PPE brings together some of the most important approaches to understanding the social and human world around us, developing skills useful for a whole range of future careers and activities.
Studying Philosophy, you will develop analytical rigour and the ability to criticise and reason logically, and be able to apply these skills to questions concerning how we acquire knowledge or how we make ethical judgements.
The study of Politics provides a thorough understanding of the impact of political institutions on modern societies. It helps you to evaluate the choices that political systems must regularly make, to explain the processes that maintain or change those systems, and to examine the concepts and values used in political analysis. Politics at Oxford also encompasses the study of Sociology and International Relations.
Economics is the study of how consumers, firms and government make decisions that together determine how resources are allocated. An appreciation of economics and the general workings of the economy has become increasingly necessary to make sense of governmental policy-making, the conduct of businesses and the enormous changes in economic systems occurring throughout the world.
PPE at Oxford
All three branches of PPE at Oxford have an international reputation, supported by more than 200 tutors and scholars of the highest calibre. You will also be able to attend lectures given by the many distinguished visitors to Oxford each year.
PPE at Oxford is a very flexible course which allows you to study all three branches, or to specialise in two of the branches after the first year. Although there is no reference to Sociology or International Relations in the title of the course, you may specialise in either of these subjects by choosing relevant options.
The careers most commonly chosen by PPE graduates are in banking and finance, politics, journalism and broadcasting, law, industry, teaching, social work, accountancy, business management, management consultancy, advertising and the many branches of the public services, including the civil and diplomatic services and local government.
Recent Philosophy, Politics and Economics graduates include a hedge fund analyst, a primary school teacher and a fundraising officer for a disease research foundation. Amit, who graduated in 1996, is currently Head of Corporate Partnerships at the British Heart Foundation. He says: ‘PPE encouraged me to be inquisitive, open-minded and analytical, preparing me for a career that has spanned the private, public and charity sectors.’
Masva, who graduated in 2007, is now a reporter at the Financial Times. She says: ‘After university I went into banking, then moved to journalism. I found the skills I learnt reading PPE invaluable in both of these very different fields. Most importantly, the course teaches you to think in a very rigorous way. Your tutors are constantly challenging you and won’t let you get away with woolly arguments. While this can initially be difficult to get to grips with, it has been a source of great personal satisfaction and incredibly useful in my career so far.’
Students interested in this course might also like to consider Classics, Economics and Management, History and Economics, History and Politics, Human Sciences, Philosophy and Modern Languages, or Philosophy and Theology.
A typical weekly timetable
Your work is divided between lectures (six to eight a week), tutorials and classes (typically two tutorials or one tutorial and one class a week), and private study mainly spent preparing essays for tutorials and classes.
All three branches of PPE are studied equally
AssessmentFirst University examinations: Three written papers
|2nd and 3rd years|
Compulsory core subjects:
Students choose to continue with all three branches or concentrate on any two, taking compulsory courses in the chosen branches along with optional courses:
Compulsory core courses:
Final University examinations: Eight written papers, one of which can be replaced by a thesis
- A-levels: AAA
- Advanced Highers: AA
- IB: 39 (including core points) with 766 at HL
- or any other equivalent (see details of international qualifications)
You may apply for PPE having done any combination of subjects at school; it is not necessary to have studied Politics, Philosophy or Economics. History and Mathematics are useful backgrounds, but are not essential.
Although a background in Mathematics is not formally required for admission, PPE applicants should have sufficient interest in, and aptitude for, mathematics to cope with the mathematical elements of the course. Mathematics is a particular advantage for the Economics component of the course, as well as for the first year logic course in philosophy, and for understanding theories and data in politics.
Many successful applicants have studied Maths to at least AS-Level, or another equivalent. You may like to consider taking Maths to AS-level, or an equivalent qualification such as IB Standard Level, even if you do not pursue it further. It is useful to have learnt the basics of differentiation before starting your university course in PPE.
All candidates must also take the Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA) as part of their application. Please see how to apply for further details.
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.
You do not need to submit any written work when you apply for this course.
All candidates must take the Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA), normally at their own school or college, on 5 November 2014. 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 they are registered for this test. See www.tsaoxford.org.uk for further details.
What are tutors looking for ?
Tutors will want to find out if you can think clearly and analytically. They are not so much concerned with what you know as how you think about it and how you use it. They will seek evidence of your interest in social and political concerns and your ability to discuss them critically. In addition to reading a good-quality daily newspaper applicants may enjoy reading one or more of the following introductory texts.
