In the academic year 1907/8, the 17 year old WRD Fairbairn matriculated to study in the Arts Faculty at the University of Edinburgh. This followed 11 years schooling at Merchiston Castle (6 in Preparatory and 5 in the Upper School), gaining a leaving certificate comprising English, Latin, Greek, French and Mathematics. He continued both Latin and Greek during his first year of study at university, and took on Zoology as a third subject. Subsequent years comprised courses in Logic, Moral Philosophy, Advanced Metaphysics, Moral Philosophy, Advanced Logic and Greek Philosophy.
In 1918, at the age of 29, Fairbairn returned to Higher Education. This time, he enrolled to study in the Faculty of Medicine. Part of the intervening period had included war service. The Roll of Honour records that he had served in the Merchiston Castle Officer Training Corps while a pupil there and that he had served in the OTC Engineers between May and November 1915 as a cadet. From November 1915, he was 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Garrison Artillery (Territorial), achieving Lieutenant the following year.
He graduated MBChB in 1923. His marks show strengths in some areas and perhaps a lower ability in others.
He continued his studies and achieved his MD in 1926, his thesis being Relationship of dissociation and repression considered from the point of view of medical psychology.