MSt in Ancient Philosophy | University of Oxford
A close up of the spines of old books
Four works of Aristotle, including the Nicomachean Ethics and Poetics
(Image Credit: Chris Howard / Flickr)

MSt in Ancient Philosophy

About the course

This one-year, full-time taught graduate course offers graduate training in ancient philosophy of the highest possible quality, and aims to provide a foundation on which you can go on to pursue doctoral work in the area. You will study two subject options, assessed by three 5,000-word essays, and will offer a thesis of 10,000 to 15,000 words. This course is not available in part-time mode of study and is not offered via distance learning.

Teaching and learning on the MSt in Ancient Philosophy normally consists of individual supervisions with members of the faculty during term-time, classes and lectures, and ongoing independent research.

You must choose two subject options. The first subject option must be chosen from the following list of undergraduate papers in ancient philosophy:

  • Plato: Republic
  • Plato on Knowledge, Language & Reality in the Theaetetus and Sophist
  • Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics
  • Aristotle on Nature, Life and Mind
  • Knowledge and Scepticism in Hellenistic Philosophy
  • Latin philosophy

Tuition for these subjects is offered in the form of supervisions, as well as lectures and classes. Assessment is by one 5,000-word essay on a topic chosen by you and approved by the course co-ordinator.

The second subject option consists of two classes, which change every year, and you must attend both classes. Assessment is by two 5,000-word essays in topics linked to the area covered in the two classes. You may choose to write both essays on topics linked to one class or to write one essay on a topic linked to the first class and the other essay on a topic linked to the second. 

Students must also offer a thesis of 10,000 to 15,000 words on a topic they choose in consultation with the course coordinator and a prospective supervisor.

It is not a course requirement for students without any (or with little) Ancient Greek to attend the language classes currently run by the Faculty of Classics, but it is highly recommended that they do so, as being able to read philosophical texts in the original language is an advantage for Ancient Philosophy students. Students with intermediate or advanced Greek may choose to attend more advanced Ancient Greek classes.

If you pass the MSt in Ancient Philosophy, you will have the opportunity to apply to continue to the DPhil in Philosophy via a year as a Probationary Research Student.

However, if you have no to little Ancient Greek and you would like to progress to the DPhil in Philosophy, you should attend the Ancient Greek classes as attendance and progress in these classes will normally be an academic condition for admissions to the DPhil in Philosophy.

Upon completion of the course, you should have:

  • pursued a course requiring a high standard in each of the three examined elements (a thesis and two subject options);
  • selected at least two areas of ancient philosophy and studied them through individual supervisions with an expert supervisor and either by lectures (offered by an expert or experts in the relevant field) or by classes (convened by an expert or experts in the relevant field) at which students give presentations;
  • written a thesis under the guidance of an expert supervisor;
  • been examined on your chosen areas by a requirement to write three essays of up to 5,000 words each;
  • had the opportunity to attain some knowledge of Ancient Greek, or consolidate and increase existing knowledge;
  • had many opportunities to hear and give talks in philosophy, by attending an annual Graduate Philosophy Conference, talks by invited speakers, philosophy societies, and discussion groups; and
  • been a member of a college graduate community, associating with graduates from many countries, cultures, and academic disciplines.

You may attend any graduate or undergraduate classes, seminars and lectures in and outside of the Faculty of Philosophy which are of interest to you, provided those classes, seminars and lectures are open to you.

During term-time the Faculty of Philosophy normally offers a weekly workshop that allows members of the faculty and graduate students to discuss work in progress in ancient philosophy by speakers from Oxford and elsewhere. All graduate students specialising in ancient philosophy are encouraged to attend this workshop.

The course has no fieldwork, industrial placement or year abroad element, but you may decide to attend conferences, workshops or research training elsewhere.


For this course, the allocation of graduate supervision is the responsibility of the Faculty of Philosophy 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 Faculty of Philosophy and Faculty of Classics.

Graduate destinations

MSt in Ancient Philosophy graduates usually progress to doctoral programmes, either at the faculty itself or elsewhere. Some, however, have pursued non-philosophical academic careers, or careers outside academia, including banking, information technology, law, management consultancy, teaching and public service. The graduate destinations of the seven most recent cohorts of students is available on the MSt alumni webpages.

