International students

Why should I study Physics at the University of Oxford?

The University of Oxford is one of the best universities in the world. It ranks in the top ten global universities in both the THES - QS World University Rankings and the Academic Ranking of World Universities. The University has around 12,000 undergraduate and 11,000 graduate students.

Oxford has one of the largest physics departments in the UK, with an outstanding and broad research programme. Our students benefit from this exceptional concentration of experts through daily contact with leaders in their field, and a broad curriculum which covers all areas of physics. The expertise available also allows rapid updating of the undergraduate curriculum in light of developments at the research frontier.

Physics students at Oxford are members of the Department and of a College. The Department organises lectures, laboratory practicals and advises Colleges on tutorial teaching. The Colleges organise tutorials, have a tutor who is assigned to oversee your academic and personal development and provide accommodation, meals and social activities. The University website provides an explanation of How the College System Works.

Our teaching philosophy is that a student will spend most of his or her time on tutorial work, consulting different books, attending lectures, and coming to a view of the subject which works for him or her. This view will be developed and honed in tutorial discussion. The aim is that the experience should be a preparation for tackling new problems, rather than an exercise in memorizing received knowledge. This combination of College, Departmental and personal input is a unique feature of the Oxford Physics course.

What is the degree structure like in the UK and at Oxford?

Students may also like to read the Introduction for International Students on the University website.

In England, most students enter university aged 18. The most popular entry qualification is the A-level. This is a two-year subject-specific course taken at school or sixth-form college. Most pupils study for 3 or 4 A-levels and chose to study a course at University related to those subjects. In September or October of their last year at school (about one calendar year before they intend to start university), students apply to up to five university courses.

The Oxford Physics department offers two Physics degrees: a three year Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Physics and a four year Master of Physics (MPhys) course. In effect, students who study the four-year course read for an undergraduate degree AND the first year of postgraduate study. This web site hosts an overview of the two courses and guidance on which course to choose.

The Physics department also offers a four year course leading to a Masters in Physics and Philosophy. See the Physics and Philosophy page on this site for more information.

What topics will I cover?

Physics at Oxford aims to give students a thorough grounding in Physics. In the first two years all students study a common core to ensure they have the basic knowledge and understanding required to succeed in any area of physics. In the first year in particular, students spend about an equal amount of time studying Physics and Maths. In the fourth year students are able to choose from broad physical topics, such as condensed matter and astrophysics. By the end of the fourth year students will have specialised in two areas of physics, and their knowledge will take them to the level of understanding researchers have currently reached in their chosen fields.

An overview of the two courses is provided on the main section of this webpage.

Please note that all course information is correct at the time of going to press, but may change.

Will I be able to take modules from other subjects?

Unlike in other countries, most universities in the UK admit students to study for a degree in one particular subject (or occasionally two or three, like Physics and Philosophy or Politics, Philosophy and Economics). However, it is often possible to study modules of other subjects as part of the course. This is also true of Physics at Oxford, although you should note that the great majority of the degree is taken up with studying Physics. In the second and third year it is currently possible to study short options in modern languages, Teaching and Learning in Schools and the History and Philosophy of Science. With some planning, it is also possible to substitute a short option or a fourth-year course with courses from another subject.

How is the course taught?

There are five main teaching methods:

  • Lectures
  • Practicals
  • Tutorials
  • Classes
  • Self-study

Generally, you will have more timetabled activities (lectures, tutorials and practicals) in your first years, and are expected to do increasing amounts of self-study as you progress through the course.

How will I be assessed?

Students have exams at the end of each year. First year exams do not count towards your degree result, but you must pass and complete satisfactory practical work.

For the four year course your final degree classification depends on your performance in exams in years two, three and four, your practical work in these years and the report on your fourth-year research project.

For the three year degree the classification comes from exam and practical results in year two and three, a smaller project report. The practical marks include grades from your lab work and written and oral skills.

Generally, Oxford uses terminal assessment (exams at the end of the year) instead of continuous assessment (smaller assignments or tests throughout the year). There are some assignments, like written reports of lab work and the oral skills talk, which count towards your degree result but it will mostly be made up of your exam results and the grade obtained in your final year project report or essay.

The tutorial work you do each week will be marked by tutors. These marks do not count to your degree result, but your tutors will use them to follow your progress and feedback to you. Most Colleges also set 'Collections'. These are internal exams at the start of each term. The results are only used by your College to check you are working well. Most Colleges give Tutorial or Collections prizes for consistently good performance.

Is there the opportunity to study abroad?

We do not offer a study abroad option as part of the Physics course. However, it may be possible for students on the four year course to carry out their fourth-year project overseas. Enterprising students will also find opportunities to study abroad during the long University vacations, either in Physics, often organised through College tutor contacts, or more generally through schemes such as the Oxford University International Internship Programme or Oxford University Society travel grants.

Can I work while I study?

An undergraduate degree at the University of Oxford is a full-time course. During term-time you will have very little time to take on a part-time job in addition to your studies and other activities. There are some opportunities to do a limited amount of paid work within Colleges, but you should not rely on this in your budgeting.

The summer holiday is at least three months long, which gives you time to earn money and gain valuable work experience. The University Careers Service has plenty of information about opportunities available. In the Christmas and Easter breaks, which are each six weeks long, you should have time for some part-time work, but you will need to prioritise your studies and ensure you have also time to relax and enjoy yourself.

As an International student you will need to ensure that any employment you do take on does not break any conditions associated with your visa. The International Student Advisory Service at international.office@admin.ox.ac.uk can offer advice on visa and immigration conditions.

How do I apply?

All applications to study at UK universities are handled by UCAS.

In one application year, a student may apply to either Oxford or Cambridge, and you can only apply to one course at Oxford. For undergraduate study, students need to apply a year before they wish to start their course. For example, if you wish to commence study in October 2017, you must apply by the application deadline in October 2016. The deadline for applications is normally 15th October, check the University website for confirmation. The Oxford Physics Course is always full, and we never accept students who apply after this date.

Detailed information about applications can be found on the How to Apply guide on the University website and the Application Information for Physics page on this website. In particular, students should note that all applicants to Physics or Physics and Philosophy must sit the Physics Aptitude Test, which is unique to Physics at Oxford. There are no exceptions for international students.

Note that applications to the University of Oxford are judged on academic merit only. Whilst extra-curricular activities are valuable in many respects, those not related to Physics are not taken into account when assessing students for admission.

How much does it cost to study Physics at Oxford?

The cost of studying at the University of Oxford depends where you come from and what course you are studying. The best source of guidance is the University's Fees and Funding webpage, which includes up-to-date information about fees and living costs, a fees calculator and a scholarship search facility.