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There is no undergraduate ‘single honours’ philosophy degree at Oxford – it’s not possible to read for a degree that only contains philosophy here (though this is possible at other universities). There are various advantages of this to the undergraduate. Studying philosophy alongside another subject can provide opportunities for philosophical investigation of an area you have a developed interest in. Also – especially given that most undergraduates have not studied philosophy before – it can diminish the sense of risk in taking up a new and slightly unknown discipline. Even those who have studied philosophy before often find that, whilst their studies have taught them a bit about philosophy, it has not given them much evidence about their aptitude for doing philosophy. Studying philosophy at Oxford, you will be expected to engage for yourself, directly and from an early stage, with philosophical questions.

The seven degrees that include philosophy as a major component are:

Literae Humaniores (which incorporates philosophy, both ancient and modern; classical languages and literature; and ancient history, along with related areas such as philosophy and archaeology; there is much flexibility in the precise balance between the components). It is a four year degree. The study of classical language, and of texts in classical languages, is compulsory, though it is possible to begin study of the languages more or less ‘from scratch’ as part of the degree.

Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE). This is a three year degree, the first year of which involves an equal study of all three areas. The final two years may concentrate on just two of the three areas, or all three, and may give greater weight to one than to the other(s) if so desired. There is no expectation that any candidate will have studied, or indeed will have had the opportunity to be taught, any of the three areas before application for admission.

Psychology and Philosophy (formerly PPP). Candidates study both subjects from the beginning of their degree, along with a course in statistics taught over the first two terms. Psychology at Oxford is taught and studied as a scientific discipline, and it is usual for candidates for the degree to be studying at least one science subject in preparation for university entrance (for example, at A level or as part of the IB). There is no preference for psychology to have been studied before admission; traditional science subjects (biology and chemistry particularly) and mathematics may be just as, or more, useful in the study of psychology at university.

Philosophy and Modern Languages. A four year course, with the third year spent abroad in a country where the modern language is spoken. The precise level of fluency required for your modern language will depend on whether it is one that may be studied ‘from scratch’, but clearly a developed aptitude for study of language and literature will be an important criterion for admission.

Philosophy and Theology. A three year degree drawing on core courses available to those studying for the Theology degree, alongside papers in philosophy including philosophy of religion. There are no specific entrance requirements in terms of subjects studied; preparatory work involving textual and historical study will be helpful.

Philosophy and Physics. A three year or (more usually) four year course, the latter giving a Masters degree. It must be emphasized that strong performances in physics and mathematics will be expected before a candidate is admitted for this degree. Candidates for admission are asked whether they would consider a place on the single honours Physics degree instead, if they are not offered a place for the joint degree with philosophy. (There is no ‘right answer’ to this question; some candidates may prefer to take a different degree course elsewhere to a single honours Physics degree at Oxford, if they are not offered a place for Philosophy and Physics here.)

Mathematics and Philosophy. A four year course, which, like the Physics and Philosophy degree, makes wide demands on candidates, and for which a very strong performance in mathematics will be expected at admission. Again, candidates will be asked whether they would be willing to accept a place on the single honours school instead, in this case Mathematics. And, again, there is no ‘right answer’; for some candidates, a degree in Mathematics and Philosophy at another university may be a better choice than single honours Mathematics at Oxford.

There are no other degrees that incorporate philosophy as a major component, but there are many that allow candidates to take one or two papers in philosophy. For example, those studying the Theology degree can take the Philosophy of Religion paper; those studying Experimental Psychology have a number of options in philosophy chosen to link with their main studies; those studying for the undergraduate Law degree may study Ethics; and those studying Mathematics have some relevant philosophy options open to them too. This is not an exhaustive list. Those interested in science degrees may be attracted to taking an optional paper in the History and Philosophy of Science, which is also available to those studying Medicine. In all but the History and Philosophy of Science optional paper, the syllabus and examinations will be the same as those offered to anyone studying one of the seven philosophy degrees.

