Biology | University of Oxford
biology students
A first-year field trip to Orielton in Wales
(Credit: Dave Wilson)

Biology

mortar boardUCAS codeC100calendarDuration4 years (MBiol)
3 years (BA)
pencilEntrance requirementsA*AA (with the A* in a science or Maths)HeadSubject requirements  Biology and either Chemistry, Physics or Maths
crossAdmissions test(s)NonecrossWritten workNone
bar chartAdmissions statistics*

Interviewed: 65%
Successful: 20%
Intake: 112
*3-year average 2016-18

phoneContact

+44 (0) 1865 281214
Email Biology

Subject requirements:       Essential       Recommended       Helpful – may be useful on course

Biology is an exciting and rapidly developing subject area with great relevance to addressing global challenges from disease and poverty to biodiversity loss and climate change. The study of living things has undergone tremendous expansion in recent years, and topics such as cell biology, developmental biology, evolutionary biology and ecology, all of which are covered in the course, are advancing at a great pace. This 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 modular structure of the Oxford Biology course encourages a cross-disciplinary approach. The options system in the second and third years allows students to study either a general background encompassing a comprehensive range of topics, or specialise in detailed aspects of animals, plants, cells or ecology. The course now incorporates an optional fourth year, meaning students can either leave after three years with a BA or choose to stay on and complete an extended project under the supervision of an academic member of staff (which can be lab or field-based), in addition to advanced research skills training. 

The Biology degree is taught jointly by the Departments of Plant Sciences and Zoology, with almost all teaching taking place in the University's Science Area. Additional resources include the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, the Botanic Garden, the Herbarium, the Arboretum, the John Krebs Field Station and Wytham Woods.

Students can choose to leave after three years and graduate with a BA, or they can continue to a fourth year and graduate with an MBiol. Progression to the MBiol is contingent on satisfactory academic performance in the first three years. The fourth year consists of an extended project, which can be lab or field based, plus advanced research skills training.

Skills training is an integral part of teaching across all years and there is a compulsory one-week field trip for all first-year students to Pembrokeshire to study ecology. Skills training in second year is also compulsory and covers a whole range of more advanced practical and quantitative skills essential for a modern biologist. At the end of second year, students can choose from a range of extended skills courses that last one or two weeks: examples include ecological fieldwork (in the UK and overseas), genome sequencing and genome editing. In the third year, students specialise on a narrower range of options but skills training continues – this time in the form of learning how to engage with and critique a scientific paper. All overseas work requires financial contributions from the student.

 Biology studentstudents Botanic Gardens 
“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.”
CLAIRE

“I'd always been interested in biology from a young age. I'd loved learning about the human body and was practically brought up on David Attenborough documentaries – therefore, learning more about the subject was a natural fit! The course at Oxford in particular spanned the whole topic, covering everything there is to know, and I liked the flexibility this could give me, simultaneously allowing me to learn about a broad spectrum of topics but also enabling me to discover what I found most interesting and specialise accordingly! It has also taught me more about the practical skills required, and thus the course has really helped me to become a well-rounded biologist.” 

STEPHANIE

“With biology, there's no shortage of new and exciting research going on, and the breadth of content in the first year is just mind-blowing! It's a really great idea to give students a taste of all aspects of the subject today, as from the second year onward there are increasing opportunities for specialisation.That ability to drop less interesting topics and really focus on the ones you love is a most welcome form of flexibility.”
ALEXANDROS

A typical week

In the first year, your typical weekly timetable can be broken down into the following categories:

  • Lectures: around eight hours a week
  • Practicals: around seven hours a week
  • Tutorials: one hour a week, plus preparation time. In the second, third and fourth years, variable hours are also spent on research projects.

In the second and third years, variable hours are also spent on coursework elements. Tutorials are usually 2-4 students and a tutor. Lectures and practical class sizes will vary depending on the options chosen. They will normally range from around 115 students in the class to as few as 20 students in the class. Most tutorials, classes, and lectures are delivered by staff who are tutors in their subject. Many are world-leading experts with years of experience in teaching and research. Some teaching may also be delivered by postgraduate students who are usually studying at doctorate level.

