At eleven, after having learned to read, and acquired as much Latin as he could under such unpromising tuition, Thomas Chalmers was sent to St Andrews University. There he studied an arts curriculum in Greek, the humanities and natural philosophy. It was a four-year course, but they only studied for five months a year. Chalmers was very young to begin University, and most boys would have gone to a grammar school first for training in Latin and Greek which they needed for University. Chalmer’s parents probably could not afford to send him, but for whatever reason it resulted in him struggling in his studies for the first two years. In the third year he began to excel and he started a course in mathematics where his talents were really noticed. At the age of fifteen he entered the Divinity College to study theology, but he was quite lazy during his first year. During his second year he devoted more attention to his studies. In the spring of 1798, after his third year he became a tutor for the children of John Stevenson, near Arbroath, where he was given time to complete his final year. By doing this he was able to have free accommodation, plus a little money and he would be able to observe the manners and morals of the wealthy propertied classes. However, the family treated him with such disdain that he left them in November, and went to St Andrew's to finish University.
When ready to apply for license as a preacher, an obstacle was in his way; for he was not yet twenty, and according to the rules of the Church no student should be licensed before he had reached the age of twenty-one. This difficulty, however, was overruled by an exceptional clause in favour of those possessing "rare and singular qualities." When he went before the St Andrew’s Presbytery, one of its members raised objections, so Chalmers visited the man several times, eventually persuading him to withdraw his objections. So, having passed his oral examination in doctrine and satisfactorily given a series of trial sermons, he was licensed on July 31st 1799.