The faculty aims to assist students and graduates in securing academic jobs. The faculty appoints a Placement Officer who, in conjunction with the Graduate Studies Assistant, runs the faculty’s placement scheme. The Placement Officer also helps job applicants with the preparation of their CVs, provides advice about the presentation of material in an application dossier, arranges practice interviews and generally attends the Eastern Division meeting of the American Philosophical Association to support candidates who have interviews there.

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. 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 sabbatical leave, parental leave or change in employment.

For further information, please see our page on 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 Faculty of Philosophy

Entry requirements for entry in 2020-21

Proven and potential academic excellence

Degree-level qualifications

As a minimum, applicants should hold or be predicted to achieve the equivalent of the following UK qualifications:

  • a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours in philosophy, classics or a closely-related discipline. 

However, entrance is very competitive and most successful applicants have a first-class degree or the equivalent. 

For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA sought is 3.6 out of 4.0. However, most successful applicants have a GPA of 3.7.

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

You are not required to have any publications.

Further guidance

Students who achieve a distinction on the MSt in Ancient Philosophy are eligible for progression to the DPhil in Philosophy, provided that the Philosophy Graduate Studies Committee is satisfied that their proposed thesis topic and outline indicate that they can be adequately supervised by members of the Philosophy Faculty. If they started the MSt with no or limited knowledge of Ancient Greek, they are normally also required to have attended relevant classes in Ancient Greek. Students who pass the MSt in Ancient Philosophy without a distinction may be admitted to the DPhil at the Committee’s discretion.

All applications are assessed by the faculty's Graduate Studies Committee at the same time, after the application deadline has passed, and offers are made on a strictly comparative basis.

This course is suitable as a conversion course for students changing to philosophy from classics or other related disciplines.

Please note that there is also an option to study an Ancient Philosophy track in the Faculty of Philosophy's two-year master's course in philosophy, the BPhil in Philosophy.

English language requirement

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.

Detailed requirements - higher level

The minimum scores required to meet the University's higher level are:

IELTS Academic7.5Minimum 7.0 per component

Minimum component scores:

  • Listening: 22
  • Reading: 24
  • Speaking: 25
  • Writing: 24
Cambridge Certificate of Advanced English (CAE) or C1 Advanced191Minimum 185 per component
Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE) or C2 Proficiency191Minimum 185 per component

Your test must have been taken no more than two years before the start date of your course. For more information about the English language test requirement, visit the Application Guide.

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

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


Any offer of a place is dependent on the University’s ability to provide the appropriate supervision for your chosen area of work. Please refer to the ‘About’ section of this page for more information about the provision of supervision for this course.

How your application is assessed

Your application will be assessed purely on academic merit and potential, according to the published entry requirements for the course. 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. Whether you have secured funding will not be taken into consideration when your application is assessed.

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.

After an offer is made

If you receive an offer of a place at Oxford, you will be required to meet the following requirements: 

Financial Declaration

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.


Oxford is one of the world’s great centres for philosophy, and is widely recognised to be amongst the best. More than 150 professional philosophers work in the University and its colleges, between them covering a vast range of subjects within philosophy, and many are international leaders in their fields. 

Specifically, Oxford is widely acknowledged to contain one of the leading groups of ancient philosophers in the world. Ancient philosophy at Oxford is ranked top in the most recent Philosophical Gourmet Report’s breakdown of programmes by speciality (2017-18) and the faculty attracts and selects the best possible national and international scholars in the subject.

The Philosophy Centre in the Radcliffe Humanities building on Woodstock Road acts as a focal point for the faculty’s activities and contains, as well as lecturing and teaching space, a graduate computing room and a graduate common room. A wireless network runs throughout the Philosophy Centre.

The Philosophy Centre also contains the department's library, with over 25,000 volumes, a collection of approximately 80 periodicals, online access to many philosophical databases, and librarians trained in the specific bibliographic needs of philosophers. Many college libraries also have extensive holdings in philosophy.

