Biological Sciences | University of Oxford
Biological Sciences
Student on a field trip.
(Credit: Martin Speight)

Biological Sciences

Biological Sciences is an exciting and rapidly developing subject area. The study of living things has undergone tremendous expansion in recent years, and topics such as cell biology, neuroscience, evolutionary biology and ecology are advancing rapidly. The rapid expansion has been accompanied by a blurring of the distinctions between disciplines: a biologist with an interest in tropical plants may well use many of the tools and techniques that are indispensable to a molecular geneticist.

 

The degree of Biological Sciences is taught jointly by the departments of Plant Sciences and Zoology. Additional resources include: University Museum of Natural History, Botanic Garden, Herbarium, Arboretum, Wytham Woods.

Practical laboratory work is an integral part of teaching and there is a compulsory one-week field trip for all first-year students to Pembrokeshire to study ecology (for which a contribution of £200 is required from every student). Fieldwork is a crucial part of some courses; for example, there are field days associated with a number of the second-year practical courses and in the third year students may be able to attend an optional overseas field course. Many students carry out their research projects in the field, either in the UK or abroad. All overseas work requires financial contributions from the student. Current costs are detailed at ox.ac.uk/ugbiosci: see Fees and Funding tab.

BIOSci Careers

A significant proportion of Oxford biologists embark on a professional, scientific or technical career after graduating, while more than a third go on to further study such as a research doctorate or a postgraduate course in an applied field. Others will take up careers in fields such as industry, finance, medicine, law, teaching, media or conservation.

After graduation, Jenny spent several years in a medical communication agency environment, and now has her own business, working directly with major global pharmaceutical companies. She explains: ‘The tutorial system and writing opportunities during my degree were critical in developing the skills needed to analyse and interpret data, present them clearly and concisely in context and discuss results of clinical trials.’

Hannah, now a research assistant at the Royal Veterinary College, reports: ‘My degree gave me a keen interest in my subject and the skills to pursue it. So far I have tracked rhinos across deserts, chased birds across oceans, and am currently working with chickens!’

Related courses

Students interested in this course might also like to consider Biochemistry (Molecular and Cellular), Biomedical Sciences, Earth Sciences (Geology), Geography or Human Sciences.

Practicals and fieldwork

Practical laboratory work is an integral part of teaching and there is a one-week field trip for all first year students to Pembrokeshire to study ecology. Fieldwork is a crucial part of some courses; for example, there are field days associated with a number of the second year practical courses and in the third year students may be able to attend an overseas field course. Furthermore, many students carry out their research projects in the field, either in the UK or abroad.  All overseas work requires financial contributions from the student.

A typical weekly timetable

Almost all teaching activities happens in the departments of Plant Sciences and Zoology and can be broken down into the following categories:

  • Lectures: around ten hours a week
  • Practicals: around eight hours a week
  • Tutorials: one hour a week, plus preparation time
  • Research projects – variable hours in second and third year
1st year
Courses

Four courses are taken:

  • Cells and genes
  • Organisms
  • Ecology and evolution
  • Quantitative methods (a two-year course, assessed during the second University examinations)

Assessment

First University examinations:
Three written papers
Satisfactory practical record

2nd year
Courses

Eight courses are offered. Students are encouraged to attend lectures in all themes.

Compulsory:
  • Evolution
  • Quantitative methods

Themes:
  • Adaptations to the environment
  • Animal behaviour
  • Cell and developmental biology
  • Disease
  • Ecology
  • Plants and people

Assessment

Final University examinations, Part I:

Three written papers:

  • Evolution paper
  • Essay paper covering the six themes
  • Quantitative methods paper

Satisfactory practical record

3rd year
Courses

Around 20 options covering the full breadth of active research in the departments. Students are expected to take 6–8 of these specialist options, which are chosen freely. Two overseas field courses are also available but numbers able to attend are capped for logistical reasons.

A full list of current options is available on the Biological Sciences website.

