Computer Science
Digital code.
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Computer Science

What is Computer Science?

Computer Science is about understanding computer systems and networks at a deep level. Computers and the programs they run are among the most complex products ever created by humans; designing and using them effectively presents immense challenges. Facing these challenges is the aim of Computer Science as a practical discipline, and this leads to some fundamental questions:

  • How can we capture in a precise way what we want a computer system to do?
  • Should we trust computers? Can we mathematically prove that a computer system does what we want it to do?
  • How can computers help us to model and investigate complex systems like the earth’s climate, the financial system, or our own bodies?
  • How can different computer systems communicate and cooperate effectively and reliably?
  • Can computers learn to speak English, or Chinese?
  • Can computers do everything that human intelligence can do?
  • What are the limits to computing? Will quantum computers extend those limits?

The theories that are now emerging to answer these kinds of questions can be immediately applied to design new forms of computers, programs, networks and systems that will transform science, business, culture and all other aspects of life in the 21st century.

Computer Science at Oxford

The University of Oxford tops the Sunday Times University League Table 2013 for Computer Science. Oxford has also been ranked third globally, and top in Europe, for Computer Science and Information Systems in the latest QS World University rankings.

The Computer Science course at Oxford concentrates on creating links between theory and practice. It covers a wide variety of software and hardware technologies and their applications. We are looking for students who have a real flair for mathematics, which we will help you to develop into skills that can be used both for applications such as scientific computing, and more importantly for reasoning rigorously about the specific behaviour of programs and computer systems. You will also gain practical problem-solving and program design skills; the majority of subjects within the course are linked with practical work in our well-equipped laboratory.

Careers

Common roles for Computer Science graduates include computer programmer, software designer and engineer, financial analyst and scientific researcher.

Recent Computer Science graduates include an IT project manager, a software developer, and a technical trainer.

Maria, who graduated in 2007, is an IT consultant at CHP Consulting. She says: 'This has been my first job since graduating. It has allowed me to use the technical skills gained in my degree in a client-facing environment.'

Related courses

Students interested in this course might also like to consider Computer Science and Philosophy, or Mathematics and Computer Science.

Course outline

Computer Science can be studied for three years, leading to the award of a BA degree, or for four years, leading to the award of Master of Computer Science. The fourth year of the Master of Computer Science degree provides the opportunity to study advanced topics and undertake a more in-depth research project. You do not need to decide between these options when you apply; you can choose at the beginning of your third year whether to stay for either one more year or two.

A typical weekly timetable

During the first part of the course, your work is divided between lectures (about ten a week), tutorials (about two a week), and practical classes (about two sessions a week).

In tutorials, you have the opportunity to discuss ideas in depth with an experienced computer scientist, usually with just one or two other students. You will be expected to spend a considerable amount of time developing your own understanding of the topics covered in lectures, answering questions designed to check your understanding, and preparing for your tutorials. As the course progresses, you will also begin to work in small classes (up to ten people) on more specialised topics. In the second year you will take part in an industry-sponsored group design practical. You will spend about a third of your time in your third and fourth years working on an individual project on your own choice of topic.

1st year
Courses

Core courses:

  • Functional programming
  • Design and analysis of algorithms
  • Imperative programming
  • Digital systems
  • Continuous Maths
  • Linear algebra
  • Discrete Mathematics
  • Probability
  • Introduction to formal proof
Assessment

Five written papers, plus practicals

2nd year
Courses

Core courses (50%):

  • Concurrent programming
  • Models of computation
  • Logic and proof

Options (50%) including:

  • Computer architecture
  • Computer graphics
  • Compilers
  • Concurrency
  • Advanced data structures and algorithms
  • Databases
  • Computer networks
Assessment

Four written papers, plus practicals (including a group design practical)

3rd year
Courses

Options (67%) including:

  • Computer security
  • Machine learning
  • Computer-aided formal verification
  • Geometric modelling
  • Intelligent systems
  • Lambda calculus and types
  • Computational complexity
  • Knowledge representation and reasoning
  • Principles of programming languages
Further 2nd-year options

Project work (33%)

Assessment

Three written papers, plus practicals and project

4th year
Courses

Options (67%) such as:

  • Categories, proofs and processes
  • Computational linguistics
  • Computer animation
  • Probabilistic model checking
  • Probability and computing
  • Quantum computer science
  • Automata, logic and games
  • Database systems implementation
  • Information retrieval
  • Software verification

Project work (33%)

Assessment

Five written papers, plus practicals and project

Lists of options offered in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th years are illustrative only, and may change from time to time.

Further information about all of our courses: www.cs.ox.ac.uk/computerscienceatoxford

  • A-levels: A*AA
    The A* must be obtained in Mathematics, Further Mathematics, Physics or Computing.
  • Advanced Highers: AA/AAB
  • IB: 39 points, including core points
  • or any other equivalent (see details of international qualifications)

Candidates are expected to have Mathematics to A-level (A or A* grade), Advanced Higher (A grade), or Higher Level in the IB (score 7) or another equivalent. Further Mathematics or another science would also be highly recommended.