There are no specific subjects that we expect candidates to have studied, at least as far as the philosophy side of any degree is concerned. Obviously there may be special considerations relating to some other subjects that form part of the degrees; Physics, for example, or Modern Languages. There is no agreed list of subjects that we think especially helpful as preparation for the study of philosophy, nor any that we think especially unsuitable. Simply saying that, though, is often felt insufficient by candidates, and we are often asked for advice about course choices, for example at A level or for the International Baccalaureate. Candidates are admitted for our degrees with a very wide range of backgrounds; PPEists may have studied English, French and history; mathematics and modern or classical languages; or sciences. There is no special ‘magic’ combination, and the mix of backgrounds in successful candidates makes for a very stimulating experience both for students and teachers. More specific advice may be found under further questions below, but the best general advice is to concentrate on central, traditional subjects with sufficiently demanding content to provide intellectual stimulation and a solid education.

For a start you apply earlier. There is an earlier UCAS deadline for Oxford, Cambridge and some particular degrees elsewhere; but some subjects, like PPE, may have still earlier deadlines, as there are admissions tests to apply for too, and the deadlines for these may be in late September. So you need to plan your Oxford application in good time.

In applying to Oxford, you apply to a college (one of 30; you may also apply to a ‘Private Hall’), or you submit an ‘open application’ and a college will be allocated for you, to handle your application. The university itself does not admit candidates to read for undergraduate degrees; only colleges have this power. Whichever college you obtain a place at, the degree you study for will be a degree of the University of Oxford, which publishes the syllabus, sets the examinations, and provides some elements of your academic life (lectures and some classes; laboratories for scientists; major libraries and IT facilities). The day-to-day elements of your academic, social and personal life are all centred on the college. The college provides the tutorials which are, for most undergraduates, the core of their week’s work. Colleges also provide accommodation and meals, and form mixed communities of established academics who teach and research; graduate students studying for higher degrees; and undergraduates studying for first degrees in various subjects.

If the choice of college seems baffling, you don’t actually need to choose one; you can submit an Open Application, and have a college allocated to you. Otherwise, your first move should be to decide on a degree programme that you want to apply for. That may mean that a few colleges can be discounted straight away, as not all colleges admit for every degree. One college – Harris Manchester – admits only mature (that is, slightly older) students, though mature undergraduate applicants may apply to any of the other undergraduate colleges, instead. Having worked out where you could apply to, take a look at the websites of some of the colleges and halls, and see which ones appeal. Some reasons to choose one college over another may relate to interests unrelated to academic considerations; whether the facilities for music are good, for example, or whether there are nice gardens. You may prefer the idea of a larger or smaller college. You may be attracted by the suggestion that accommodation will be available throughout your degree; by the library facilities on offer; by the availability of book or travel grants.

Academically, sometimes candidates try to select a college with a good number of tutors in their chosen subject area, for example in philosophy. In practice if a college admits candidates to read for philosophy, it will find tuition for them, so there is no obvious disadvantage in being at a single-tutor college. Various statistics are published on numbers of applicants to particular colleges for the various degrees, but it’s usually best not to pay too much attention to these, as doing so can skew the applications wildly from year to year. The college you apply to, if the tutors cannot find you a place there but think you are very good, will invite other colleges to consider your application; and in some subjects, such as the psychology degrees, applicants who are invited for interview are automatically seen at two colleges, their college-of-application and one other. Even if you turn out to have applied to a college with many good applicants, there will be a strategy to ensure that good candidates have the best chance of obtaining a place.

Just about everyone ends up happy with and loyal to their own college, whether they got there having applied direct to it, or through an Open Application, or by being re-allocated there. So perhaps it’s worth emphasizing that this aspect of the process could be given much more weight than in the end it’s likely to be worth.