Assessment

Final University examinations, Part II:

Four written papers:

  • A general paper
  • A data interpretation paper
  • A short essay-based paper
  • A long essay-based paper
Two course assignments and research project (prepared work counts for 30% of overall assessment)

The content and format of this course may change in some circumstances. Read further information about potential course changes.

Candidates are expected to have Biology (or Human Biology) to A-level, Advanced Higher, Higher Level in the IB or another equivalent.

Oxford University is committed to recruiting the best and brightest students from all backgrounds. We offer a generous package of financial support to Home/EU students from lower-income households. (UK nationals living in the UK are usually Home students.)

Fees

These annual fees are for full-time students who begin this undergraduate course here in 2016.

Fee status

Tuition fee

College fee

Total annual fees

Home/EU£9,000£0£9,000
Islands
(Channel Islands
& Isle of Man)
£9,000£0£9,000
Overseas£22,515£7,135£29,650

For more information please refer to our tuition fees page. Fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on likely increases to fees and charges.

Living costs

Living costs at Oxford might be less than you’d expect, as our world-class resources and college provision can help keep costs down.

Living costs for 2016/17 are estimated to be between £970 and £1,433 for each month you are in Oxford. Our academic year is made up of three eight-week terms, so you would not usually need to be in Oxford for much more than six months of the year but may wish to budget over a nine-month period to ensure you also have sufficient funds during the holidays to meet essential costs. For further details please visit our living costs webpage.

Financial support

Home/EU

A full loan is available from the UK government to cover tuition fees for students undertaking their first undergraduate degree*, so you don’t need to pay your tuition fees up front.

In 2016 Oxford is offering one of the most generous bursary packages of any UK university to those on a family income of £42,875 or less, with additional opportunities available to those from households with incomes of £16,000 or less.  This support is available in addition to the government grants and loans.  See further details.

Islands
(Channel Islands and Isle of Man)

Islands students are entitled to different support to that of students from the rest of the UK.

Please refer the links below for information on the support to you available from your funding agency:

States of Jersey
States of Guernsey
Isle of Man

Overseas

Please refer to the "Other Scholarships" section of our Oxford support page.

*If you have studied at undergraduate level before and completed your course, you will be classed as an Equivalent or Lower Qualification student (ELQ) and won’t be eligible to receive government or Oxford funding

Fees, Funding and Scholarship search

Additional Fees and Charges Information for Biological Sciences

First year students are required to undertake a one-week residential field course to West Wales (Orielton Field Studies Centre near Pembroke) in the summer term. You will study living organisms in a range of environments, both terrestrial and marine, and you'll be assessed on your practical work. This assessment forms part of your first year examinations. You will be asked to pay £200 to cover food and accommodation, and the University covers all other costs for this compulsory trip. Financial support is available for students who may face difficulty in making this contribution.

There are also two optional overseas fieldtrips in the third year of the course:

  1. Tenerife: a trip in early May to study the systematics, diversity and ecology of the local plant communities.
  2. Borneo: a trip in late September, at the end of the long vacation between the second and third years, to study tropical rainforest ecology, both animals and plants.

As a guide, costs for these optional courses in 2015 were £600 for Tenerife, plus whatever students spent on lunches and evening meals during the week, and £900 for Borneo, plus the return flights to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. Further details on fieldtrips can be found on the Biological Sciences website.

All candidates must follow the application procedure as shown in applying to Oxford. The information below gives specific details for students applying for this course.

Written work and written tests

You do not need to take a written test or submit any written work as part of an application for this course.

What are tutors looking for?

Tutors are looking for enthusiasm for biology and potential to study it at university. Interviews are not to test factual knowledge – they are designed to enable applicants to show an ability to think and to understand whatever facts have been encountered up to that time. Be prepared to talk intelligently about particular aspects of biology that are personally interesting. The process is rigorous but sympathetic. Applicants may be asked to examine and comment on biological objects, or to interpret a written passage or a simple set of data, provided during the interview.

