School of Physics & Astronomy

Applications to study physics or astrophysics


The 16 inch Meade telescope, one of those used by students in the University ObservatoryThis page is intended to give some guidance to those people applying to study for a degree involving physics or astrophysics at St Andrews. There is much general information about our degree programmes, research facilities, etc, on our website in the "Prospective Undergraduates" section. This page focusses on the application process itself.

We welcome applications from all sections of the community, from Scotland and the rest of the UK, and from overseas. We aim to run a fair admissions process under the the terms set out by the University.

Well-qualified students applying to study for a degree in physics or astronomy should realise that they are in a "buyer's market", and should not find it difficult to get into a good course in the UK. However, because of the nature of the University and the demand for places here, we are able to set our asking rates somewhat higher than those of some other universities. This means that when those students who are sufficiently talented to join our degree programmes arrive at St Andrews, they find other highly able students around them.

For applications to this School the most important factors are normally the applicant's examination results and their predicted results (where relevant). The admissions officer will also read the personal statement, which is an opportunity to let us know why you wish to study physics, and what special things you feel you have already achieved. If you have attended an Access summer school or similar, it may be useful to include that here. If a candidate or (particularly) their referee makes reference to special personal circumstances, this can affect the decision and the offer. We do not normally interview candidates for entry to the traditional programmes, though all candidates are welcome to visit St Andrews and to talk with academic staff here.

Entry Requirements - UK

East Sands, St Andrews (photo courtesy R W Hilditch)UK applications are normally made through UCAS. For entry to our degree programmes there is both a Faculty entry requirement and a "typical" entry requirement set by the School. The latter is usually the more demanding. On the UCAS form, applicants should list ALL subjects studied over the last few years together with grades and qualifications obtained.

Through its Access Centre the University provides special services for those who may have been disadvantaged through illness or other factors, and to those taking a non-traditional route into Higher Education. The University supports schools access initiatives such as LEAPS, Focus West, and LIFTOFF, and is a member of the Scottish Wider Access Programme for mature students. Entry requirements for students in these categories may be modified from the usual requirements listed above. These (and other) students may be interested in our "Gateway to Physics and Astronomy" programme. Please also see the Access Centre web pages via the link below.

Entry Requirements - Overseas

Discussions around computer modelling of astrophysical processes Some types of overseas application - including North American - may be assessed primarily by the University's International Office rather than by the Admissions Officer in our School. For further information on all non-EU applications, please see the University's pages for international applicants.

In the case of applicants from the USA, St Andrews looks for those who are taking a rigorous high school curriculum which includes Honours and/or AP courses.

Candidates whose native language is not English and whose schooling has not been through the medium of English will normally be required to pass a recognised test of English. The Admissions Application Centre can provide a full list of recognised qualifications, but many are shown in the link below.

Applicants may wish to take advantage of the University's English Language Teaching Centre, and consider our Science Foundation Year for International Students. Those with English as an additional language mayl be offered the opportunity to join the four-week pre-sessional "English and Study Skills Course" for students about to beging studying here.

Entry into physics at year one or year two or Gateway?

Discussions with demonstrator in the level two physics labThe traditional degree programme in Scotland's universities takes four years to reach a BSc honours degree, and starts with a broad range of subjects in the first year. This maximises students' choices in final degree subject. For example, a student on the traditional entry route taking an appropriate mix of physics, mathematics, and chemistry in level (year) one may be able to choose at the start of year two to take level two modules leading to a degree in any of these subjects, or a joint degree. Our level-one physics courses are designed to be accessible to students joining us directly from SQA Highers, and so will contain some material that may be familiar to students who have successfully completed an Advanced Higher or A-level course in the topic. Some well-qualified students appreciate this revision, as well as the opportunity to take on board new subjects in other modules. Level-one entry will result in a programme normally taking four years to reach the BSc honours degree and five years for the MPhys honours degree. Level-one entry is the only option available for some of our joint degree programmes, where the requirements of the other subject mean that our accelerated entry cannot be accommodated.

We also run a "direct entry into level two" or accelerated entry scheme where some students take an accelerated route through our degree programmes and can obtain a BSc honours degree in three years and the MPhys honours degree in four. Students on this route must have good qualifications at Advanced Highers or A-level (or equivalent) in both physics and mathematics, and must be aiming for a degree intention within the School or one of the two joint degrees with Mathematics. In recent years between one third and one half of our entrant students have chosen this entry route.

In their year of entry these accelerated-entry students take two level-two physics modules (60 credits), at least two level-two mathematics modules (30 credits), and other level-one or two modules (which would be astronomy and astrophysics for those students wishing to study for a degree in this area) to make up 120 credits. At the end of their entry year, these students are at the same position as those who came in at level one the year before. Accelerated entry students can thus complete their degree programme a year sooner than those who take the traditional level-one entry, or can complete an MPhys degree programme in time that others may take to complete the BSc honours programme. The year of entry is likely to be harder work for level-two entry than for level-one, but our physics modules are designed to make level-two physics accessible for those who join us straight from Advanced Higher, A-level, or IB, and the recently introduced (2014) level-two maths modules have also been designed to be accessible to those joining us with appropriate qualifications.

We realise that our standard asking rates are challenging, and may be so high that some students with very high potential may not be able to achieve them due to circumstances beyond their control. Such students may be interested in entry to our "Gateway to Physics and Astronomy" first year, where there is an intensive programme of physics, maths, and related skills, which aims to support these students sufficiently that they can progress to level two modules as well qualified students.

Applicants who state on their UCAS form that they wish to be considered for level-two entry are likely to get an offer on this basis. Those who make no such statement may get an offer for level-one entry. All suitably qualified entrants on relevant degree programmes can choose when they arrive at St Andrews to take the conventional or the accelerated-entry route. Students who already have the Highers qualifications enabling them to take level-one entry are usually advised to apply for level-one entry and thus aim to have an unconditional offer for entry. They are then advised to work hard on their Advanced Higher courses to try to obtain the grades required for level-two entry, and to make the transition to the accelerated entry scheme if they wish when they come to St Andrews. We advise all Advanced Highers pupils to take their work on these qualifications seriously; there is a great deal of useful learning within them. We are aware that some students on Advanced Highers programmes cease working hard when they get an unconditional offer. We caution that such behaviour in our experience seems to have some correlation with academic difficulties in our programmes.

Advice for Schools

Northern Lights over a dome at the University Observatory (courtesy of student Thomas Robitaille)Please would schools ensure that intermediate qualifications such as National 5s and GCSEs are included on the application form.

Please do not forget to include predicted grades for any examinations yet to be taken: omitting these might suggest that your predictions are too low to mention.

If your school participates in LEAPS, GOALS or a similar Access programme, please ensure that this is indicated on the applicant's form.

If there are strong medical or personal reasons for an applicant’s less-than-expected performance, please make sure these are set out clearly in the reference.

Important Note for Scottish Schools:
St Andrews requires a minimum of four Highers, and offers have based on the assumption that all four Highers were sat in a single examination diet. In the interests of fairness, applicants whose exam results have been obtained over two diets (and therefore under less pressure) are normally required to meet higher entry standards than those who obtained their results in a single sitting. Applicants who have had to split their examinations over two years because of illness or other specific reasons are recommended to contact our Admissions Access Centre before they apply. We realise that there have been some changes due to the senior phase of the Curriculum for Excellence, and the University's policy on this is given at the link below.

Admissions and the Curriculum for Excellence


Scholarship and Bursaries

The are adminstered separately to the admissions process. Please see our web page on this topic.


Other Questions?

Should you have any other queries, please contact us using one of the means noted on our contacts page.

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