research groups in the School of Chemistry (or Physics for Chemical Physics students) to undertake your research.  You will become a fully integrated member of the group and work alongside PhD students and postdoctoral researchers.  You will have full access to the School’s impressive rage of research facilities and instrumentation as required for your project. You will attend research seminars provided by visiting academics from around the world and join other group members in presenting and discussing your research at group meetings. This is an immersive research experience unhindered by the need to attend taught courses, something that is not possible at most other universities, and provides excellent preparation for a subsequent career within industrial research or a PhD.
  • Industrial research.  A full-year industrial placement has been a popular option within the School’s MChem degrees for many years. Over this time the School has built relationships with many industrial research laboratories and research institutes around the world.  Examples over recent years have included Glaxo Smith Kline (UK), Astra Zeneca(UK), Roche (Switzerland), Pfizer (UK), Procter and Gamble (UK, Belgium, Germany), Syngenta (UK), Akzo Nobel (Netherlands), Agfa (Belgium), Unilever (UK), Merck (UK), Diageo (UK), Los Alamos (USA), European Molecular Biology Laboratory (Germany),  NTT Basic Research Laboratory (Japan), Cemex (Switzerland), Johnson Matthey (UK), Afton Chemical (UK), Science and Technology Facilities Council (UK) and many others. Students are employed by the company and paid a salary.  The project is defined by the company and the expectation is for students to contribute to research of genuine significance to the company. As such the experience provides an outstanding preparation for your future career and an opportunity to discover whether life in industry is right for you. The fact that the Industrial Placement is the final year of your degree is a distinct advantage as it provided the possibility of making the transition directly into full employment by your host company if that is what you and the company want.
  • International research. The School has partnerships with many university chemistry departments around the world. Final year students can choose to undertake their research projects within one of the many and varied research groups located in these departments.  Host universities include Hong Kong University, Nanyang Technological University (Singapore), University of Chicago (USA), University of Connecticut (USA), Taiwan National University, University of Novosibirsk (Russia), Nagoya University (Japan) and many universities around Europe including those in Paris, Amsterdam, Valencia, Alicante, Bologna, Munich, Lille, Zurich and Lausanne.   

For each project type an application and selection process takes place in Year 4 giving you the opportunity to explore each of the possibilities before choosing which is right for you. For those wishing to seek an industrial or international research place the Edinburgh option will remain available if they are unsuccessful in securing one of these. Students following the industrial or international option will be assigned an Edinburgh supervisor who will be responsible for monitoring and supporting students’ progress, which includes at least one visit during the year, as well as coordinating the assessment. For each of the project types students are assessed on their performance on the project, an oral presentation, a literature review and final project report.  The weighting of the research project in the final degree classification is 40%, reflecting the importance placed on this capstone experience in which students have the opportunity to demonstrate and apply the knowledge and skills developed over the preceding 4 years of study.

How Will I be Taught?


During your time at Edinburgh University you will experience a variety of learning environments.  The primary mode of delivery remains the lecture in which a member of academic staff from the School delivering the course, and who is an expert in the particular topic being covered, provides the material to the whole class in the form of presentation supported by visual aids, and occasionally demonstrations.  All lectures are video recorded and made available to students, not as a substitute for attending the lectures, but to support their learning and permit review of material throughout the course and during exam revision. Courses are generally supported by a number of recommended text books and references to pages or sections of these books will be provided during the lectures to enable students to further explore the topics covered in lectures.


Each course is supported by tutorial or workshop classes in which problems related to the lecture material are set for students to work through in their own time, and these are then discussed with a tutor on a weekly basis.  Often these are small group classes with only 5 or 6 students which provide excellent opportunities to thoroughly explore the topic and ask questions in an informal and supportive environment. In Chemistry one tutorial is generally timetabled for every set of 5 lectures. In Year 1 the Chemistry tutorials are provided by the student’s Personal Tutor providing an ideal environment to build an academic relationship that is very valuable in providing the support required throughout the degree programme. In the later years the tutors will be staff who are expert specifically in the topic covered in the tutorial.


Chemistry is a practical as well as a theoretical discipline, and a chemistry degree therefore includes a substantial component of laboratory work in which students are trained in the skills required to synthesise new compounds and analyse and interpret the results of experiments, as well as use sophisticated instrumentation.  Safety is an additional important aspect of practical chemistry and training in safe handling of chemicals and equipment, and assessing and managing risks and hazards, are provided through the laboratory courses.