Selection criteria

Candidates may wish to refer to the selection criteria for Biological Sciences.

Suggested reading

At present we do not produce a reading list for students applying for Biological Sciences but we encourage you to read New Scientist, National Geographic or any other Biology materials which you find interesting.

Apply

Watch a series of short videos of students talking about some aspect of their time at Oxford.

Claire, 2nd year

'Throughout my whole life my head has buzzed with questions; questions about humans, plants, the oceans and the microscopic world invisible to the naked eye. Oxford offers me the answers to these questions. It’s incredible!

There’s loads of practical work, from a brilliant week-long field trip to Wales in your first year, to tropical Borneo in your second. Lab work is a great chance to test the theories you’ve learnt in lectures and the supervisors are always happy to offer help and explanation. In your third year you get to carry out a project, investigating whatever you choose, the only criteria being that you’re fascinated by what you’re investigating.'

Hannah, who graduated in 2007

Now a research assistant at the Royal Veterinary College, she says:

‘My degree gave me a keen interest in my subject and the skills to pursue it. So far I have tracked rhinos across deserts, chased birds across oceans, and am currently working with chickens!’

Contextual information

The Key Information Sets provide a lot of numbers about the Oxford experience – but there is so much about what you get here that numbers can’t convey. It’s not just the quantity of the Oxford education that you need to consider, there is also the quality – let us tell you more.

Oxford’s tutorial system

Regular tutorials, which are the responsibility of the colleges, are the focal point of teaching and learning at Oxford. The tutorial system is one of the most distinctive features of an Oxford education: it ensures that students work closely with tutors throughout their undergraduate careers, and offers a learning experience which is second to none.

A typical tutorial is a one-hour meeting between a tutor and one, two, or three students to discuss reading and written work that the students have prepared in advance. It gives students the chance to interact directly with tutors, to engage with them in debate, to exchange ideas and argue, to ask questions, and of course to learn through the discussion of the prepared work. Many tutors are world-leaders in their fields of research, and Oxford undergraduates frequently learn of new discoveries before they are published.

Each student also receives teaching in a variety of other ways, depending on the course. This will include lectures and classes, and may include laboratory work and fieldwork. But the tutorial is the place where all the elements of the course come together and make sense. Meeting regularly with the same tutor – often weekly throughout the term – ensures a high level of individual attention and enables the process of learning and teaching to take place in the context of a student’s individual needs.

The tutorial system also offers the sustained commitment of one or more senior academics – as college tutors – to each student’s progress. It helps students to grow in confidence, to develop their skills in analysis and persuasive argument, and to flourish as independent learners and thinkers.

More information about tutorials

The benefits of the college system

  • Every Oxford student is a member of a college. The college system is at the heart of the Oxford experience, giving students the benefits of belonging to both a large and internationally renowned university and a much smaller, interdisciplinary, college community.
  • Each college brings together academics, undergraduate and postgraduate students, and college staff. The college gives its members the chance to be part of a close and friendly community made up of both leading academics and students from different subjects, year groups, cultures and countries. The relatively small size of each college means that it is easy to make friends and contribute to college life. There is a sense of belonging, which can be harder to achieve in a larger setting, and a supportive environment for study and all sorts of other activities.
  • Colleges organise tutorial teaching for their undergraduates, and one or more college tutors will oversee and guide each student’s progress throughout his or her career at Oxford. The college system fosters a sense of community between tutors and students, and among students themselves, allowing for close and supportive personal attention to each student’s academic development.

It is the norm that undergraduates live in college accommodation in their first year, and in many cases they will continue to be accommodated by their college for the majority or the entire duration of their course. Colleges invest heavily in providing an extensive range of services for their students, and as well as accommodation colleges provide food, library and IT resources, sports facilities and clubs, drama and music, social spaces and societies, access to travel or project grants, and extensive welfare support. For students the college often becomes the hub of their social, sporting and cultural life.

More about Oxford’s unique college system and how to choose a college