2 for 1 – joint honours degrees in Geoscience

Picking a degree is hard. You’ve spent years and years studying a wide range of subjects, and suddenly they ask you to pick ONE. One academic field you’re gonna specialise in, that’ll shape your career choices, one single subject that’s gonna take up half of your life, for four years, nonetheless, so no pressure!

Personally, I’m terrible at making decisions. I’ve always been somewhat of a jack of all trades, interested in just about anything, which meant that I was still taking twelve different subjects in my last year of high school. Obviously, I couldn’t do continue doing that at university, but there was a wonderful concept that offered me a way out of my dilemma of choosing between my two favourite areas of interest, Geography and History: joint honours.

The Old Infirmary in Drummond Street, home to the Geography department.

A joint honours degree is basically a 2 for 1 deal in that it allows you to combine two different subjects into a single degree qualification. My degree programme is called ‘Geography and Economic and Social History’.  You’ll still be assigned to one school (in my case, the School of Geosciences) that’ll handle all of your administrative matters and assign you a personal tutor, but if you want to do your dissertation in your other subject, you absolutely can. Depending on your degree programme regulations, the amount of credits you have to take in each may be split 50:50, or, as in my case, the division might be quite flexible. For example, I discovered I preferred Geography over History in in my first year, so in the last two years I’ve usually opted for one history module and two geography courses.

The great thing about joint honours is that they really allow you to focus on what you want to study within your two subjects. No more choosing a course solely because you’re missing 20 credits and ehhh, you’re not really passionate about it but it could be worse – a joint honours degree allows you to choose from a much broader palette of modules. This element of greater choice has allowed me to specialise in exactly the areas I’m interested in: human geography and social history.

In most cases, the two subjects that make up a joint honours degree are related in some way (do you know how much I’ve learned about colonialism?) which means that your knowledge will be transferable and allow you to provide interesting new perspectives in class discussion and essays. For example, my History course on eighteenth-century London neatly overlaps with the knowledge I’ve gained from studying Urban Geography!

The School of History, Archaeology and Classics is housed in the Old Medical School. (Just going off the names of the building I migrate between, you’d almost expect me to study Medicine, but nope, Edinburgh just has a long history of being home to a world-class medical institution. Which, incidentally, I studied last year as part of my degree.)

As for the downsides of choosing a joint honours degree, I’d say the argument that it causes a heavier workload is a myth. You still take the same amount of credits as your single honours course mates, and your degree won’t take any longer than anyone else’s. Equally, while I’ve heard joint honours students from other colleges complain about administrative problems stemming from bad communication between the different schools their two degree subjects belong, I’ve made no such experiences (kudos to the School of Geosciences and the School of History, Archaeology and Classics here!). There are some aspects of the joint honours experience that can be both positive and negative – for example, you get to know more people, but at the same time you don’t get to know them as well. However, in my opinion, the only real disadvantage a joint honours degree in Geography brings with it that you are a bit more limited in choosing your third year fieldwork electives. You can still apply, but single honours Geography students will take priority over you because in contrast to you, a third year fieldwork trip is compulsory for them.

If you’re not sure about whether to apply for a joint degree or not, don’t worry! No matter how you decide, your decision will be reversible. Thanks to the University of Edinburgh’s brilliant degree structure that allows you to take outside courses in other subjects in your first two years, you can experiment a bit and see if there’s anything else you’re passionate about. I choose some Sustainable Development and Social Policy courses and absolutely loved it! And if realise you want to change to a different degree and meet the requirements for it, you can apply for a transfer – how cool is that?

So, if you’re interested, I’d say give it a go! As of January 2019, the University of Edinburgh allows you to combine Geography with Archaelogy, Economics, Politics, Social Anthropology, Social Policy, Sociology and Business. (Hey, I just realised they scrapped my degree programme! But maybe it’ll be reintroduced at some point in the future.) Geology can be combined with Physical Geography or Geophysics, and Geophysics in turn can also be taken alongside Meteorology.

You can find more information about these degrees here: https://www.ed.ac.uk/studying/undergraduate/degrees and https://www.ed.ac.uk/geosciences/undergraduate.

Cheerio and all the best with your degree decisions,


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