Immerse yourself in the past

What is archaeology?

Archaeology is the study of past human societies, and it provides a unique perspective on what it is to be human. As the only subject that addresses the entire human past in all its temporal and spatial dimensions, archaeology offers a vital perspective on how we shape our future. Archaeologists utilise a wide range of different types of evidence – ancient tools, buildings, human remains and traces of past environments are all important. Archaeology is truly interdisciplinary, using approaches and methods from the arts, humanities, social sciences and sciences to gather, analyse and interpret evidence to reveal the rich tapestry of past human life. As such archaeology is well placed to provide a long-term perspective on some of the ‘grand challenges’ of the 21st century, such as climate change, health, identity, equality and cultural diversity.

Archaeology course entry requirements

Archaeology is a unique subject, which teaches you brand new skills you may not have touched upon in your previous studies. This is good news for the aspiring archaeologist, because it means that many universities don’t require you to have taken certain subjects to get a place on their degree. Those that do will often mention history, to show passion and grounding in the subject, and a science, to show your analytical and laboratory skills. However, most Universities just want students with a genuine passion for the subject, which you might demonstrate by talking about books you have read or sites you have visited.

A levels – Entry requirements range from CCC to ABB, with universities and colleges most commonly asking for BBB.

Scottish Highers – Entry requirements for Highers (the most common qualification) range from BBBBB to AABBB, with universities or colleges most frequently requiring BBBBB. Occasionally, universities ask for Advanced Highers to supplement Highers. If Advanced Highers are requested, universities or colleges typically ask for BBB.

Vocational courses – Other Level 3/Level 6 qualifications (e.g. Pearson BTEC Level 3 National Extended Diploma, or an SCQF Level 6) may be accepted as an alternative to A levels/Highers by some providers. It’s essential that you check alternative entry requirements with universities or colleges.

What you will need to do
  • Apply by the January deadline
  • Write a personal statement
What you won’t need to do
  • Submit a portfolio
  • Audition for a place
  • Attend an interview
  • Pass an entry test
  • Show work experience

Will I get to travel during an archaeology degree?

The majority of archaeology degrees will require you to conduct field work and go on field trips, whether this is in your local area or further afield. Many universities will also offer overseas placements and trips, which are common for practising archaeologists.

Why study archaeology at university?

A career in archaeology is an exciting and rewarding path to take, with many different specialisms, opportunities for travel, and the job satisfaction that comes from discovery. There are a variety of roles within the sector, including excavating sites, studying remains, managing databases, illustrating artefacts, curating exhibitions, and a whole lot more!  Whatever your position, you will work alongside and learn from passionate and extraordinary people. You will contribute to the process of preserving the historic environment, using it to discover valuable information about the past, and sharing this knowledge with the public to educate and inspire. 

Can I study archaeology without a history background?

Most degrees in Archaeology do not require specific A-level subjects for you to get onto an archaeology degree. However, you’ll need to show a passion and interest in the past. There is a huge range of archaeology degrees on offer, meaning you can choose a course that suits your passions and strengths. If you are interested in history and public outreach, consider a BA (Bachelor of Arts), or if you prefer science and laboratory work, look for an archaeology BSc (Bachelor of Science).

What can you do with an archaeology degree?

Archaeology is a sector of varied employment that draws upon a huge variety of skills. Whilst there are options to go and excavate sites, an archaeologist can also be desk-based and undertake a broad selection of tasks. Some examples are archival work, scientific study of remains, illustrating finds, managing databases, conserving artefacts, curating exhibitions, and teaching students.

As archaeologists work in many different types of employment, they also work for different organisations. They can be found in national agencies, which work to bring about long-term preservation and widespread understanding of the historic environment, such as the National Trust, Historic England, Historic Environment Scotland, Cadw, and the Department for Communities (Northern Ireland). They can be found in teaching and research institutions such as Universities; County and City Councils; national organisations such as National Parks, the Environment Agency, and the Highways Agency; and as curators and conservators in museums. Many commercial planning and development consultancies also have an archaeological team. They do of course excavate archaeological sites throughout the UK, working for local authority archaeological units, commercial organisations such as MOLA, Wessex Archaeology, Oxford Archaeology, and other organisations that undertake aspects of commercially related development archaeology.

What’s it like to study archaeology?

The study of archaeology is exciting, but it will also give you key skills for getting a job once you graduate. It will combine a range of learning styles and environments into one course. One day you might be reading books in a library, the next you might be out in the field, visiting sites or excavating. Indeed, much archaeological research now takes place in the lab, so may well spend quite a bit of time there too. This is reflected in your studies, which will take you from the library to the laboratory in quick succession.

You’ll spend a good amount of time conducting fieldwork, developing your practical and team-building skills, and making your own discoveries. These placements may offer you the opportunity to travel abroad, to countries like Greece and Italy, which are steeped in ancient history, but there is also plenty of archaeological work done in the UK.

Like many degrees, you’ll spend your first year learning the foundations: these will include the development of archaeology, the basic tools and techniques of excavation, and much more. In your second and third years, as well as your placements, you can follow your individual passions more closely and look toward certain cultures, civilisations, or eras.

Studying an archaeology degree is likely to involve:

  • writing reports and essays
  • presenting your work through presentations or poster
  • conducting research projects
  • attending lectures and seminars
  • hearing from practicing archaeologists
  • field work and placements
  • laboratory sessions and experiments
  • project, presentation, and group work


An apprenticeship combines practical training in a job with study, letting you work while you learn. They are available at four different levels, taking between one and five years to complete. To begin an apprenticeship, you must be 16 or over and not in full-time education. Entry requirements are different at each level and from role to role but generally start at five GCSE passes. Alongside qualifications, employers will also be looking for certain skills and qualities.

With an apprenticeship, you can become a skilled worker, doing archaeology on-site or in a lab. You will develop specialist knowledge, gain job-specific skills, and work alongside experienced staff in the sector, all while earning a wage. This means apprenticeships are a good option if you have a clear idea of the career you would like to push toward.

If you prefer a more practical approach to learning and are ready to be based in a workplace most of the time, an apprenticeship could be the right route for you. Keep in mind how you will have fewer holidays than at school, college, or university, and will still be assessed through a range of assignments, including essays, reports, practical exercises, and exams. You will need to be committed and balance the demands of studying and working at the same time.

Find out more about apprenticeships across the UK.

Each apprenticeship sets out occupational standards for specific job roles, designed by employers. The standards outline the skills, knowledge, and behaviours required to demonstrate that an apprentice is fully competent in the job role.

Higher apprenticeships (Level 4)

Degree apprenticeships (Levels 5 – 7)

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