MSt in English (650-1550) | University of Oxford
A close up of a painting manuscript showing 6 figures
The Digby 233 manuscript
(Image source: Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford)

MSt in English (650-1550)

About the course

The English master's programmes are designed to serve both as an autonomous degree for students wishing to pursue more advanced studies in English literature, and as a solid foundation for doctoral research.

The MSt in English Language and Literature 650–1550 offers the knowledge and understanding, research materials and opportunities, and the skills and techniques, for undertaking the study of the languages and literatures produced in England, Scotland and Wales before 1550.

We aim to broaden students’ experience of the literature produced in the British Isles and related areas across nearly a millennium. We also offer unrivalled training in the core skills for research in medieval studies. This includes reading, understanding and editing medieval manuscripts and early printed books; developing skills in languages such as Old English and Old Norse; and debating a wide range of approaches and methods in the study of medieval literature and culture. Optional courses with leading scholars help to focus students’ interests, and a dissertation provides the chance to pursue in-depth research to a high quality.

The range of the literature and approaches likely to be encountered is challenging and rewarding. We have no one method or theoretical approach; the course gives you time to learn which sort of medieval studies you wish to practise, or invent. Whatever your past experience and expected career path, the course can help you to become an accomplished medievalist with a wide range of expertise.

Course structure

The MSt programme consists of four main components as outlined below. 

A. Core course: Literature, contexts and approaches

This core course is not formally assessed. Seminars over the first two terms introduce a range of medieval literatures composed between 650 and 1550, and a variety of topics and approaches for consideration, such as voice and writing, authorship, form and formalism, and historicism. Students give presentations in the weekly seminars.

B. Core course: Bibliography, theories of text, history of the book, manuscript studies

This core course provides extensive training in handling and thinking about the ‘material text’ – how we read, date, interpret, and edit from primary sources – including coursework studying some of Oxford’s astounding holdings of manuscripts and early printed books. Such training will transform the way you think about medieval literature, bringing it to archaeological life, and open up new resources for research as well as new kinds of research.

Seminars over the first two terms introduce skills in transcription, palaeography, codicology and editing, and reflection on the significance of studying the material forms and textual transmission of medieval literature. 

C. Special options

Students take two special option courses, one in the first term and one in the second term, choosing from a range of about six which change each year. Recent years’ courses have included Anglo-Saxon riddles, Cynewulf, archetypes of the high Middle Ages, early Middle English women’s religious writing, post-Conquest literature, Chaucer’s places, intellectual dissidence and dissent in the fifteenth century, the language of Middle English literature, and the languages and literatures of medieval Wales and Ireland. Students are also welcome to choose a course offered by another MSt strand, for example in another period, or in the English Language.

Option courses are taught in weekly small-group seminars. 

D. Dissertation

In discussion with faculty members, each student devises a research project of their own on any subject concerning the language, literature, or cultural history of the British Isles and the Norse world in the Middle Ages. They receive one-to-one supervision on that research and complete a dissertation of 10,000-11,000 words by the end of the third term (June). These dissertations bring to bear the skills and perspectives acquired throughout the course on one focused piece of research.

The MPhil

For those who would like to take their studies further, the MPhil runs over two years, with the same first-year syllabus as that of the MSt course. It includes further taught courses, opportunities for more linguistic training, and a second, longer dissertation in the second year. It is possible to apply for this course from the outset or apply to switch onto it at the end of the MSt.

Supervision

The allocation of graduate supervision for this course is the responsibility of the Faculty of English 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 English.

Assessment

In addition to the dissertation, students sit a short transcription test and submit a piece of coursework of 5,000-6,000 words. relating to the ‘B’ core course as well as two further essays of 5,000-6,000 words relating to the two special options courses taken.

Students normally take all four components to fulfil the requirements of the degree. All course work will be completed by the end of the second term (Hilary term), leaving the summer term (Trinity term) for the writing of the dissertation, which is submitted in early June.

Graduate destinations

Many English taught-course students go onto doctoral research, both at Oxford and at other universities worldwide. Other graduates pursue careers in occupations including teaching, journalism, law, publishing and the civil service.

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.

