MSc in Mathematical and Theoretical Physics
About the course
The course provides a high-level, internationally competitive training in mathematical and theoretical physics, right up to the level of modern research.
This course is taking part in a continuing pilot programme to improve the selection procedure for graduate applications, in order to ensure that all candidates are evaluated fairly. For this course, the socio-economic data you provide in the application form will be used to contextualise the shortlisting and decision-making processes where it has been provided. Please carefully read the instructions concerning submission of your CV/résumé and optional contextual statement in the How to apply section of this page, as well as the full details about this pilot.
The course concentrates on the main areas of modern mathematical and theoretical physics: elementary-particle theory, including string theory, condensed matter theory (both quantum and soft matter), theoretical astrophysics, plasma physics and the physics of continuous media (including fluid dynamics and related areas usually associated with courses in applied mathematics in the UK system) and mathematical structures underlying physical theory. If you are a physics student with a strong interest in theoretical physics or a mathematics student keen to apply high-level mathematics to physical systems and their underpinning mathematics, both pure and applied, this is a course for you.
The course offers considerable flexibility and choice; you will be able to choose a path reflecting your intellectual tastes or career choices. This arrangement caters to you if you prefer a broad theoretical education across subject areas or if you have already firmly set your sights on one of the subject areas, although you are encouraged to explore across sub-field boundaries.
The MSc offers a substantial opportunity for independent study and research in the form of an optional dissertation which may be worth a single or double unit depending on the amount of work involved.
Pattern of learning and teaching
You will have to attend at least ten units' worth of courses, where one unit corresponds to a 16-hour lecture course or equivalent.
Depending on how many courses you take in total, and how they split between terms, you can expect to attend two, three or four (or, in exceptional cases, five) lecture courses per term. Each lecture course has roughly two one-hour lectures per week supplemented by roughly four 90 minute classes per term.
The remainder of your study time should be spent on self-study, consolidating on the material covered in lectures, working through the problem sheets set for each class and working independently on your dissertation, if you have chosen to undertake one.
You can opt to offer a dissertation as part of your ten units.
The dissertation is undertaken under the guidance of a supervisor and will typically involve investigating and writing in a particular area of mathematics or physics, without the requirement (while not excluding the possibility) of obtaining original results. A dissertation gives students the opportunity to develop broader transferable skills in the processes of organising, communicating, and presenting their work, and will equip students well for further research or for a wide variety of other careers.
For single unit dissertations you can roughly expect a one hour meeting with your dissertation supervisor at the end of the first term, followed by a further three one hour meetings in the second term. Double unit dissertations would have roughly twice this number of meetings.
The allocation of graduate supervision for this course is the responsibility of the Mathematical Institute and Department of Physics and it is not always possible to accommodate the preferences of incoming graduate students to work with a particular member of staff. Under exceptional circumstances a supervisor may be found outside the Mathematical Institute and Department of Physics.
Your performance will be assessed by one or several of the following means:
- invigilated written exams
- course work marked on a pass/fail basis
- take-home exams
- mini-projects due shortly after the end of the lecture course.
The modes of assessment for a given course are decided by the course lecturer and will be published at the beginning of each academic year. As a general rule, foundational courses will be offered with an invigilated exam while some of the more advanced courses will typically be relying on the other assessment methods mentioned above. At least four of the ten units must be assessed by an invigilated exam and, therefore, have to be taken from lecture courses which provide this type of assessment. A further three units must be assessed by invigilated written exam, take-home exam or mini-project. Apart from these restrictions, you are free to choose from the available programme of lecture courses.
Research in mathematical and theoretical physics or industry.
Changes to this course and your supervision
The University will seek to deliver this course in accordance with the description set out in this course page. However, there may be situations in which it is desirable or necessary for the University to make changes in course provision, either before or after registration. The safety of students, staff and visitors is paramount and major changes to delivery or services may have to be made in circumstances of a pandemic (including Covid-19), epidemic or local health emergency. In addition, in certain circumstances, for example due to visa difficulties or because the health needs of students cannot be met, it may be necessary to make adjustments to course requirements for international study.