Is There Support for Careers and Employability?

Throughout your Chemistry degree programme you will develop valuable skills relevant beyond a career as a chemist that will enhance your future employability.  There are many activities targeted specifically at training you in these skills and these include oral presentations, group and team work, problem solving exercises, poster preparation and presentation, literature searching, interpretation, abstracting and reviewing, report writing, data analysis and visualisation, CV writing, interview skills and many others. The School works closely with the University Careers Service to provide employability skills and awareness workshops that bring employers and alumni to the School to highlight the range of sectors that employ chemistry graduates and the skills and competencies careers in these various sectors require.

What is the Role of my Personal Tutor?

On arrival in the School as a new student you will be assigned to a member of academic staff to act as your Personal Tutor (PT), and they will generally serve in this role throughout your time with us enabling you to build the trusting and open relationship with them that is so important in providing effective support. The School is very proud of the quality of academic and pastoral support provided for its students through the Personal Tutor system. The delivery of the tutorials for the Year 1 Chemistry courses by students’ own PT is specifically intended to help build the relationship between PTs and their tutees to provide a secure foundation for their role in subsequent years. Your PT will act as your guide and advocate throughout your studies with us and is your first point of contact if you have any problems or concerns. They will advise on course option choices, study skills and how to get the most out of your university experience. They are also able to provide academic references for industrial placement and job applications, even beyond graduation.

How are Student Views on Courses Gathered and Acted on?

The quality of every aspect of the School’s chemistry courses is continuously monitored and scrutinised through a variety of both internal and external processes. A key component of these activities are the views of students themselves. Each course has an elected ‘Course Rep’ whose role is to gather feedback about the course and represent this to the School, primarily via the ‘Student Staff Liaison Committee’ that meets each semester. There are also less formal routes for raising concerns about courses through individual meetings with Course Organisers, the Director of Teaching or Academic Administrator. Students’ concerns and suggestions raised in these ways are considered by Course Organisers and other relevant staff and often result in changes being made if it is felt that genuine improvements to teaching or student experience will result. Students are also consulted about planned changes to courses or degree programmes and are represented at the School’s ‘Board of Studies’ where such changes are discussed and approved. The University’s student union, Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA) also plays a role in representing students’ views to the School and each year elections are held for a ‘EUSA School Rep’. The School Rep works closely the Class Reps, the Director of Teaching and Academic Administrator to promote and implement improvements to all aspects of teaching and student experience in the School.

How Many Students Does the School Have?

The School of Chemistry at Edinburgh is large, one of the biggest in the UK. The typical undergraduate population is about 600. There are also about 20 taught post graduate (MSc) students and about 150 PhD students. The size of classes varies depending on the course, but the 1st year Chemistry courses typically have about 180 students. Each year about 10% of new students choose to accept an offer of entry directly into the 2nd year of their degree programme and these students are provided with support to manage this step. The student population is very multicultural with approximately equal numbers of Scottish, other UK and International (EU and further afield) students.

Where will my Lectures be Held?

The location of lectures is clearly dependent on which courses you take, but generally lectures in 1st year are held in the main lecture theatres in the George Square area of the university.  This is about 2 km from The King’s Buildings campus where Chemistry is located; however, there is a free shuttle bus for students who need to travel between classes at the two sites. The university is currently investing in new teaching infrastructure at The King’s Buildings and this will provide new large lecture theatres which will enable 1st year courses to move to the campus. All chemistry laboratory and tutorial/workshop classes are held on the King’s Buildings campus, as are all chemistry lectures and other classes in years 2-5. You can see a map of the University and the various campus locations.

Where is the Student Accommodation?

The university guarantees a place in university accommodation for all students during their 1st year in Edinburgh.  There is a wide variety of choice available.  The main location for student halls is Pollock Halls which is at the foot of Arthur’s Seat and next to Hollyrood Park, but there are many other halls spread around the centre of Edinburgh. Pollock Halls is just a 10 minute walk from the George Square area of the University and about 25 minutes from The King’s Buildings. Full details of university accommodation are available at the Accommodation Services website.

What Services are Available to Support Student Well-Being?

There are a multitude of services at the university to provide support beyond that available from your Personal Tutor.  Advice and support is freely available for those students who need it. The services include:

How Much Does it Cost to Live in Edinburgh?

This obviously depends to a certain extent on your lifestyle, but estimates under various headings are provided on the University's cost of living pages.