Physical geographers explore and are inspired by all aspects of our physical environment – from the atmosphere that protects us to the terrain beneath our feet and the living ecosystems that surround us.
Study Physical Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London and you’ll develop a deep understanding of the atmosphere, geosphere and biosphere and their interactions with one another, as well as the physical processes that shape and affect our world.
You’ll benefit from world-class, research-led teaching in a Department ranked 2nd in the UK for research by the Research Excellence Framework 2014. The Department has a friendly and inclusive community reinforced by a range of fieldwork opportunities in the UK and abroad, and an excellent staff-to-student ratio to support your learning.
This flexible programme gives you the chance to tailor your studies with a range of optional modules in years 2 and 3, to suit your interests and career ambitions. You’ll gain a range of skills and knowledge to take into your future career, making you a highly employable candidate in a number of sectors.
Core ModulesYear 1
In this module you will develop and understanding of the factors that control the physical, biological and chemical forces which shape the Earth’s surface. You will look at oceanic and atmospheric processes, plate tectonics, hydrology and coastal processes, glaciation, and arid environments.
In this module you will develop an understanding the complexity of the relationship between people and environment. You will examine how and why ecosystems vary spatially and the impact of human activity, such as deforestation and agriculture, on the physical environment. You will also consider the nature of environmental change, including climatology.
In this module you will engage with key issues in human geography. You will consider human geography as a distinctive way to approach the world, examining key questions about globalisation, inequality, identity and the nature of place. You will look at approaches to economic, cultural and historical geography, and the development of the discipline, celebrating geographers’ active involvement in the challenges facing humanity.
This module will introduce you to human geographical perspectives on political processes, societies, development and the environment. You will develop an appreciation of the importance of scale, networks and spatial patterns, and how geographers have approached the challenges of inequality at local, national and global scales.
This module will provide you with an introduction to the methods for collecting, interpreting and presenting physical and human geographical information, in both the field and in the laboratory. You will conduct physical and human geography fieldwork in the local area, with activities including surveying and mapping, vegetation sampling and identification, soil and water analysis, interpreting past history, exploratory and inferential data analysis, questionnaire design, interviewing, and visual and textual interpretation.
This module will provide you with an introduction to the use of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) in physical and human geographical research, giving you practical experience in the use of ArcMap (an industry-leading GIS software package). You will look at the use of satellite remote sensing for geomorphological mapping, census classifications and boundaries, and volunteered geographic information.
In this module you will develop your practical research skills on a week-long field-trip to Andalusia in Southern Spain. You will spend four days, guided by staff, looking at specific local examples of physical, environmental, social, economic and cultural processes. You will then spend two days, working in small groups, conducting a short piece of original research on a topic of your choice.
In this module you will develop your skills in research design, data collection and analysis. You will learn how to handle and process advanced human or physical geography data sets, and further your ability to apply geographical information systems (GIS) techniques. You will also start to plan your dissertation, thinking about proposal design, and risk and research ethics assessments.
In this module you will have the opportunity to conduct field research in Cyprus, Malawi, New York, Sicily or London, with each destination focussing on a different area of Geography. You will develop your ability to analyse and problem-solve in the field, collecting, interpreting and combining different types of geographical evidence.
- Environmental Systems: Processes and Sustainability
- Earth Surface Processes and Hazards
- Environmental Change
The dissertation gives you an opportunity to undertake an individual piece of geographical research, on a topic of your choice, around 10,000 words in length. You will be allocated a member of staff as a dissertation adviser who will provide advice on research design, data collection and analysis.
