The pipes on an organ.
Detail of organ in University Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford.
Copyright © Oxford University Images / John Cairns Photography

Organ awards

Organ scholars are talented organ students who wish to develop their skills significantly during the period of their University studies. They are appointed by colleges to play the organ for chapel services and to direct or assist in the work of the choir.

In some colleges they are effectively the directors of chapel music; in others they act as assistants to a professional director of music.

The experience is without parallel for those wishing to engage in music-making at the highest level; but it offers also invaluable training and experience for musicians with more modest aspirations.

The chapel music environment in Oxford is extremely lively, and offers scope not only for outstanding work in chapel contexts but also for external activities such as tours and recordings.

Organ award FAQs

How many colleges offer organ awards?

Twenty two colleges offer organ awards at Oxford through the University's organ awards scheme.

What music qualifications are required?

As a rule of thumb a candidate for any organ award ought to have reached a standard roughly equivalent to Grade 8 in organ playing. Candidates for organ awards at the choral foundations (Christ Church, Magdalen and New College) should be beyond this and approaching the standard of a diploma.

What does an organ award involve?

The duties of organ scholars vary from college to college. They all involve playing the organ for services; and most involve working with the choir. Some modest level of administrative work is also required. In some colleges, the organ scholar may be expected to act as a general organiser of musical activities.

The monetary value of the award varies between colleges. In some colleges there are possibilities to augment this through involvement in additional services such as gaudies, weddings and memorial services. Many colleges provide funding for organ lessons and/or conducting lessons. Noted teachers in both disciplines live and work in Oxford or regularly visit the city.

At Balliol, Corpus Christi, Exeter, Jesus College, Lincoln, Pembroke and Trinity, the organ scholar plays the organ for chapel services and recruits and directs the choir under the supervision of the college chaplain.

At Christ Church, Harris Manchester, Hertford, Keble, Lady Margaret Hall, Magdalen, Mansfield, Merton, New, Oriel, Queen’s, Somerville, St Edmund Hall, St Peter’s, University and Worcester, the organ scholar works with a professional director of music, principally playing the organ for services but assisting also in the running of the choir.

The level of activity varies considerably between colleges. The three choral foundations (Christ Church, Magdalen and New College) offer the busiest schedules, performing almost every day during term time and with significant additional activities of services, concerts and recordings beyond. At other colleges the organ scholar will be required to play from between one and four services per week during term.

Most colleges offer an organ award bi-annually, so that a third-year organ scholar overlaps with a first-year organ scholar. A few offer an award annually.

Do consult the director of music or chaplain of any college in which you are interested to obtain more detailed information or advice (see the links below). It is possible for you to visit colleges in the term before the auditions take place.

Which organ awards are available for entry in 2024 and 2025?

Organ scholarship availability for entry in 2024 and deferred entry in 2025 is shown below. 

Application in 2023

Organ awards in 2024
Organ awards in 2025
Brasenose  • 
Christ Church 
Corpus Christi 
Exeter  •   
Harris Manchester* 
Jesus College 
Keble • 
Lady Margaret Hall 
Merton • 
New College  
Pembroke •  
The Queen's College 
St Edmund Hall 
St Peter's 
University College 

*Harris Manchester Organ Award recipients must be over 21 by the date their course starts. 

Please note that there are some restrictions on the courses available to organ scholars in some colleges. View details of course availability for organ scholars.

How to choose which organ award to apply for?

You need to consider what sort of experience of church music you want while you are at Oxford. Do you wish to take part in services most days during term or, at the other extreme, just once on Sundays? Do you want to be involved primarily in accompanying the choir and playing music before and after services, or in organising and directing the choir yourself? Do you want to be involved with a choir that has many additional commitments beyond regular services, such as concerts, CD recordings, tours and broadcasts? Your answers to these questions will affect the colleges for which it is suitable for you to apply. You are advised to consult the webpages of colleges individually and to contact their chaplains and/or directors of music to find out what the organ awards will involve.

You should note that organ scholars are required to be resident members of their colleges. So your selection of the organ award to apply for is a decision as to which college you would like to study at.

Which subjects can be studied in conjunction with an organ award?

See our full list of the courses for which organ award applicants may apply at each college.

Are there any postgraduate opportunities for organ scholarships?

There are not currently any formally instituted organ awards for graduate students. In general the scheme is primarily designed for undergraduates, who will be students at Oxford for three or more years. Nevertheless, opportunities for graduate students do arise from time to time on an ad hoc basis. If you would be interested in seeing whether there might be such an opportunity during your intended period of study, contact the organ awards coordinator at the address given above.

How can I make an application?

You must complete and submit this form by noon on 1 September. You may apply for as many college places as you wish. If a college is advertising both for direct entry and for deferred entry, you may apply for both, and there is no requirement for you to put these two places consecutively. You are advised to put down every college place for which you would be prepared to accept an offer.

Organ award applicants may apply to both Oxford and Cambridge. The timetables of the auditions at the two universities are designed in order that this is possible. Should you choose to do this, you are advised not to apply to more than 10 college places at the first-choice university. Take advice over the completion of the application form, and take particular care in selecting the order of your college preferences. 

As part of your application you should include a personal statement, which will probably be the same as for your UCAS application in October. If you are unable to submit the final version of your UCAS personal statement at the time of the organ award application, you may submit a working draft, but you should clearly indicate that this is the case and forward the finished version to your first-choice college as soon as possible, and certainly before the auditions themselves.