Where possible your academic supervisor will not change for the duration of your course. However, it may be necessary to assign a new academic supervisor during the course of study or before registration for reasons which might include illness, sabbatical leave, parental leave or change in employment.
For further information please see our page on changes to courses and the provisions of the student contract regarding changes to courses.
Other courses you may wish to consider
If you're thinking about applying for this course, you may also wish to consider the courses listed below. These courses may have been suggested due to their similarity with this course, or because they are offered by the same department or faculty.
All graduate courses offered by the Mathematical Institute
All graduate courses offered by the Department of Physics
Entry requirements for entry in 2023-24
Proven and potential academic excellence
As a minimum, applicants should hold or be predicted to achieve the following UK qualifications or their equivalent:
- a first-class undergraduate degree with honours in mathematics, physics, or a related discipline.
For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA sought is 3.7 out of 4.0.
If your degree is not from the UK or another country specified above, visit our International Qualifications page for guidance on the qualifications and grades that would usually be considered to meet the University’s minimum entry requirements.
GRE General Test scores
No Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or GMAT scores are sought.
Other qualifications, evidence of excellence and relevant experience
- Publications are not expected.
English language proficiency
This course requires proficiency in English at the University's higher level. If your first language is not English, you may need to provide evidence that you meet this requirement. The minimum scores required to meet the University's higher level are detailed in the table below.
|Test||Minimum overall score||Minimum score per component|
|IELTS Academic (Institution code: 0713)||7.5||7.0|
TOEFL iBT, including the 'Home Edition'
(Institution code: 0490)
*Previously known as the Cambridge Certificate of Advanced English or Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE)
†Previously known as the Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English or Cambridge English: Proficiency (CPE)
Your test must have been taken no more than two years before the start date of your course. Our Application Guide provides further information about the English language test requirement.
Declaring extenuating circumstances
If your ability to meet the entry requirements has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic (eg you were awarded an unclassified/ungraded degree) or any other exceptional personal circumstance (eg other illness or bereavement), please refer to the guidance on extenuating circumstances in the Application Guide for information about how to declare this so that your application can be considered appropriately.
You will need to register three referees who can give an informed view of your academic ability and suitability for the course. The How to apply section of this page provides details of the types of reference that are required in support of your application for this course and how these will be assessed.
You will be required to supply supporting documents with your application, including an official transcript and a CV/résumé. The How to apply section of this page provides details of the supporting documents that are required as part of your application for this course and how these will be assessed.
Performance at interview
Interviews are not normally held as part of the admissions process.
How your application is assessed
Your application will be assessed purely on your proven and potential academic excellence and other entry requirements published under that heading. References and supporting documents submitted as part of your application, and your performance at interview (if interviews are held) will be considered as part of the assessment process.
An overview of the shortlisting and selection process is provided below. Our 'After you apply' pages provide more information about how applications are assessed.
Shortlisting and selection
Students are considered for shortlisting and selected for admission without regard to age, disability, gender reassignment, marital or civil partnership status, pregnancy and maternity, race (including colour, nationality and ethnic or national origins), religion or belief (including lack of belief), sex, sexual orientation, as well as other relevant circumstances including parental or caring responsibilities or social background. However, please note the following:
- socio-economic information may be taken into account in the selection of applicants and award of scholarships for courses that are part of the University’s pilot selection procedure and for scholarships aimed at under-represented groups;
- country of ordinary residence may be taken into account in the awarding of certain scholarships; and
- protected characteristics may be taken into account during shortlisting for interview or the award of scholarships where the University has approved a positive action case under the Equality Act 2010.
Whether or not you have secured funding will not be taken into consideration when your application is assessed.
Initiatives to improve access to graduate study
This course is taking part in a continuing pilot programme to improve the selection procedure for graduate applications, in order to ensure that all candidates are evaluated fairly. For this course, the socio-economic data you provide in the application form will be used to contextualise the shortlisting and decision-making processes where it has been provided. Further details about this pilot, which applies to all applicants to this course, can be found in our pilot selection procedures section.
Processing your data for shortlisting and selection
Admissions panels and assessors
All recommendations to admit a student involve the judgement of at least two members of the academic staff with relevant experience and expertise, and must also be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies or Admissions Committee (or equivalent within the department).