All of the degrees at Oxford which include philosophy are joint degrees with some other subject – mathematics, a modern language, physics, etc. So one thing you will be assessed on is your competence in that other subject, and usually that will have clear and obvious criteria relating to performance in public examinations to date; there may be additional testing in those subjects too. Thinking specifically about philosophy, we will be looking for aptitude and potential, rather than for existing knowledge of philosophical texts or arguments. ‘Aptitude and potential’ will obviously include a capacity for precise analytical thought, and for handling abstract concepts; we will also value a degree of creativity that may be turned to the development of examples to illustrate points or to challenge theories or intuitions. Obviously it’s possible for someone to have (say) strong analytical capacities but not enjoy using them, so some evidence of enthusiasm for abstract thought, reason and argument will be important to us. One other thing which it’s virtually impossible for us to test for, but which may be worth mentioning, is that philosophical study involves living and wrestling with some questions for weeks, months, years – even a lifetime. If a great deal of your satisfaction in study comes from arriving quickly at clear answers, rather than from a continual process of working with questions, it’s worth asking whether philosophy is the right thing to apply for.

Absolutely; but not, or at least not directly, to impress the tutors who will be handling your application. You should read with at least two aims in mind. One is to find out a bit more about what philosophers study, and what kinds of disciplined reflection are involved. The motivation here is to find out a bit more about whether philosophical study is really for you; whether the questions excite you, and whether you are stimulated by the attempts to answer them. The other is to provide yourself with a range of arguments and questions to test your own thinking against. This disciplined reflection – trying to come up with the best counter-arguments against what you have read, then thinking what objections might be measured against your own arguments – will help to develop the kinds of skills that we will be looking for.

Suggested reading at this stage may take one of two forms; it may be designed precisely as introductory material, presenting an outline of the range of things philosophers study, or it may ask you to engage with a philosophical text, whether ‘classic’ or modern, more directly. Even those who write ‘introductory’ philosophy texts will usually make suggestions for further work, which may involve reading some classic philosophical text directly, or working with some suggested questions. Philosophy is something to be done rather than to be learnt about; someone with a mere curiosity for things people have thought in the past is unlikely to be in line for a place to study philosophy.

Some suggestions for further reading can be found below:

Thomas Nagel, What Does It All Mean? (Oxford)

Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy (Oxford), also available online as an e-text from a number of websites

Martin Hollis, Invitation to Philosophy (Blackwell)

Nigel Warburton, Philosophy: The Basics (Routledge)

Nigel Warburton, Philosophy: The Classics (Routledge)

Peter Singer, Practical Ethics (Cambridge)

Jonathan Glover, Causing Death and Saving Lives (Penguin)

Simon Blackburn, Think (Oxford)

Roger Scruton, An Intelligent Person's Guide to Philosophy (Duckworth)

Don’t try to read a lot; instead read slowly and carefully, assessing arguments as you go, and trying to produce counter-arguments of your own. Most introductory books will contain their own suggestions to broaden and deepen your studies, and many classic texts are freely available, sometimes in older translations, on the internet.

There is no obvious advantage to having done so, at least from the perspective of how likely you’d be to obtain an offer of a place. Those who have studied these subjects tend to know a little more about philosophy, but this is not something we test for or are all that interested in at the admissions stage. (Two reasons: it doesn’t much matter to us at this stage, and knowing about philosophy before you come doesn’t seem related very clearly to ability as a philosopher.) It seems to have conferred no obvious advantage on candidates, whether they have studied philosophy as part of AS/A2 ‘Philosophy’ or ‘Religious Studies’. ‘Critical Thinking’ is a relatively new qualification at A level, but initial impressions are that the capacity to think critically in an applied way within a subject is not improved by having studied critical thinking in an abstracted fashion. The study of A level chemistry, mathematics or literature, to name just three areas of the many that might be mentioned, ought to be capable of developing critical skills of an appropriate kind.

