MSc in Mathematical and Theoretical Physics | University of Oxford
Students and staff in mathematical physics
Students and staff in mathematical physics
(Image Credit: Department of Mathematics)

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. It covers the following main areas:

  • quantum field theory, particle physics and string theory
  • theoretical condensed matter physics,
  • theoretical astrophysics, plasma physics and physics of continuous media
  • mathematical foundations of theoretical physics

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). 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, 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.

You will have to attend at least ten units' worth of courses, with one unit corresponding to a 16-hour lecture course or equivalent. You can opt to offer a dissertation as part of your ten units. 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. In addition, you will be required to give an oral presentation towards the end of the academic year which will cover a more specialised and advanced topic related to one of the subject areas of the course. 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.

The course offers a substantial opportunity for independent study and research in the form of an optional dissertation (worth at least one unit). The dissertation is undertaken under the guidance of a member of staff and will typically involve investigating and write in a particular area of theoretical physics or mathematics, without the requirement (while not excluding the possibility) of obtaining original results.

Graduate destinations

Research in mathematical and theoretical physics or industry.

Related courses

Changes to the course

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. For further information, please see our page on changes to courses.

Entry requirements for entry in 2017-18

Within equal opportunities principles and legislation, applications will be assessed in the light of an applicant’s ability to meet the following entry requirements:

1. Academic ability

Proven and potential academic excellence

Applicants are normally expected to be predicted or have achieved a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours (or equivalent international qualifications), as a minimum, in mathematics, physics, or a related discipline at the time this course starts.

For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA sought is 3.4 out of 4.0.

If you hold non-UK qualifications and wish to check how your qualifications match these requirements, you can contact the National Recognition Information Centre for the United Kingdom (UK NARIC).

No Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or GMAT scores are sought.

Other appropriate indicators will include:

Supporting documents

You will be required to supply supporting documents with your application, including references and an official transcript. See 'How to apply' for instructions on the documents you will need and how these will be assessed.

Performance at interview(s)

Interviews are not normally held as part of the admissions process.  


Publications are not expected.

2. English language requirement

Applicants whose first language is not English are usually required to provide evidence of proficiency in English at the higher level required by the University.

3. Availability of supervision, teaching, facilities and places

The following factors will govern whether candidates can be offered places:

  • The ability of the Mathematical Institute and Department of Physics to provide the appropriate supervision, research opportunities, teaching and facilities for your chosen area of work. 
  • Minimum and maximum limits to the numbers of students who may be admitted to Oxford's research and taught programmes.

The provision of supervision, where required, is subject to the following points:

  • The allocation of graduate supervision 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.

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 sabbatical leave, maternity leave or change in employment.

4. Disability, health conditions and specific learning difficulties

Students are selected for admission without regard to gender, marital or civil partnership status, disability, race, nationality, ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation, age or social background.

Decisions on admission are based solely on the individual academic merits of each candidate and the application of the entry requirements appropriate to the course.

Further information on how these matters are supported during the admissions process is available in our guidance for applicants with disabilities.

5. Assessors

All recommendations to admit a student involve the judgment of at least two members of academic staff with relevant experience and expertise, and additionally must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies or Admissions Committee (or equivalent departmental persons or bodies).

Admissions panels or committees will always include at least one member of academic staff who has undertaken appropriate training.

6. Other information

Whether you have yet secured funding is not taken into consideration in the decision to make an initial offer of a place, but please note that the initial offer of a place will not be confirmed until you have completed a Financial Declaration.


The Mathematical Institute provides the following facilities:

  • IT Support
  • the Whitehead Library
  • department common room.

The mezzanine level of the Andrew Wiles Building houses a canteen and teaching spaces. The Mathematics Institute provides six lecture theatres and six class rooms. The largest lecture theatre can hold up to 363 people and all class rooms can hold 24 people.

The Department of Physics provides the following facilities:

  • teaching space in the Dennis Wilkinson building and the Clarendon Laboratory
  • use of the canteens in either building
  • IT support.


There are over 1,000 full graduate scholarships available across the University, and these cover your course and college fees and provide a grant for living costs. If you apply by the relevant January deadline and fulfil the eligibility criteria you will be automatically considered. Over two thirds of Oxford scholarships require nothing more than the standard course application. Use the Fees, funding and scholarship search to find out which scholarships you are eligible for and if they require an additional application, full details of which are provided.

For students applying to programmes within the MPLS Division at Oxford, Research Council and other funding opportunities available, subject to eligibility. These opportunities are included in the Fees, funding and scholarship search.

You may also be interested in departmental funding opportunities. Further details can be found on the Mathematical Institute website.


Annual fees for entry in 2017-18

Fee status

Tuition fee

College fee

Total annual fees

(including Islands)

The fees shown above are the annual tuition and college fees for this course for entry in the stated academic year; for courses lasting longer than one year, please be aware that fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on likely increases to fees and charges.

Tuition and college 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 tuition and college fees).

For more information about tuition fees, college fees and fee liability, please see the Fees section of this website. EU applicants should refer to our dedicated webpage for details of the implications of the UK’s plans to leave the European Union.

Additional information

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.

Living costs

In addition to your tuition and college fees, you will need to ensure that you have adequate funds to support your living costs for the duration of your course.

For the 2017-18 academic year, the range of likely living costs is between £1,002 and £1,471 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.

How to apply

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 e-mail to the Academic Assistant.

The set of documents you should send with your application to this course comprises the following:

Official transcript(s)

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.


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.

Personal statement:
Up to one page

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.

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.

References/letters of recommendation:
Three overall, all of which 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. Academic references are required.

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