St Andrews has it all!

The land, the sea, the history and traditions.  Founded in the early 15th century, St Andrews is Scotland’s oldest and top-ranked university.


The idyllic haven in which to pursue scholarly endeavors.


The lasting legacy of Kate Middleton capturing Prince Williams’ heart, sharing dates in the medieval ruins and coffee in the modern-day cafes.


But most importantly, St Andrews offers a unique educational approach, offering a four-year degree structure (which served as the model for the earliest US colleges of Harvard and William & Mary) as well as a concentrated academic focus (typical of British higher education).

Scottish Undergraduate Curriculum

St Andrews – as well as all universities in Scotland – offers a four-year undergraduate Bachelors degree, not a three-year degree as in England.  But, unlike most American colleges, there are no distribution requirements and applicants need to be fairly decided about their field(s) of interest.

The philosophy of the Scottish educational system is that students should narrow down their choice of academic study before they apply to college, and should use their first two years of college to explore and finalize the field(s) of study they will pursue during their third and fourth years.  Scottish universities place a high value on depth of specialized knowledge. At St Andrews, students are required to write a 10,000 word thesis (roughly 40 pages), as well as complete several honors modules in order to receive an honors degree (in Scotland called a “Master of Arts” degree, though still the equivalent to a bachelors).

Each of the four years you spend at St Andrews has an increasingly specialized academic focus. Accordingly, at special occasions, students wear the traditional red robe in a different way each year to signify their progression through their academic journey:

Year 1: Normally
Year 2: Pushed back onto the shoulders
Year 3: Off one shoulder (the left shoulder for students of the arts; and the right shoulder for the scientists!)
Year 4: Jauntily off both shoulders.


How are the Academic Subjects Organized?

St Andrews is organized into four faculties, or academic divisions. Faculties include the following:

  • Faculty of Arts: made up of 10 Schools including Art History, Classics, Economics, English, Film Studies. History, International Relations, Management, Modern Languages, and Philosophy. Note that the interdisciplinary subject of PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics), one of the most popular at Oxford, is NOT offered at St Andrews.
  • Faculty of Science: includes seven academic Schools of Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Geography & Geosciences, Mathematics & Statistics, Physics & Astronomy and Psychology & Neuroscience. There is no engineering. It is possible to receive a Masters degree in five years.
  • Faculty of Medicine: includes only the one track of Medicine. The three-year undergraduate academic program must be followed by a three-year clinical program in order to practice medicine.
  • Faculty of Divinity: includes the five subjects of Biblical Studies, Hebrew, New Testament, Theological Studies and Theology.

Flexibility and Specialization: the Curriculum at St Andrews

At St Andrews, you will study one or two fields for all four years, in progressively more depth; and in Years 1 and 2 you will have the opportunity to take two additional subjects if you are pursuing a Joint Honours degree, or four additional subjects if you are doing a Single Honours degree. The curriculum includes both the specialization of the UK system, and the flexibility of the US system.

The goal is to decide by the end of Year 2 which one or two subjects you want to concentrate in and study exclusively during Years 3 and 4. In fact, in the Science faculty, students must drop one of their initial 3 subjects from year 1, studying just 2 subjects in Year 2.

So What Courses Would I Take Each Year?

Here’s how it works logistically: Students must take three courses each semester, and often choose subjects within the same Faculty. During Years 1 and 2, students take courses in the subject(s) in which they are accepted. The remaining courses can fulfill a number of objectives:

  • Explore another subject in the Faculty to possibly concentrate in as a Single Honours degree or as a Joint Honours degree with the subject they initially applied for.
  • Support their subject of interest, e.g. take Statistics to help with a concentration in Psychology.
  • Take an additional subject purely for fun or interest, e.g. Art History or Language.

Let’s consider the example of Patrick, who successfully applied to the Faculty of Arts to pursue Joint Honours English and Modern History. In Years 1 and 2, Patrick was required to take courses in English and Modern History. For his third course, he took a course in International Relations in Year 1, and Medieval History in Year 2. At the end of Year 2, he still had the option of doing a single Honours degree in English OR Modern History or a Joint Honours degree in both English and Modern History; he chose the latter.

Let’s now look at the curriculum path of Danielle, who successfully applied to the Faculty of Science to do a Single Honours BSc Biology degree.  Danielle chose Psychology as her second course for Years 1 and 2 because she thought it would complement her study of Biology.  For her third course, she took Statistics (to help with Psychology) and Latin (for fun). She found Psychology so interesting, that she changed to a Joint Honours BSc Biology and Psychology, and completed a Dissertation project in Psychology.

International Relations

International Relations (IR), in the Faculty of Arts, is the most popular subject of study for all nationalities, and is among the most selective (along with Science and Medicine). There are no specific pre-requisite high school courses for applying to St Andrews for International Relations, but your prior courses should be top level in social studies, relative to what’s offered at your high school.

IR is the only subject that you cannot transfer into if you have not directly made your application for IR.  For example, in Danielle’s case, she could have done a Single Honors Degree in Psychology, even though she applied for Biology.  But that would not be possible for IR.

Funds have been invested in a new glass building with state-of-the-art seminar rooms.


If it sounds like St Andrews might be good fit for you, stay tuned for our next blog, on how to apply to UK universities.  If you have any questions, contact Collegiate Gateway – we’re always happy to help.