Your application will need to be supported by an academic reference from your school or college and by a musical reference from your organ teacher or other suitable person. Your referees must send their references directly to the admissions office of your first-choice college by 1 September.

As well as the practical tests, candidates in most subjects will be examined academically at the time of the September organ award auditions. If your application is judged strong enough to be considered, you will be invited to submit representative examples of your written work (if this is required for your course) shortly after the 1 September deadline. You are recommended to have this work ready in advance so that you can send it off quickly once it is requested. Consult the admissions advice issued for your subject regarding the requirements for submitted work. All candidates will be required to complete a UCAS application once the outcome of the auditions has been announced.

You are advised to make sure that your school or college is well aware that you are applying for an award before the end of the summer term so that they will be able to supply references in good time.

The deadline for submission of applications is noon on 1 September and late applications will not be accepted. The order of your college preferences may not be changed after the deadline and you cannot change the subject you are applying for after this time.

What are the interview and audition timetable and arrangements?

All applicants will be contacted within a few days of the receipt of applications at the beginning of September. If your application is judged suitably strong to proceed to interviews and auditions, you will be contacted first of all to send some examples of your written work (if required for your course). You will then be invited to come to Oxford during the period 17-19 September 2023 for your organ audition. Some candidates may be asked to stay until lunchtime on the 20th, depending on rehearsal availability. Your first-choice college will accommodate you throughout the time you are in Oxford and will be in touch with you concerning these arrangements. Academic interviews will be held online.

This sample timetable gives an idea of what the audition days will involve:

Depending on the dates of this year's process, Sunday or Wednesday afternoon: arrival in Oxford in time for a 30 minute practice on the organ for the audition at a specified time

Monday and/or Tuesday or Thursday and/or Friday: 15 minute organ playing audition, plus at least two academic interviews (carried out online), normally at the first-choice college and the subject faculty or department

Tuesday or Friday: conducting auditions; further interviews if needed; all candidates will be free to leave Oxford by 3pm

You may also be invited for a further informal audition in your first-choice college or at another college. College chaplains may also arrange to interview you during the audition period.

Organ scholarship candidates for most subjects are given full academic assessment in September. You should expect to face the same tests and interviews as candidates in the December admissions process and to be assessed as rigorously.

Candidates applying to the following courses are interviewed in December:

  • Archaeology and Anthropology
  • Biology
  • Computer Science
  • Computer Science and Philosophy
  • Earth Sciences (Geology)
  • Engineering Science
  • Experimental Psychology
  • Fine Art
  • Law
  • Medicine
  • Modern Languages
  • Asian and Middle Eastern Studies
  • Physics
  • Physics and Philosophy
  • Psychology, Philosophy and Linguistics .

Candidates (with the exception of those in the subjects listed above) will have at least two online academic interviews on September 17-19. Some candidates may be asked to stay until lunchtime on the 20th, depending on rehearsal availability. These will ordinarily be with representatives of the first-choice college and the subject faculty or department.

What does the audition involve?

The audition lasts approximately 15 minutes. In it you will play a prepared piece of your own choosing lasting between 5 and 7 minutes and attempt 4 tests: sight-reading, score-reading, transposition and harmonisation.

Auditions will take place on organs that have balanced swell pedals, standard pedalboards and aids to registration. Setting multiple combinations will not be possible, however; candidates should therefore select pieces without many registration changes. A page-turner will be provided, and he or she may be able to make one or two simple registration changes for you, provided that these can be explained within the few seconds immediately prior to performance. There will not be an opportunity to rehearse them.

Select music that displays your instrumental and musical capabilities to the full, without going beyond what your technique can support on an unfamiliar instrument in pressured circumstances. You will need to bring a spare copy of your prepared piece for use by the examiner. It is usually a good idea to bring a second prepared piece, in case you are invited to a second informal audition either in your first-choice college or at a lower-choice college.

Being an organ scholar involves a great deal more than just being able to play pieces on the organ. The keyboard tests are designed to explore the range and depth of your musicianship and are thus just as important in the evaluation as the prepared piece.

The tests are as follows:

  • Sight-reading: a short organ piece using pedals and set out on three staves. Change of manuals, use of the swell box and the addition or subtraction of a coupler may also be required. 
  • Score-reading: a four-voice vocal score (SATB) using G and F clefs to be performed without use of the pedals.
  • Transposition: performance of a harmonised hymn tune up or down a tone or semitone (as requested) with pedals. Candidates taking the tests on an instrument without pedals should play all parts with the hands only.
  • Harmonisation: performance of a hymn melody in a tonal harmonisation using pedals (if possible: see above). The melody will present possibilities for modulation to closely related keys.

Stops will be selected for you for each of the tests.

(Please note that the version of the sight reading without pedals in the 2021 and 2020 tests above was provided for remote tests, and will not exist in an in-person process)

When will I be notified about the results?

In some cases, the initial offer of an organ award may be made quite quickly after the final selection meeting, by phone or by email. In other cases the notification may be made only after a few days. A letter will also be sent confirming the offer and any conditions attached to it as well as instructing you how to proceed with your UCAS application to the University. In any event, you will be contacted in good time to make the UCAS deadline of 16 October.

Please note that an offer of an organ award will be subject to you meeting the academic admissions requirements for your course. Where there is an admissions test for a given subject, an offer of an organ award will normally be conditional upon satisfactory performance in that test.

How can I find out more about organ awards?

Details of the organ awards at the colleges that participate in the scheme can be found on the college websites:

Individual directors of music and/or chaplains will be happy to let you know more detail about the organ award and chapel music at their colleges.