University of Edinburgh

Consisting of 45,000 students, The University of Edinburgh comprises a pair of urban campuses in the heart of Scotland’s major city, a historic pearl with a Royal Mile lined with tartan shops and pubs that culminates at the Edinburgh Castle, which crests a hill and dominates the Old Town. A hipper vibe balances the traditional in the city, spawning from Festival Fringe, the largest performing arts festival in the world. 

The local Scots are warm and hospitable… even if more difficult to understand than the Irish! As for the climate, hardy souls endure the wind and showers from the North Sea that neighbors Edinburgh. Scotland’s other major city, Glasgow, lies about a 90 minute drive to the West, while fellow university town St Andrew’s is an equal distance to the northeast, on the other side of a North Sea inlet. 

Founded in 1583, ranked in the top 20 globally (QS), and part of the Russell Group (UK Ivy-like), the Edinburgh’s main Central Campus (Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences – including Law, Business) is situated right in the heart of the city and integrated throughout several blocks; it’s not nestled and cloistered, like Trinity College Dublin. At the far edge of the Central Campus spans an enormous green space, “The Meadows.” Meanwhile, the King’s campus  (for Science and Engineering) is about a half hour walk, to the edge of the city –  or shorter by bus; lots of students take advantage of the “bike hire” program as well.

Housing is  scattered across the city, though much of it within 30 minutes. First year students are guaranteed housing, then it’s a bit of a free for all. 

Demographics: 34% International; 28% Scot; 26% England; 12% EU

Academics are rigorous and traditional – large lecture halls, midterms and exams (with an occasional paper). There’s a bit more choice than in England: “First years” choose an area of concentration but also can choose some breadth within that area – THEN students focus after the first year. But by year two they are pretty locked in. The uni is broken into three Colleges – Science and Engineering, Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, and Medical/Veterinary. The bachelor’s degree runs 4 years, unlike the 3 year English degrees, so they leave more time for study abroad and capstone research.

Bottom line: More STEM-strong than Humanities-friendly St Andrew’s. A good fit for 1) an American looking for a prestigious English-speaking abroad experience in a lively city while showing enough independence to navigate a big uni with large lectures and formal exams; 2) a mature, independent English-speaking European or Middle Easterner wanting a bit more curricular breadth than the UK and a lively city.

About The Author

Don McMillan, M.A., M.F.A.