All candidates must follow the application procedure as shown in how to apply.  The information below gives specific details for students applying for this course.

Written work

You do not need to submit any written work as part of an application for this course.

Written test

All candidates must take the Mathematics Admissions Test (MAT), normally at their own school or college on 5 November 2014. Candidates must make sure they are available to take the test at this time. Separate registration for this test is required and the final deadline for entries is 15 October 2014. It is the responsibility of the candidate to ensure that they are registered for this test. Please see www.matoxford.org.uk.

For more information on how to apply, including a sample interview, please see the Computer Science website.

What are tutors looking for?

The most important qualities we are looking for are strong mathematical ability, the ability to think and work independently, the capacity to absorb and use new ideas, and a great deal of enthusiasm. We use these criteria and the result of the Aptitude Test to decide whom to shortlist for interview.

At the interview we will explore how you tackle unfamiliar problems and respond to new ideas; we are more interested in how you approach problem-solving than whether you can get straight to a solution.

We do not require any previous formal qualification in computing, but we do expect you to demonstrate a real interest in the subject.

Selection criteria

Candidates may wish to refer to the selection criteria for Computer Science.

Suggested reading

Introductory reading for prospective applicants to Computer Science can be found on the departmental website.

You may also like to look at our GeomLab website which will introduce you to some of the most important ideas in computer programming in an interactive, visual way through a guided activity.

Kamil, 3rd year

'I love many things about my course. I love the fact that it’s hard, that it’s very theoretical and that we get a lot of practical work. Even when the work is a little challenging you’re never lost because there are so many people around to help you. The tutors really support you at every step and this motivates you to do well.

There are so many wonderful things that I’ve learnt that I never knew existed before. There are definitely moments when, sitting in front of a problem sheet, you realise that you’re at the right place. Computer Science is everything I had hoped for.'

Maria, who graduated in 2007

She is an IT consultant at CHP Consulting. She says:   

‘This has been my first job since graduating. It has allowed me to use the technical skills gained in my degree in a client-facing environment.’

Contextual information

The Key Information Sets provide a lot of numbers about the Oxford experience – but there is so much about what you get here that numbers can’t convey. It’s not just the quantity of the Oxford education that you need to consider, there is also the quality – let us tell you more.

Oxford’s tutorial system

Regular tutorials, which are the responsibility of the colleges, are the focal point of teaching and learning at Oxford. The tutorial system is one of the most distinctive features of an Oxford education: it ensures that students work closely with tutors throughout their undergraduate careers, and offers a learning experience which is second to none.

A typical tutorial is a one-hour meeting between a tutor and one, two, or three students to discuss reading and written work that the students have prepared in advance. It gives students the chance to interact directly with tutors, to engage with them in debate, to exchange ideas and argue, to ask questions, and of course to learn through the discussion of the prepared work. Many tutors are world-leaders in their fields of research, and Oxford undergraduates frequently learn of new discoveries before they are published.

Each student also receives teaching in a variety of other ways, depending on the course. This will include lectures and classes, and may include laboratory work and fieldwork. But the tutorial is the place where all the elements of the course come together and make sense. Meeting regularly with the same tutor – often weekly throughout the term – ensures a high level of individual attention and enables the process of learning and teaching to take place in the context of a student’s individual needs.

The tutorial system also offers the sustained commitment of one or more senior academics – as college tutors – to each student’s progress. It helps students to grow in confidence, to develop their skills in analysis and persuasive argument, and to flourish as independent learners and thinkers.

More information about tutorials

The benefits of the college system

  • Every Oxford student is a member of a college. The college system is at the heart of the Oxford experience, giving students the benefits of belonging to both a large and internationally renowned university and a much smaller, interdisciplinary, college community.
  • Each college brings together academics, undergraduate and postgraduate students, and college staff. The college gives its members the chance to be part of a close and friendly community made up of both leading academics and students from different subjects, year groups, cultures and countries. The relatively small size of each college means that it is easy to make friends and contribute to college life. There is a sense of belonging, which can be harder to achieve in a larger setting, and a supportive environment for study and all sorts of other activities.
  • Colleges organise tutorial teaching for their undergraduates, and one or more college tutors will oversee and guide each student’s progress throughout his or her career at Oxford. The college system fosters a sense of community between tutors and students, and among students themselves, allowing for close and supportive personal attention to each student’s academic development.

It is the norm that undergraduates live in college accommodation in their first year, and in many cases they will continue to be accommodated by their college for the majority or the entire duration of their course. Colleges invest heavily in providing an extensive range of services for their students, and as well as accommodation colleges provide food, library and IT resources, sports facilities and clubs, drama and music, social spaces and societies, access to travel or project grants, and extensive welfare support. For students the college often becomes the hub of their social, sporting and cultural life.

More about Oxford’s unique college system and how to choose a college