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Top 10 UK universities for Natural Sciences

Students interested in applying for an undergraduate degree in the UK are sometimes surprised to learn that they need to apply for a specific major rather than to the university as a whole.


Many students I work with have a multitude of interests, but most of them at least know whether they consider themselves more science or arts focused.


The good news is that there are a number of UK universities that offer a broad degree in Natural Sciences, allowing students to study a range of scientific subjects before specializing in one area.


This degree structure provides a broad foundation and multidisciplinary approach, fosters critical thinking, problem-solving skills and adaptability.


Here are some of the top Natural Sciences programs in the UK.


Natural Sciences programs in the UK

University of Cambridge


University of Cambridge

Ranked third in the world for Natural Sciences (QS, 2023), the University of Cambridge uses this framework to teach most of its science disciplines – from physical and biological science to the history and philosophy of science.


The flexibility of the course makes it possible to take purely biological sciences, purely physical sciences or a combination of both, based on your interests.


It pulls from 16 academic departments, including astronomy, zoology, psychology and genetics.


First-year students are required to study four subjects (three sciences and one math), each of which has three weekly lectures and most of which have practical sessions throughout the week, too. 


Students also attend supervisions at their college (see post on the Cambridge college system to learn more) and are required to write essays during term time, resulting in the equivalent of a 40-hour work week.


It’s highly selective, with about five applicants per place and close to 550 students admitted per year overall, but it’s great for students who aren’t ready to specialize in a particular science discipline from the off and want that one-on-one time with leading science professors.


Durham University


Durham University

Durham is the third oldest university in England, and since its early days in the 1800s, the university had what was called a General Degree, which evolved into the BSc General Degree, which ultimately became Natural Sciences.


This degree allows students to design their own broad-based program from up to four subjects, ultimately dependent upon timetabling restrictions.


Uniquely, it even allows students to choose up to half of their classes from social sciences, arts or humanities subjects in subjects such as philosophy, business, anthropology, education, economics and geography.


It’s worth noting that chemistry is one of the more competitive fields given the fact that student numbers are restricted based on the number of ‘bench’ places available for practical work (they usually receive seven times as many applications as there are places every year), so it’s not possible to transfer into this subject.


In the application, the order in which you list the subjects you’re interested in does matter, as the university will look at the first two preferences to construct an offer.


University College London


UCL

University College London is known for its multidisciplinary, high-quality and internationally leading research, and its Natural Sciences degree is a perfect example of that.


It enables students to combine science subject areas, known as streams, early in the program, which they will then follow for the duration of the degree.


These include astrophysics, geoscience, medical physics, neuroscience and psychology and more.


The history, philosophy and social studies of science stream looks at ethical issues in science.


And some streams, like the ones in Earth Sciences, even involve optional modules with field trips.


Students can choose to apply for either the 4-year MSci program or 3-year BSc.


The program is highly selective; American students would need to have AP exam scores of 5 in at least two science subjects, with at least two to three more AP exams of 5 in other areas taken in the final three years of high school.


King’s College London


Across the city at King’s College London, the Natural Science degree is focused on subjects across the natural sciences (biology, chemistry, computation, mathematics and physics) – but with the added bonus of training in entrepreneurship skills.


Problem solving and project work is an important part of this course, and students learn about teamwork and oral communications, along with a mandatory class on machine learning and artificial intelligence.


King’s graduates from this program are highly emplyable in a variety of careers of scientific and societal importance, including emerging and future industries that address major global challenges, such as Net Zero, Sustainability, Green Growth, Environment.


Although it’s a 3-year program, students can take up the study abroad pathway and spend the third year at a partner institution abroad before returning to complete a fourth year on campus.


And speaking of campus, King’s is very much a city-based university, with several campuses across London.


A student’s base campus (Strand, Waterloo or Guy’s) will depend on the specific modules selected.


University of Nottingham


About 2.5 hours on the train north of London is where you’ll find the University of Nottingham, with a beautiful campus set in 300 acres of greenery around a lake.


In Nottingham’s Natural Sciences degree, students choose a combination of three subjects (called a stream) in the first year and proceed with two subjects from the second year onwards.


Students can choose subjects from nine schools, with options such as archaeology, cancer sciences, psychology, ecosystem and environment and more.


But perhaps the most unique feature of this degree is the possibility to spend an extra year in the University’s School of Computer Science and learn software development and computing skills. 


Students who do so will graduate with a named degree in BSc Natural Sciences with a Year in Computer Science.


Ultimately, approximately one-third of Nottingham’s Natural Science graduates go on to further study in a master’s, one-third go into scientific careers and one-third go into non-scientific careers, such as business, marketing and law.