Not directly, no. If it’s a disadvantage at all, it’s often because studying philosophy will usually be at the expense of studying something else, and the ‘something else’ might be a better preparation – might better develop the skills and aptitudes we are looking for. To give one example: studying English literature ought to involve a development of skills of careful reading of, and critical engagement with, texts, which we value, and it seems to do this to a higher degree than A level philosophy. So there can be an indirect disadvantage; by studying philosophy, there is less time for mathematics, history, languages, and so on, studies which may support an application for one of our degrees involving philosophy better, and may in fact be better indicators of success in studying philosophy at university. None of this is to suggest that the study of A level philosophy has no value from the perspective of someone making a university application. As has already been implied, it may help candidates to make better decisions regarding whether or not to apply for a philosophy degree. It might be worth mentioning that we do not include A level General Studies in any assessment of candidates, or in any offer that we make to them. Many candidates are taking A level General Studies. If there is any flexibility in the use of curriculum time, it may be that the study of AS level critical thinking or philosophy could be taken as an alternative.

This is a question that is often asked. It is not easy to answer. It is never sensible to make A level or IB course decisions solely on the basis of a possible Oxford application for a particular degree course. You may change your mind about the course you want to apply for. Or you may find yourself being advised in good faith that ‘all things being equal, history is a good thing to do if you want to apply for PPE’ (which is true), and taking it simply because you want to study PPE, when you have no aptitude for history, or really hate the period you’re studying, or don’t get on with the teacher (or the teacher doesn’t get on with you), or any number of other things which means you end up without an A grade, and therefore without an offer, or without a place. Oxford tutors will usually be quite cautious in the advice they offer, and if they make general advice available to you, you should discuss that advice with those who know your particular context – with your school, your parents, and so on – before deciding how best to apply it to your own case. Again: please do not make your decisions based solely around a possible application to Oxford.

There will, of course, be absolutely specific advice that can be offered to those with an interest in applying for particular degrees. For Mathematics and Philosophy, as much mathematics at as high a level as possible; for Physics and Philosophy, the same advice as for mathematics, with physics added in for good measure. For some degrees, the precise course you follow will depend on what background you come with. For example, it’s not essential to have studied classical languages at A level or equivalent in order to be admitted to the Literae Humaniores degree, but if you want to come to Oxford to read for Classics in any degree and do have the chance to study classical languages before you apply it would be well worth taking.

For some degrees which involve philosophy, the standard advice is that certain subjects will be likely to prove helpful. This help may not necessarily be for philosophy, but for other aspects of the degree. Mathematics is clearly of assistance in studying economics, and developed skills in the study of history ought to prove readily transferable to aspects of the politics papers within PPE. For other degrees there really aren’t any obvious specific guidelines. Philosophy and Theology is an example, where people come with a very wide range of backgrounds indeed.

This is all standard advice, but requests for guidance in the past few years have often asked for more. The best advice, beyond what has been said about specific subjects, is to get a good education. Traditional academic subjects at A level or equivalent are likely to prove the best route to this. We have no list of ‘less well regarded subjects’, but we do hope that candidates and their teachers will be able to recognize those subjects which will offer the kind of demanding educational environment within which the skills we are looking for can be nurtured and developed. Some subjects appear less good than others at developing the sorts of skills we require. A non-philosophical example: given that psychology at Oxford is perceived as an experimental science, scientific study that emphasizes hands-on experimental work will be a good preparation, and if the psychology syllabus on offer at your school down-plays this, and there is a choice to be made, biology or chemistry would be likely to prove better alternatives (as well as keeping other degree options, at Oxford or elsewhere, open to you). Some subjects create problems for us not because they lack value in themselves, but because their value as indicators of likely success on a philosophy course at university is very low; Fine Art is one example. For specific advice on such matters it would be worth contacting a college to whom you might submit an application, to seek the advice of tutors on your intended or actual combination of subjects.

So, if in doubt, one rule of thumb is that it’s likely that the more traditional subjects will help to prepare you better. Mathematical and scientific study, historical and literary subjects, foreign languages; a good body of these, studied alongside each other, would serve any candidate well. Some more essay-based subject is always useful for degrees involving philosophy, but we recognize that this may not always be possible, especially for candidates applying for Physics and Philosophy, and sometimes for Mathematics and Philosophy candidates too. Given the intensity of study at Oxford, the bare fact that a candidate is studying a number of demanding subjects alongside each other gives a very good indication of his or her quality.