 To find out more about how our teaching year is structured, visit our Academic Year page.

Course structure

YEAR 1
COURSES
  • The three compulsory themes are:
    • Diversity of life
    • How to build a phenotype
    • Ecology and evolution
  • Compulsory skills training including a mini-project in the first term
  • A week-long field course in Wales in the summer term

ASSESSMENT

Three written exam papers (assessing lecture material and research skills); assessed practical write-ups

YEAR 2
COURSES
  • In Year 2 there is greater specialisation, and you can choose from three of four themes from: 
    • Genomes and molecular biology
    • Cell and developmental biology
    • Behaviour and physiology of organisms
    • Ecology and evolution
  • Students can choose from a range of extended skills training courses, lasting for either one or two weeks

ASSESSMENT

Two written exam papers; practical write-ups; coursework

YEAR 3
COURSES
  • The course broadens into a choice of around eight options, from which students select four from the following overarching themes:
    • Ecology and evolution
    • Genomes and molecular biology
    • Cell and developmental biology
    • Organisms
  • Regular skills training regardless of course choices

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

ASSESSMENT

Three written exam papers (including a scientific paper critique); two pieces of coursework

YEAR 4 (OPTIONAL MBiol*)
COURSES

The fourth year will give you the chance to pursue an in-depth research project under the supervision of an academic member of staff. There will also be a mini-conference in which all students have the opportunity to present their work to their peers. Progression to the fourth year is contingent on satisfactory academic performance in the first three years, and those who successfully complete the fourth year will leave with an MBiol.

ASSESSMENT

Research project

* Students can choose to leave after three years and graduate with a BA, or they can continue to a fourth year and graduate with an MBiol. Progression to the MBiol is contingent on satisfactory academic performance in the first three years. 

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

Academic requirements

A-levels:A*AA –Biology is required and the A* must be in a science or Mathematics (see the full list of subjects in which an A* grade will be acceptable)
Advanced Highers:AA/AAB
IB:39 (including core points) with 7 in HL Mathematics or a science
Or any other equivalent (see other UK qualifications, and international qualifications)

Wherever possible, your grades are considered in the context in which they have been achieved.  (See further information on how we use contextual data.) 

Subject requirements

 Essential:  Candidates are required to have Biology and either Chemistry, Physics or Mathematics to A-level, Advanced Higher, Higher Level in the IB or another equivalent.

If, and only if, you have chosen to take any science A-levels, we expect you to take and pass the practical component in addition to meeting any overall grade requirement.

If English is not your first language you may also need to meet our English language requirements.

Applying

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. All applicants must apply for the MBiol.  Students can choose to leave after three years and graduate with a BA, or they can continue to a fourth year and graduate with an MBiol. Progression to the MBiol is contingent on satisfactory academic performance in the first three years.

Written work and admissions 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 an enthusiasm for biology and potential to study it at university. Interviews are not designed to test factual knowledge, instead, they show an applicant’s ability to think and to understand the biological knowledge they have accrued up to that time. Be prepared to talk intelligently about particular aspects of biology that you find 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.

For more detail on the selection criteria for this course, please see the Biology website.

Careers 

While more than a third of Oxford biology graduates go on to further study such as a research doctorate or postgraduate course in an applied field, over half embark on a professional career after graduating in areas as diverse as conservation, industry, finance, medicine, media, teaching or the law.

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!’ 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.’

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.)

Latest information for UK and EU undergraduates who will begin their course in 2020 can be found here. Further information for EU students starting in 2020 is available here.

The fees and funding information below relates to those who will start at Oxford in 2020.

Fees

These annual fees are for full-time students who begin this undergraduate course here in 2020.

Fee status

Annual Course fees

Home/EU£9,250
Islands
(Channel Islands & Isle of Man)
£9,250
Overseas£36,065

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

EU applicants should refer to our dedicated webpage for details of the implications of the UK’s plans to leave the European Union.