University of Exeter


University of Exeter

The University of Exeter is a Russell Group and research-focused university, so much so that many of its Natural Science students are publishing their work as early as second year.


This contributes to a high student satisfaction rate; in fact, Exeter’s program was also ranked first in the UK for student satisfaction in 6 out of 7 themes in 2023.


Here, the degree was specially designed to let students work across all the sciences (biology, physics, chemistry, mathematics and computer science) without pathways or constraints in order to address the key issues in the 21st century.


The interdisciplinary topics include mathematical and computational biology, materials science and materials chemistry, the science of oceans, atmospheres and climate, astrophysics and energy research.


Exeter offers excellent student-to-staff ratios, small group tutorials and accessible staff, including weekly personal tutoring in small groups with an academic throughout the degree.


Located three hours southwest of London in a beautiful part of the UK, Exeter is also recognized as having one of the most beautiful campuses. 


University of Bath


Less than two hours on the train from London, the University of Bath has a strong reputation for STEM subjects.


In its Natural Sciences course, students can choose two main subjects (based on the AP’s you are taking in high school) from biology, biochemistry, chemistry, environmental science, pharmacology or physics.


Your two main subjects can then be complemented by an additional subject (depending on availability), including mathematics, management, psychology or education.


However, if you decide your interests fit better within a single science, you may be able to transfer into that subject after the first year.


This degree also offers the option of adding a professional placement or study abroad year, which is an amazing opportunity to further your experiences.


In addition to having a personal tutor throughout the course, you’ll also be matched with a current student to be your peer mentor, so you’ll never feel left to build your degree on your own.


Lancaster University


Lancaster University

Within 30 minutes of the beautiful Lake District, Lancaster University’s campus just so happens to be set in 560 acres of parkland itself.


This is the perfect setting to study natural sciences, such as environmental and earth science, geography, physics, biology, computing and more.


Students can study up to three of the 10 different disciplines for the whole of the degree.


At least two have to be science pathways, but uniquely, a third can be from another science topic or from elsewhere across the University, including a range of humanities and social sciences.


Students can also add a placement year or study abroad year.


Founded in 1964, Lancaster has a modern campus with 15,000 students, half of whom live in its award-winning university housing.


And this housing is really what sets Lancaster apart; all students are allocated to one of eight colleges (residential communities), an affiliation in which they maintain for life.


University of Leeds


At the University of Leeds, students graduate with both a bachelor’s and master’s through the integrated 4-year program, which is professionally accredited by the Society for Natural Sciences.


Students are guided by staff to plan their studies and form a coherent degree program tailored to their talents and interests, with the option to add a year to study abroad or gain a work placement at companies like Unilever, Syngenta and Phillips 66.


But they’re also guided by students; all students will have a peer mentor - someone who is also taking the same course but is in year 2, 3 or 4.


Along with some of the regular disciplines like biology, mathematics, physics and environmental science, Leeds’ Natural Sciences program also includes the discipline of food science and nutrition, which many others do not.


Finally, in the fourth year, students will undertake a major research project in one or more scientific areas.


Loughborough University


Last but not least, Loughborough University actually placed first in the UK for student satisfaction in Natural Sciences (NSS, 2022).


This degree offers so many options, including the choice between a 3-year bachelor’s (preparing students for industry) or the 4-year integrated bachelor’s and master’s, which provides a more in-depth and complex teaching of the subject.


On top of this, students can choose to study abroad for an additional year or undertake a professional placement for a year.


But unlike other programs with these options, Loughborough students are awarded an additional diploma for doing so – either the Diploma in International Studies (DIntS), a Diploma in Professional Studies (DPS) or a Diploma in Industrial Studies (DIS).


This is an additional award to the final qualification students receive upon completing the degree.


Summary: Studying Natural Sciences in the UK


As you've seen, each Natural Sciences degree in the UK has its own flavor to it.


Some may include an additional year abroad on exchange, some include subjects that others don't and some are more flexible than others.


At most universities, you can do one more year of advanced study and research to earn an MSci.


Regardless, it can be difficult to choose your exact path whilst still in high school, so these 10 programs in natural sciences are great for both flexibility and the opportunity to develop the interdisciplinary knowledge that is key for solving some of the world’s most complex problems.


 

Interested in applying for a Natural Sciences degree in the UK?


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G'day! My name is Sara, and I'm the founder of College Apps Abroad and a Certified Educational Planner (CEP), one of only 40 CEP's in California and 300 worldwide. I have more than 10 years of experience working in international recruitment and admissions, and I've studied and lived overseas myself in the UK, Ireland, Australia and Brazil for almost a decade. I've also worked for some of the world's top institutions, including The University of Edinburgh, the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and The University of Western Australia (UWA)!

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