Chemistry | University of Oxford
Flasks against an Oxford skyline.
(Image credit: Rob Judges Photography / Oxford University Images).


Chemistry is a wide-ranging science concerned with matter at the atomic and molecular scale. Important facets are synthesis, structure, microscopic mechanisms, properties, analysis and transformations of all types of materials.

Chemists are a constant source of innovation: it is hard to imagine any product introduced in recent times that did not require the creative efforts of a chemist. Chemistry underpins the conceptual framework and methodology of biochemistry and molecular medicine and is at the heart of many major industries.

A good Chemistry degree opens the door to an extensive choice of careers.

Teaching and research are closely linked: Oxford is one of the leading chemistry departments in the world with a state-of-the-art lab and international level research in a broad range of areas including: synthesis and catalysis; medicinal and biological chemistry; sustainable energy; advanced materials; innovative measurement; and theoretical and computational chemistry. We expect to be teaching an exciting new practical course in a brand new lab from October 2018.

The department has an outstanding track record in commercialising the innovative work of research staff, which has raised millions of pounds for the University.

The MChem is a four-year course and is not modular, enabling us to explore the links within the subject. The core material is taken by all students, with opportunities to specialise later in the course. The fourth year (Part II) is devoted exclusively to research – a distinctive feature of Chemistry at Oxford since 1916.


Chemistry provides an excellent opportunity for the development of your critical faculties and intellect, and also instils important transferable skills that will serve you well, whatever your subsequent choice of career. About 55% of our Chemistry graduates go on to do research or further study. Others enter professions such as publishing and marketing, banking and finance, manufacturing, IT, the law, and teaching.

Long term, more than half our graduates remain in posts related to chemistry in some way. The Royal Society of Chemistry provides further information about careers using chemistry at

Related courses

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

A typical week (years 1–3)

There are three terms in the Oxford academic year, each eight weeks long. Students usually arrive a week early in the first term of their first year for welcome and induction activities. 

  • About ten lectures, at 9am and 10am
  • One or two tutorials in your college with set work to be completed in your own time
  • Two afternoons of laboratory work (11am to 5pm)
  • A problems class, eg a mathematics class in the first year.

The course is challenging but there is plenty of time for extra-curricular pursuits. Tutorials are usually 2-4 students with a tutor. Class sizes may vary but would usually be no more than around 15 students and can be as small as 4. Most tutorials, classes, and lectures are delivered by academic staff who are members of the department 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.

Part II (year 4)

Part II (the fourth year) involves full-time work with an established research group.  Devoting the fourth year exclusively to research has been a distinctive feature of Chemistry at Oxford since 1916 and this will give you research skills that are highly valued by both academics and employers. This final research year of the Chemistry course has three extended terms of 12 to 13 weeks (instead of the normal 8 weeks) and is 38 weeks in total. 

Work placements/international opportunities

Part II (the fourth year) involves full-time work with an established research group. There is the possibility of a few students spending time at laboratories in industry or at universities abroad. Many students find work placements during vacations – the Careers Service helps with this – and there are some opportunities within the department.

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

1st year

Four courses are taken:

  • Inorganic chemistry
  • Physical chemistry
  • Organic chemistry
  • Mathematics for chemistry


First University examinations: Four written papers; satisfactory practical record

2nd year


Core material, including courses on:

  • Theoretical chemistry
  • Biological chemistry
  • Molecular spectroscopy
  • Synthetic chemistry
  • Practical work

Optional supplementary subject course


Part IA examinations:
Three written papers; continuous assessment of practicals but overall results are not calculated until the end of the 3rd year

3rd year


Further core material, plus advanced courses with a choice from a wide variety of options

Optional supplementary subject course


Part IB examinations:
Seven written papers; continuous assessment of practicals

4th year (extended terms)


Full-time research under the supervision of a member of the academic staff

Optional supplementary subject course


Part II examination:
Dissertation; oral examination; determination of the class of honours degree
For the most up-to-date details on assessment, please refer to the course website

For the most up-to-date details on assessment, please refer to the Chemistry website.

The practical element of this course is currently under review. Up-to-date details on any course changes as well as options can be found on the Chemistry website.


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

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

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

Candidates are required to have Chemistry and Mathematics to A-level, Advanced Higher, or Higher Level in the IB or any other equivalent. In IB, Mathematics 7 at SL is also acceptable. An additional science or Further Mathematics are also recommended.

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.

All candidates must also take Section 1 of the Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA) as part of their application. 

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.)


These annual fees are for full-time students who begin this undergraduate course here in 2019.

Fee status

Annual Course fees

(Channel Islands & Isle of Man)

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 2019 are estimated to be between £1,058 and £1,643 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


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 2019 Oxford is offering one of the most generous bursary packages of any UK university to those on a family income of around £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 living costs support.  See further details.

(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


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 Chemistry

Students in their fourth year undertake full-time research under the supervision of a member of the academic staff. This final year has three extended terms of 12 to 13 weeks and is 38 weeks in total, so you will need to budget for higher living costs in the final year, as you will be required to be in Oxford for longer than the standard terms. (See the likely range of living costs for an additional month in Oxford.) This final year, which is entirely devoted to research, is a unique feature of the Oxford course, and will give you research skills that are highly valued by both academics and employers.

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 test

All candidates must take the Thinking Skills Assessment: Section 1 (TSA S1) in their own school or college or other approved test centre on Wednesday 31 October 2018. Candidates must make sure they are available to take the test at this time. Separate registration for this test is required and the final deadline for entries is Monday 15 October 2018. It is the responsibility of the candidate to ensure that they are registered for this test. We strongly recommend making the arrangements in plenty of time before the deadline.

Everything you need to know, including guidance on how to prepare, can be found on the TSA page. 

Written work

You do not need to submit any written work when you apply for this course.

What are tutors looking for?

  • Evidence of motivation
  • Academic excellence
  • Potential for advanced study
  • Capacity to analyse, explain and use your knowledge
  • Readiness to have a go at problems even when you cannot see how.

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

Suggested reading

Introductory reading for Chemistry.

You may also like to read Chemistry World magazine, and see other resources on Chemnet.


Joe Marshall

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


'We study organic, inorganic and physical chemistry as well as maths. The topics we study range from quantum mechanics, to the applications of superconductors, to biochemical warfare and drug targets.

The department is one of the best in the world, with many top research chemists. It’s amazing how often we have lectures or tutorials given by the authors of the textbooks we use! '


He is now an educational consultant. He says:

‘Since graduating I have started a company called Explosive Science with a friend from college. We perform chemistry demonstrations in schools, aiming to enthuse children about science.’


I wish they'd told me when I was applying to university...

'I think most of the things I was better learning myself. But I had no idea that the culture shock of moving down from the north would be so enormous. It was clear when I first got here that people didn't have the same social norms, and it was disconcerting at first. Now I realise that they're the same people inside and they are just as friendly; they just do things a bit differently...

The best thing that Oxford did for me:

'Actually, the best things came from the other students - when I joined the committee of the Scientific Society, I wasn't sure that I would ever know as much as the older students about the scientific community across all fields in the UK. Over the past two years, I've been able to meet and talk at length with some of the best-known scientists in the UK and beyond, including invaluable contacts in my own field who I've kept in contact with ever since.'

My favourite Oxford memory is...

'Being a part of the Scientific Society was the best thing for me. When I was President, the team and I organised a debate that drew a crowd of 650 people - an incredible thing to be involved with. You just couldn't get that anywhere else - even the most talented speakers are drawn to the Oxford name. SciSoc is now Oxford Uni's most Facebook-popular society!'

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

Was this page useful?*