Admissions panels or committees will always include at least one member of academic staff who has undertaken appropriate training.
Other factors governing whether places can be offered
The following factors will also govern whether candidates can be offered places:
- the ability of the University to provide the appropriate supervision for your studies, as outlined under the 'Supervision' heading in the About section of this page;
- the ability of the University to provide appropriate support for your studies (eg through the provision of facilities, resources, teaching and/or research opportunities); and
- minimum and maximum limits to the numbers of students who may be admitted to the University's taught and research programmes.
Offer conditions for successful applications
If you receive an offer of a place at Oxford, your offer will outline any conditions that you need to satisfy and any actions you need to take, together with any associated deadlines. These may include academic conditions, such as achieving a specific final grade in your current degree course. These conditions will usually depend on your individual academic circumstances and may vary between applicants. Our After you apply pages provide more information about offers and conditions.
In addition to any academic conditions which are set, you will also be required to meet the following requirements:
If you are offered a place, you will be required to complete a Financial Declaration in order to meet your financial condition of admission.
Disclosure of criminal convictions
In accordance with the University’s obligations towards students and staff, we will ask you to declare any relevant, unspent criminal convictions before you can take up a place at Oxford.
Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS)
Some postgraduate research students in science, engineering and technology subjects will need an Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) certificate prior to applying for a Student visa (under the Student Route). For some courses, the requirement to apply for an ATAS certificate may depend on your research area.
The Mathematical Institute's home is the purpose-built Andrew Wiles Building, opened in 2013. This provides ample teaching facilities for lectures, classes and seminars. The Mathematical Institute provides IT support.
There is also a cafe in the Andrew Wiles Building.
The Department of Physics provides the following facilities:
- teaching space in the Denys Wilkinson building and the Clarendon Laboratory
- use of the canteens in either building
- IT support.
The University expects to be able to offer around 1,000 full or partial graduate scholarships across the collegiate University in 2023-24. You will be automatically considered for the majority of Oxford scholarships, if you fulfil the eligibility criteria and submit your graduate application by the relevant December or January deadline. Most scholarships are awarded on the basis of academic merit and/or potential.
For further details about searching for funding as a graduate student visit our dedicated Funding pages, which contain information about how to apply for Oxford scholarships requiring an additional application, details of external funding, loan schemes and other funding sources.
Please ensure that you visit individual college websites for details of any college-specific funding opportunities using the links provided on our college pages or below:
Please note that not all the colleges listed above may accept students on this course. For details of those which do, please refer to the College preference section of this page.
Annual fees for entry in 2023-24
Annual Course fees
Further details about fee status eligibility can be found on the fee status webpage.
Information about course fees
Course fees are payable each year, for the duration of your fee liability (your fee liability is the length of time for which you are required to pay course fees). For courses lasting longer than one year, please be aware that fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on changes to fees and charges.
Course fees cover your teaching as well as other academic services and facilities provided to support your studies. Unless specified in the additional information section below, course fees do not cover your accommodation, residential costs or other living costs. They also don’t cover any additional costs and charges that are outlined in the additional information below.
Where can I find further information about fees?
The Fees and Funding section of this website provides further information about course fees, including information about fee status and eligibility and your length of fee liability.
There are no compulsory elements of this course that entail additional costs beyond fees and living costs. However, as part of your course requirements, you may need to choose a dissertation, a project or a thesis topic. Please note that, depending on your choice of topic and the research required to complete it, you may incur additional expenses, such as travel expenses, research expenses, and field trips. You will need to meet these additional costs, although you may be able to apply for small grants from your department and/or college to help you cover some of these expenses.
In addition to your course fees, you will need to ensure that you have adequate funds to support your living costs for the duration of your course.
For the 2023-24 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,290 and £1,840 for each month spent in Oxford. Full information, including a breakdown of likely living costs in Oxford for items such as food, accommodation and study costs, is available on our living costs page. When planning your finances for any future years of study in Oxford beyond 2023-24, it is suggested that you allow for potential increases in living expenses of 5% or more each year – although this rate may vary significantly depending on how the national economic situation develops. UK inflationary increases will be kept under review and this page updated.