Many candidates do not have the option to extend their studies beyond the core demands of three A2 levels, or the IB, so we do not make any requirements beyond this. Any decision to take on further academic qualifications should be made by candidate and school, on the basis of educational benefit. (That educational benefit may, of course, show itself in admissions tests or at interview, so in fact a candidate may benefit from taking advantage of any extra opportunities on offer; but we do not make offers on the basis of Advanced Extension Awards or other additional qualifications.) It is especially important to note the requirement of A level candidates that they score an A grade in three A levels; don’t take on such an ambitious programme of study that you lose an A grade in one of your A2 subjects.

Let’s start with work experience. It’s not at all likely that any work experience you have will count for or against your application to read philosophy. (There may be situations where it could be helpful for another subject in the degree, but ‘help’ here will be indirect. It won’t be the fact that you have – say – worked as an assistant in a laboratory, or for a Member of Parliament, which will count in your favour; it’s what you have learnt by doing so that is relevant to your future studies.)

Similarly, we will not be likely to see direct value in your commitments to sport, music, the theatre, or voluntary service, but we will regard it as a positive sign if you can spend time doing any of these things and still obtain strong academic references, good examination performances, and, where there are examinations till to take, good predicted grades. Someone with high levels of performance in sport or on one or more musical instruments, able also to sustain good academic performance at school, is likely to have strong skills of time management and be well organized.

Tell us about yourself; what made you choose these subjects, what excites you about your current studies, and so on. Maybe give us an idea if there’s anything you have read relevant to your application, which goes beyond your school studies. (Don’t say you have read something if you haven’t!) Remember it’s not an election statement (we’re not going to vote for you), and that we have plenty of opportunities to assess your skills at essay writing as and when we need to, so we don’t want an essay.

No, and no. Some of our degrees attract a very strong international field, so all UK candidates (wherever they are at school) will be in a field of applicants alongside those from elsewhere in Europe, and from elsewhere in then world. We send interviewers to Asia and North America, and attract applicants from Africa, Australasia and South America. We aim to select on merit. It is not often remarked, but is worth bearing in mind, that Oxford is in competition, even at undergraduate level, with some of the world’s other top universities for the best candidates, and we aim to select the best we can, wherever they come from.

The specifics vary between degrees, but some or all of the following will apply:

  • An entrance test, taken in a local test centre before decisions are made about selection for interviews, or taken in Oxford during the interview process;
  • The submission of work produced and marked in the course of your school studies;
  • If invited, you attend interviews in Oxford during the early weeks of December.

Some candidates are interviewed in Asia or North America; others are not available to be summoned for interview due to distance (e.g. Australian candidates), and may be assessed without interview. There is an increasing use of telephone interviewing of overseas candidates during the interview period in December.

Candidates come from a variety of backgrounds; one thing an entrance test offers us is a standardized piece of work which offers some comparative measure of performance across the whole field of applicants. This much is true of many subjects, philosophy among them. It is also true that there are large numbers of candidates with impeccable records in school examinations, so that carefully selected testing procedures may provide some opportunity to discriminate between apparently similar excellent candidates.

For philosophy, there are some more specific considerations. We wish to have some idea of the capacity of candidates to engage in abstract reasoning and analysis. There is little evidence either way on this from the UCAS form. By setting tests such as those used for Philosophy and Modern Languages, or Philosophy and Theology, or the Thinking Skills Assessment test for PPE, we hope to be able to address specific areas of assessment that will be helpful to us in reaching decisions on the potential of candidates for philosophical study.

The tests are designed with the intention that direct ‘coaching’ for them – that is, the idea of candidates being trained simply to be good at doing tests – ought not to be possible. This should not be confused with the thought that all the tests are doing is testing the presence of latent ability which was present in the candidate from birth. If they are doing their job, certainly there will be people who do less well at the test because they are in some way ‘naturally’ less gifted philosophically than others, and for them philosophy was probably a bad course choice. Others may do less well because, though they have a latent capacity for clear, accurate thought, their education has not developed that capacity.