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 the academic year starting in 2020 are estimated to be between £1,135 and £1,650 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 tuition fee loan is available from the UK government to cover course fees in full for Home (UK)/EU students undertaking their first undergraduate degree*, so you don’t need to pay your course fees up front.

In 2020 Oxford is offering one of the most generous bursary packages of any UK university to UK and EU students with a family income of around £42,875 or less, with additional opportunities available to UK students from households with incomes of £27,500 or less. This support is available in addition to the government living costs support.  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 Bursaries and Scholarships 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 Biology

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 the content is assessed as part of the first-year examinations. The University covers all costs for this compulsory trip, including food and accommodation.

There are also two optional overseas fieldtrips in the extended skills courses at the end of second year:

  • Tenerife: a one-week trip to study the systematics, diversity and ecology of the local plant communities.
  • Borneo: a two-week trip to study tropical rainforest ecology, both animals and plants.

As a guide, costs for these optional courses in 2018 were £625 for Tenerife, plus whatever students spent on lunches and evening meals during the week, and £950 for Borneo, plus the return flights to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia.

Further details on fieldtrips can be found on the Biology website.

The new Biology course was introduced for the first time in 2019; hence we do not have any graduates yet. The following data relate to the three-year BA in Biological Sciences.

Contextual information

The Key Information Sets provides applicants with statistics about undergraduate life at Oxford. But there is so much more to an Oxford degree that the numbers can’t convey.

The Oxford tutorial

College tutorials are central to teaching at Oxford. Typically, they take place in your college and are led by your academic tutor(s) who teach as well as do their own research. Students will also receive teaching in a variety of other ways, depending on the course. This will include lectures and classes, and may include laboratory work and fieldwork. However, tutorials offer a level of personalised attention from academic experts unavailable at most universities.

During tutorials (normally lasting an hour), college subject tutors will give you and one or two tutorial partners feedback on prepared work and cover a topic in depth. The other student(s) in your college tutorials will be from your year group, doing the same course as you and will normally be at your college. Such regular and rigorous academic discussion develops and facilitates learning in a way that isn’t possible through lectures alone. Tutorials also allow for close progress monitoring so tutors can quickly provide additional support if necessary.

Read more about tutorials and an Oxford education

College life

Our colleges are at the heart of Oxford’s reputation as one of the best universities in the world.

  • At Oxford, everyone is a member of a college as well as their subject department(s) and the University. Students therefore have both the benefits of belonging to a large, renowned institution and to a small and friendly academic community. Each college or hall is made up of academic and support staff, and students. Colleges provide a safe, supportive environment leaving you free to focus on your studies, enjoy time with friends and make the most of the huge variety of opportunities.
  • Each college has a unique character, but generally their facilities are similar. Each one, large or small, will have the following essential facilities:
    • Porters’ lodge (a staffed entrance and reception)
    • Dining hall
    • Lending library (often open 24/7 in term time)
    • Student accommodation
    • Tutors’ teaching rooms
    • Chapel and/or music rooms
    • Laundry
    • Green spaces
    • Common room (known as the JCR).
  • All first year students are offered college accommodation either on the main site of their college or in a nearby college annexe. This means that your neighbours will also be ‘freshers’ and new to life at Oxford. This accommodation is guaranteed, so you don’t need to worry about finding somewhere to live after accepting a place here, all of this is organised for you before you arrive.
  • All colleges offer at least one further year of accommodation and some offer it for the entire duration of your degree. You may choose to take up the option to live in your college for the whole of your time at Oxford, or you might decide to arrange your own accommodation after your first year – perhaps because you want to live with friends from other colleges.
  • While college academic tutors primarily support your academic development, you can also ask their advice on other things. Lots of other college staff including welfare officers help students settle in and are available to offer guidance on practical or health matters. Current students also actively support students in earlier years, sometimes as part of a college ‘family’ or as peer supporters trained by the University’s Counselling Service.

More about Oxford colleges and how you choose