All graduate students at Oxford belong to a department or faculty and a college or hall (except those taking non-matriculated courses). If you apply for a place on this course you will have the option to express a preference for one of the colleges listed below, or you can ask us to find a college for you. The Colleges section of this website provides information about the college system at Oxford, as well as factors you may wish to consider when deciding whether to express a college preference. Please note that ‘college’ and ‘colleges’ refers to all 45 of the University’s colleges, including those designated as Permanent Private Halls (PPHs).
For some courses, the department or faculty may have provided some additional advice below to help you to decide. Whatever you decide, it won’t affect how the academic department assesses your application and whether they decide to make you an offer. If your department makes you an offer of a place, you’re guaranteed a place at one of our colleges.
The following colleges accept students on the MSc in Mathematical and Theoretical Physics:
Before you apply
Our guide to getting started provides general advice on how to prepare for and start your application. Check the deadlines on this page and the information about deadlines in our Application Guide. If it's important for you to have your application considered under a particular deadline – eg under a December or January deadline in order to be considered for Oxford scholarships – we recommend that you aim to complete and submit your application at least two weeks in advance.
Application fee waivers
An application fee of £75 is payable per course application. Application fee waivers are available for the following applicants who meet the eligibility criteria:
- applicants from low-income countries;
- refugees and displaced persons;
- UK applicants from low-income backgrounds; and
- applicants who applied for our Graduate Access Programmes in the past two years and met the eligibility criteria.
You are encouraged to check whether you're eligible for an application fee waiver before you apply.
Do I need to contact anyone before I apply?
You do not need to make contact with the department before you apply but you are encouraged to visit the relevant departmental webpages to read any further information about your chosen course.
You are welcome to contact academics involved, however this is not a necessary prerequisite to the application process. If you are unsure of who to contact, you should send an email to the Academic Assistant in the first instance.
Completing your application
You should refer to the information below when completing the application form, paying attention to the specific requirements for the supporting documents. If any document does not meet the specification, including the stipulated word count, your application may be considered incomplete and not assessed by the academic department. Expand each section to show further details.
Three overall, of which at least two must be academic
Whilst you must register three referees, the department may start the assessment of your application if two of the three references are submitted by the course deadline and your application is otherwise complete. Please note that you may still be required to ensure your third referee supplies a reference for consideration.
Your references will support your intellectual ability, academic achievement, academic potential, and motivation, particularly with regard to mathematical and theoretical physics. These will normally be academic references, but one of them may be a professional reference if you have relevant professional experience.
Your transcripts should give detailed information of the individual grades received in your university-level qualifications to date. You should only upload official documents issued by your institution and any transcript not in English should be accompanied by a certified translation.
More information about the transcript requirement is available in the Application Guide.
CV/résumé and contextual information:
Instructions for submitting your CV and optional contextual statement using the submission form
A CV/résumé is compulsory for all applications. Most applicants choose to submit a document of one to two pages highlighting their academic achievements and any relevant professional experience.
If you wish to provide a contextual statement with your application, you may also submit an additional statement to provide contextual information on your socio-economic background or personal circumstances in support of your application.
It is not necessary to anonymise this document, as we recognise that it may be necessary for you to disclose certain information in your statement. This statement will not be used as part of the initial academic assessment of applications at shortlisting, but may be used in combination with socio-economic data to provide contextual information during decision-making processes.
Please note, this statement is in addition to completing the 'Extenuating circumstances’ section of the standard application form.
You can find more information about the contextual statement on our page that provides details of the continuing pilot programme to improve the assessment procedure for graduate applications.
A maximum of 600 words
Your statement should be written in English and explain your motivation for applying for the course at Oxford, your relevant experience and education, and the specific areas that interest you and/or you intend to specialise in.
If possible, please ensure that the word count is clearly displayed on the document.
This will be assessed for your reasons for applying, evidence of motivation for and understanding of the proposed area of study, commitment to the subject beyond the requirements of the degree course, capacity for sustained and intense work, reasoning ability, the ability to absorb abstract ideas and at a rapid pace and an indication of your intended pathway through the programme.
Start or continue your application
You can start or return to an application using the relevant link below. As you complete the form, please refer to the requirements above and consult our Application Guide for advice. You'll find the answers to most common queries in our FAQs.