- Independent Placement-Linked Dissertation
- Coast and Estuarine Management
- Global Warming
- Wetland Environments: Process and Policy
- Managing River Environments
- Glacial Environments
- Digital Landscapes
- Arid Africa
- Mammals in a Changing World
There are a number of optional course modules available during your degree studies. The following is a selection of optional course modules that are likely to be available. Please note that although the College will keep changes to a minimum, new modules may be offered or existing modules may be withdrawn, for example, in response to a change in staff. Applicants will be informed if any significant changes need to be made.Year 1
- All modules are core
- Political Geography
- Cities: Economies and Ecologies
- Cultural Geographies of the Modern World
- Perspectives on Development
- Regeneration and Urban Policy
- Geography of Commodities
- Post-Capitalist Cities
- Geopolitics of Media and Communications
- Exploration, Science and Making of Geography
- Geography, Museums and Collections
- Creative Geographies
- Gender & Development
- Cities and Development in the Global South
- Challenging Development? Disasters, Conflict and Human (in)Security
- Critical GIS
- Atmosphere: Art, Science, Politics
- Remote Control: Geographies of Contemporary Warfare
Teaching & assessment
The course has a modular structure, whereby students take four course units per year. Some course units are compulsory while others are options thereby offering flexibility and choice. Assessment is by a mixture of coursework and end-of-year examination in varying proportions, depending on the course units you choose to take. In the final year, you will write a 10,000 word dissertation on a topic of your choice which you will research and write with individual guidance from your tutor. The first year is foundational and marks do not count towards your final degree. The second year and final year marks do count, with more importance being given to the final year marks in order to reward progress and achievement.
You will be taught through a combination of lectures and small seminar groups, tutorials and practical workshops. The department has a substantial and varied programme of field training and laboratory work, giving you the opportunity to apply your skills and knowledge in a practical setting. Private study and preparation are essential parts of every course, and you will have access to many online resources including the University’s comprehensive e-learning facility, Moodle, which provides a wide range of supporting materials.
We use a range of assessment models to suit different learning styles, from fieldwork exercises and reports, individual and group presentations to coursework essays and examinations. In your final year you will have the opportunity to write a research-led dissertation.
A Levels: AAB-ABB
- At least five GCSEs at grade A*-C or 9-4 including English and Mathematics.
Where an applicant is taking the EPQ alongside A - levels, the EPQ will be taken into consideration and result in lower A-level grades being required. Socio - economic factors which may have impacted an applicant's education will be taken into consideration and alternative offers may be made to these applicants.
Other UK Qualifications
International & EU requirements
English language requirements
All teaching at Royal Holloway (apart from some language courses) is in English. You will therefore need to have good enough written and spoken English to cope with your studies right from the start.
The scores we require
- IELTS: 6.5 overall. Writing 7.0. No other subscore lower than 5.5.
- Pearson Test of English: 61 overall. Writing 69. No other subscore lower than 51.
- Trinity College London Integrated Skills in English (ISE): ISE III.
- Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE) grade C.
For more information about country-specific entry requirements for your country please visit here.
For international students who do not meet the direct entry requirements, we offer an International Foundation Year, run by Study Group at the Royal Holloway International Study Centre. Upon successful completion, you may progress on to selected undergraduate degree programmes at Royal Holloway, University of London.
Your future career
As a Physical Geography graduate from Royal Holloway, University of London you will have excellent employability prospects in a variety of related sectors. Our industry links give you ample opportunity to experience rewarding placement opportunities.You’ll also be well equipped with the skills and knowledge needed to progress onto postgraduate study if you choose.
Recent alumni have gone on to enjoy careers in coastal management, wildlife conservation, carbon consultancy and even the media.
Fees & funding
Home and EU students tuition fee per year*: £9250
International students tuition fee per year**: £17900
Other essential costs***: You will have the opportunity in your first year to go abroad and carry out fieldwork for no additional cost. In your second and third years you may choose to participate in fieldwork abroad that will incur additional costs of between £750 and £2000. However it is possible to complete the degree programme with no additional fieldwork costs.
*The tuition fee for UK undergraduates is controlled by Government regulations. For students who started a degree in the academic year 2018/19, it was £9,250 for that year, shown here for reference purposes only. The tuition fee for UK undergraduates starting their degree in 2019/20 or 2020/21 has not yet been confirmed. The Government has also confirmed that EU nationals starting a degree in 2019/20 will pay the same fee as UK students for the duration of their course. The fee status for EU nationals starting their degree in 2020/21 is under consideration.
**Fees for international students may increase year-on-year in line with the rate of inflation. The policy at Royal Holloway is that any increases in fees will not exceed 5% for continuing students. For further information see fees and funding and our terms and conditions.
***These estimated costs relate to studying this particular degree programme at Royal Holloway. Costs, such as accommodation, food, books and other learning materials and printing etc., have not been included.