Entry requirements for entry in 2021-22

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 English literature and/or English language, or exceptionally a related subject.

For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA sought is 3.75 (with at least 3.85 in the major) 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.

Further guidance

  • Publications are not required and the English Faculty does not expect applicants to have been published.
  • There is no automatic transfer from a taught to a research course. Current students wishing to be considered for the DPhil programme submit applications that are assessed and considered alongside applicants with master's degrees from other universities.

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.

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. The minimum scores required to meet the University's higher level are detailed in the table below.

Minimum scores required to meet the University's higher level requirement
TestMinimum overall scoreMinimum score per component
IELTS Academic (Institution code: 0713) 7.57.0
TOEFL iBT (Institution code: 0490)110Listening: 22
Reading: 24
Speaking: 25
Writing: 24
C1 Advanced*191185
C2 Proficiency191185

*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.

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.

Supervision

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.

Resources

The facilities for English graduate students in Oxford are outstanding. In the faculty building you will find superb computing resources, a graduate common room, a café and an excellent discipline-specific library.

The English Faculty Library holds over 110,000 volumes and a wide range of print journals; it also provides regular information skills training to support teaching and research in English. Graduate students have access to all of Oxford's libraries, numbering over one hundred and including the world-famous collections of the Bodleian Library.

You will have the opportunity to hear lectures and papers by leading writers, critics, and theorists from inside and outside the University. You are encouraged to participate in the many research seminars and reading groups that run throughout term time, many of which are coordinated by graduates themselves.

There is an active and lively graduate organisation funded by the faculty, English Graduates at Oxford (EGO), that organises study skills, training and career development seminars, as well as social events and conferences.

The Faculty of English Language and Literature is by far the largest English Department in the UK and has a very distinguished research record, awarded top grades in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework. The department was voted the top university for English language and literature in the Independent’s Complete University Guide 2011 and in the 2016 QS World University Rankings. Teaching has been graded ‘excellent’ in every quality assurance review.

The faculty currently has 80 permanent members of academic staff, including 9 statutory professors. This is in addition to a further 100 or so members teaching in the colleges and temporary members of staff. There are currently around 900 undergraduate students (with roughly 260 admitted each year to the single honours school and a further 20 to joint honours school programmes). The Oxford English Faculty has the largest graduate school in the country, with approximately 95 master's students, with a further 120 graduate research students. For the publications and research interests of particular faculty members, please consult their individual webpages.

Funding

The University expects to be able to offer up to 1,000 full or partial graduate scholarships across the collegiate University in 2021-22. 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 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 college-specific funding opportunities using the links provided on our college pages.

Further information about funding opportunities for this course can be found on the faculty's website.

Costs

Annual fees for entry in 2021-22

Fee status

Annual Course fees

Home (UK, Republic of Ireland,
Channel Islands & Isle of Man)
£12,830
Overseas (including EU)£27,460

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 detailed fee status information and the Oxford and the EU webpage for details of the implications of the UK’s exit from the EU.

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 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 2021-22 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,175 and £1,710 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 2021-22, you should allow for an estimated increase in living expenses of 3% each year.

College preference

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 MSt in English (650-1550):

How to apply

You are not expected to contact 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.

CV/résumé

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:
A maximum of 1,000 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.

Your statement will be assessed for:

  • evidence of motivation for and understanding of the proposed area of study and the nature of the course applied to
  • commitment to the subject
  • evidence of a defined set of research interests.

Your statement should indicate your academic interests rather than personal interests, achievements and aspirations.

Written work:
Either one essay of a maximum of 4,000 words or two essays of a maximum of 2,000 words each

Academic essays or other writing samples from your most recent qualification, written in English, are required. Extracts from longer pieces are welcome but should be prefaced by a note which puts them in context.

It is preferable for your work to be related to the subject area you intend to study. The word count does not need to include any bibliography or brief footnotes.

If possible, please ensure that the word count is clearly displayed on the document.

This will be assessed for:

  • analytical and critical acumen
  • ability to construct and defend an argument
  • powers of expression.

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.

The Faculty of English expects three academic references in all but exceptional cases, and never fewer than two academic references.

Your references will support intellectual ability, academic achievement and motivation.

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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