There are many introductions to philosophy: Thomas Nagel’s What Does It All Mean? is a useful introduction. Martin Hollis’s An Invitation to Philosophy and Simon Blackburn’s Think are also recommended. If you have trouble finding these, or would like more suggestions, please feel free to contact the Faculty of Philosophy by email.
Politics is a very wide-ranging subject, encompassing both theoretical approaches and the study of real world institutions and processes. Jonathan Wolff’s An Introduction to Political Philosophy, Gillian Peele’s Developments in British Politics series and Adrian Leftwich’s edited collection, What Is Politics? The Activity and Its Study, are useful introductions.
The best introduction to the use of economic analysis, whether or not you have studied Economics at school, is to read the economics and business pages of newspapers, particularly The Economist. Tim Harford’s Undercover Economist and Paul Krugman’s The Accidental Theorist are also recommended.
Candidates may also wish to refer to the selection criteria for PPE.
We always recommend that students read widely around their subject, deepening their knowledge and understanding, to help prepare for their application. Tutors will be looking for evidence of students' academic potential, as well as their commitment and motivation for their course, so will certainly be looking for evidence that a student has really engaged with their subject, and has a passion for studying it. This is particularly important for courses like PPE, as many students will not have studied any of these three subjects at their school or college.
The very best preparation is a reasonable grasp of the workings of the social and political world in which we live. For PPEists, reading newspapers, watching TV and listening to radio news and current affairs programmes are not optional activities – they are crucial to success at the subject. Students should read a good quality daily newspaper, and ‘The Economist’ weekly is also highly recommended – this offers unparalleled quantity and quality analysis of current events.
There are many introductions to philosophy: Myles Burnyeat and Ted Honderich’s ‘Philosophy’ as it is a very useful collection. Martin Hollis ‘An Invitation to Philosophy’ and Simon Blackburn’s ‘Think’ are also recommended but feel free to pick up any introductory or beginners’ text.
Politics is a very wide-ranging subject. In addition to newspapers and weeklies, Jonathan Wolff’s 'An Introduction to Political Philosophy' is recommended; and also, for interesting and up-to-date insights into recent political developments in a number of countries, the series of texts produced by Macmillan publishers at regular intervals called ‘Developments in British (French, German, East European etc.) Politics’.
An indispensable introduction to economic analysis in use both for those who have not studied it at school and for those who have is ‘The Economist’ or the Economics pages of newspapers. Paul Krugman’s writings are highly recommended. Begg, Fischer and Dornbusch’s ‘Economics’ is one of the introductory textbooks widely used at Oxford.
Elle, 2nd year
'I chose to study PPE because I wanted to study a variety of subjects that I am passionate about. I studied economics and philosophy at school, so I already knew that I enjoyed these subjects and that I was suited to them.
The first year course in PPE is mostly introductory courses in each of the three disciplines. This is important, as it means that it is not necessary to have studied any of the three areas before. After the first year the course is more varied, as you can choose to drop one of the three subjects (or continue with all three). There are a few core papers for each discipline, but then there is a huge choice of subjects to cater for all interests. I plan to take a variety including ethics, philosophy of religion, economics of industry and economics of developing countries to name a few. The teaching system in Oxford enabled me to tailor my degree to fit me. Most of the focus is on tutorials – meetings with my tutor usually once a week to discuss the reading and work that I have completed. These are incredibly useful as not only are they a chance to ensure that I have a full understanding of the subject, but they are also an opportunity to ask my tutors for their views, and create a discussion. This is a great advantage as it means that I have plenty of opportunity to develop my thoughts and increase my knowledge.
At first it was challenging to settle in, but I quickly became accustomed to the way of learning and also to Oxford life in general. There are plenty of important opportunities to be grasped in Oxford, not only through sport, music or drama, but also through the numerous other societies we have here – the Freshers’ Fair is a great opportunity to get involved in University life.
Surrounded by other intelligent people, Oxford is the perfect environment to thrive in.'
Jan, who graduated in 2009
He now works for OC&C Strategy Consultants in London. He says:
'As a strategy consultant, I have to break down and analyse companies’ complex problems in a team environment and communicate the solution clearly to the client. Preparing and discussing essays in weekly tutorials in Oxford helped develop these skills, as well as my ability to think outside the box.’
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.
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.