The tests thus seek to get behind ‘headline’ examination grades, and offer us an indication of aspects of a candidate that bear a specific relevance to philosophical study.

NOTE: where tests are to be sat in a local test centre in late October or early November, there may be an earlier application date than the UCAS deadline. All candidates are advised to pay very careful attention to deadlines for entry both for their chosen degree subject and for any additional tests.

On a number of our degrees involving philosophy we ask candidates to send in one or two pieces of written work. This is to be work written in the ordinary course of school studies, and marked by a teacher. It should be submitted with a cover sheet – downloadable from the university website – signed and stamped by the school, to authenticate it as genuinely yours.

There are a variety of forms, sample tests, and so forth accessible from the following link. (Available resources will vary depending on the time of year; cover sheets should be in an appropriate sub-directory when they are relevant, in the Autumn of each year.)

http://www.admissions.ox.ac.uk/downloads/

We ask for the work to be original school work, already marked by teachers, to avoid placing extra burdens on candidates and on their teachers. Asking for special essays to be written, or for the authentication of special essays, would increase the workload of both candidates and teachers. Occasionally, candidates are not taking any essay-based subjects, and for them we may make some suggestion of a subject to write about, but there is no requirement that the subject matter of work submitted should be philosophical in content. There is, though, a requirement that the work be submitted with a cover sheet authenticating the work as your own, signed and stamped by an appropriate authority, so an essay written over the summer vacation may well not be acceptable, simply because your school won’t be able to verify it as your own, or say anything about the conditions under which it was written.

Asking for written work puts us in direct contact with your schoolwork, rather than assessing you through the comments on your UCAS reference. It has disadvantages; there is no standard profile for the submitted work, which may be the work of weeks or done in a class examination, and may be a project in geography or an essay in French. Usually it bears some relation to the degree applied for, but sometimes it does not. (A PPE applicant might be studying French, English Literature and Geography.) We can receive and mark written work in advance of making decisions about who to interview, which increases the stock of information available to us at a crucial stage.

Written work allows us to see a sample of connected prose written by you, hopefully displaying some evidence of critical ability or skill in argument. If it is possible to introduce a form of essay-based assessment as part of pre-interview testing which gives us sufficient evidence of these matters, we may in time be able to phase out submitted written work for applicants to some of our degrees. However, for the time being, arrangements vary from degree to degree; you should always check the University’s website to see what is required for your course of preference.

We have dispensed with the requirement for written work from candidates for Mathematics and Philosophy and Physics and Philosophy. These are the candidates who most often had to write work specially for the admissions exercise, and who therefore were put to the greatest personal inconvenience (and whose schools were most inconvenienced, too). Though this requirement has been dropped, it should still be emphasized that these degrees will involve weekly essay writing, and a reasonable burden of reading, so candidates for whom the mere thought of writing an essay is irksome might think twice about whether either of these might be the course for them!

Yes, on the whole we do. A capacity for precise and accurate reading and writing is an important requirement on all of our degrees. All things being equal (a specific learning difficulty such a dyslexia will be an example of a case where things are not equal) we would anticipate that candidates will demonstrate due care in these matters. (Foreign candidates for whom English is not a first language need not be put off by this. Those for whom an application for an Oxford degree is at all realistic usually have perfectly good spelling and grammar, and speed of reading should improve quickly while here.)

Some suggestions for philosophical reading may be found below (don’t try to read the lot – better to read two or three of these books carefully, and follow up their suggestions for taking your studies further); but reading literature or history has its place too.