Each term many graduate classes and research seminars are organised by faculty members in which graduate students are full and important participants.

A term-time only workshop is normally offered which allows members and graduate students of the Faculty of Philosophy to discuss work in progress in ancient philosophy by speakers from Oxford and elsewhere. 

In some years the Faculty of Classics and Faculty of Philosophy jointly offer the Nellie Wallace lectures, which enable scholars from outside the University to visit Oxford in order to lecture and conduct seminars in a subject in the field of Literae Humaniores.

Graduates are encouraged to organise their own seminars and reading groups, and they also run two societies: one invites distinguished speakers from the UK and around the world, while another gives graduates the opportunity to present papers to a graduate audience.

Each year there is an Oxford Graduate Philosophy Conference, in which most graduate philosophy students participate in some way.


There are over 1,100 full or partial graduate scholarships available across the University. You will be automatically considered for over two thirds of Oxford scholarships, if you fulfil the eligibility criteria and submit your graduate application by the relevant January deadline, with most scholarships awarded on the basis of academic merit and/or potential. To help identify those scholarships where you will be required to submit an additional application, use the Fees, funding and scholarships search and visit individual college websites using the links provided on our college pages.


Annual fees for entry in 2020-21

Fee status

Annual Course fees

Home/EU (including Islands)£13,075

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 likely increases 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.

For more information about course 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

The Philosophy Graduate Studies Committee has a research and travel fund for graduate students to which students may apply for assistance with, for example, the costs of attending conferences or workshops. BPhil and MSt students may only apply for funding if they are presenting a paper. Probationary Research Students and DPhil students are entitled to apply for funding to attend a workshop, conference, etc, whether or not they are presenting a paper.

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 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 2020-21 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,135 and £1,650 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 2020-21, you should allow for an estimated increase in living expenses of 3% each year.

How to apply

You should not make contact with an academic member of staff before you apply.

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.

Statement of purpose/personal statement:
One page

You should submit a statement in English explaining your motivation for applying for the course, in which you may wish to consider the following questions:

  • why are you applying to this particular programme of study?
  • what relevant academic and/or research experience do you have?
  • which areas of study within the subject interest you?
  • why would you be an excellent candidate for this course?
  • how does this course fit in with your future career plans?

This will be assessed for evidence of motivation for and understanding of the proposed area of study.

Your statement should focus on philosophy, rather than personal, extra-curricular achievements and interests.

Written work:
Either one essay of 4,000 to 5,000 words or two essays of 2,000 to 2,500 words each

Your written work(s) should be academic essays or other writing samples on philosophical topics. All essays should be recent and not of a primarily expository nature.

Written work should be typed, written in English and clearly marked with your name and the date of composition. The word count does not need to include any bibliography or brief footnotes.

This will be assessed for:

  • clarity and accuracy of thought and writing
  • intellectual independence
  • willingness and ability to reach conclusions by reasoned argument rather than assertion
  • a critical and attentive reading of any texts discussed
  • understanding of important philosophical ideas and theories
  • if required by the topic of the work, appropriate technical skills.

To submit one longer piece of work in your application, upload your work as written work in your application and for the second piece of written work, upload the following text as a PDF:

"I have included one long essay in lieu of two short essays as permitted by the faculty."

References/letters of recommendation:
Three overall, generally 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.

Academic references are usually required. However, if you have been out of education for a long time, or if you have substantial relevant working experience, then a maximum of one professional reference may replace an academic reference provided that it speaks to your ability to undertake philosophy studies at graduate level.

Your references should support success in current or previous studies and a likelihood of success in the MSt in Ancient Philosophy. In particular, references should provide evidence of outstanding academic achievement, intellectual ability and strong motivation for the intended graduate course.

Start or continue an application

Step 1: Read our guide to getting started, which explains how to prepare for and start an application.

Step 2: Check that you meet the Entry requirements and read the How to apply information on this page.

Step 3: Check the deadlines on this page and plan your time to submit your application well in advance.

Step 4: Our Application Guide will help you complete the form. It contains links to FAQs and further help.

Step 5: Submit your application as soon as possible (you can read more information about our deadlines).

Application GuideApply

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