Thomas Nagel, What Does It All Mean? (Oxford)

Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy (Oxford), also available online as an e-text from a number of websites

Martin Hollis, Invitation to Philosophy (Blackwell)

Nigel Warburton, Philosophy: The Basics (Routledge)

Nigel Warburton, Philosophy: The Classics (Routledge)

Peter Singer, Practical Ethics (Cambridge)

Jonathan Glover, Causing Death and Saving Lives (Penguin)

Simon Blackburn, Think (Oxford)

Roger Scruton, An Intelligent Person's Guide to Philosophy (Duckworth)

Colleges will arrange interviews differently, both differently from each other, and differently depending on what it is you have applied to study. Sometimes interviews will be entirely self-contained, sometimes they will be based on some work you have been asked to do, such as reading a poem. They may be single-subject interviews, so that it is obvious which is ‘the philosophy interview’; or there may be an interview with (for example) tutors from two or three of the branches of PPE. Applicants for some degrees are designated two colleges, their ‘first choice’ college and one other, for interviews, and it is not entirely unknown for candidates to have two or more interviews in each of two colleges. Interviews may be with two or three tutors, sometimes in the same and sometimes in different subjects; occasionally, when this is necessary, they may be with one tutor.

In philosophy, we will be assessing how you think. You are likely to be asked a question, or a series of questions, about something you have never thought about before; indeed, if you give evidence that you have thought about the question before, the interviewer may stop that line of questioning and ask you something different! You will not be expected to fire back instant answers, and should take some time to think when you need it (always bearing in mind that the interview may only be 20-25 minutes in length). Help the interviewers by trying to relax as much as possible. Nerves are understandable but can make it terribly difficult to get the best from you. Do not try to guess how well your interview went; on the whole we find that candidates are notoriously bad at telling how well an interview went! Just occasionally candidates find that they rather enjoy the experience, and feel that, whatever the outcome of their application, they leave with a better sense of what it is like to be taught within the tutorial system.

Some candidates are interviewed in Asia or North America; others are not available to be summoned for interview due to distance (e.g. Australian candidates), and may be assessed without interview. There is an increasing use of telephone interviewing of overseas candidates during the interview period in December.

The interview, written work and additional testing all certainly play a significant part in the decisions we come to. Given that, typically, candidates will be amongst the very best in their school, and/or will present outstanding public examination results, these additional factors help us to make more informed decisions, sensitive to the particular aptitudes of each candidate. It’s not true, though, that the interview is always the most important single factor. It may be for some candidates that their performance at interview marks them out, and silences any doubts that may have been present due to perceived weaknesses noted elsewhere. On the other hand, candidates may have bad interviews – perhaps due to nerves – and on the strength of their excellence in other aspects of assessment they may still be offered a place. Overseas candidates may still be assessed without interview of any sort, though with improved telephone facilities it’s now quite rare for this to be the case. We take all factors (including proven examination performance) into account.

In joint degrees – and at Oxford all degrees involving philosophy are joint degrees – there will need to be agreement between the different branches of the degree. Someone may look like a talented philosopher, but if his or her ability at the chosen modern language is not good enough the candidate will not get a place. A strong performance in physics will be required from a physics and philosophy applicant. In PPE, or in Literae Humaniores, which cover a wide range of subjects and types of study, the rule of thumb is probably that successful candidates will show excellence somewhere, and no obvious weaknesses anywhere. It would be very rare for a PPE applicant to look outstandingly strong in all of philosophy, politics and economics; but they must be strong enough in all three to pass the first year, and strong enough in two to be likely to do well in the final examinations.

In fairness to candidates who apply through the normal route by the advertised dates, entry to undergraduate courses is restricted to those who apply through UCAS by the 15th of October (or earlier if test applications are also required). We do not fill places through ‘clearing’, and places do not ‘become available’ to casual enquirers through the year.

This will vary a little from college to college, but in general it’s not easy, and you certainly need to get your choice as right as possible, first time. Some changes of course are a minor re-focusing of attention within a broadly similar degree, such as a swap from Philosophy and Psychology to Experimental Psychology, and these may often be quite straightforward. A change from (say) Chemistry to French, or Physics to PPE, is much less likely to be allowed, and you might be asked either to continue with Chemistry or transfer to another university to take the course you want. The resource implications of a change of course in terms of staff teaching time are considerable; and if there were the resources to provide an extra place in French, the person with the best claim on that extra place would not be someone who had made a bad choice to study another degree, but the best candidate from the last admissions round who narrowly failed to get a place to read French at any college.

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