Human Sciences | University of Oxford
Human Sciences
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Human Sciences

Human Sciences is a diverse discipline which enables students to study the biological, social and cultural aspects of human life, and provides a challenging alternative to some of the more traditional courses offered at Oxford. The school was founded in 1969 in recognition of the need for interdisciplinary understanding of fundamental issues and problems confronting contemporary societies. Central topics include the evolution of humans and their behaviour, molecular and population genetics, population growth and ageing, ethnic and cultural diversity and the human interaction with the environment, including conservation, disease and nutrition. The study of both biological and social disciplines, integrated within a framework of human diversity and sustainability, should enable the human scientist to develop professional competencies suited to address such multidimensional human problems.

The course draws on specialists from a number of different faculties in the University. Lectures introduce most of the material you will need and provide the core concepts and theories for each paper. Tutorials, given by specialists in different fields, allow you to consider particular topics in greater depth. They also allow students from different academic backgrounds to gain the necessary grounding across a range of subjects.

The course is unusual in having its own building within the University, the Pauling Human Sciences Centre. It has a seminar/lecture room, tutorial rooms and a reading room. The Human Sciences Centre office is a particularly valuable resource, offering a variety of information and guidance about teaching arrangements, lecture timetables, course syllabuses, and books and journals in other libraries to which students have access. In addition, the centre has a cross-section of books covering different aspects of the course, which are specifically chosen for undergraduate use. The centre is also a focus for many informal activities, ranging from student-organised symposia to regular lunches. In general, the centre provides a friendly base which contributes greatly to undergraduates’ involvement in the course.


Recent graduates have found opportunities in fields including the Civil Service, government, health services, social policy, teaching, the media, law, industry, commerce, computing, management consultancy and accountancy.

Alison currently works as the Principal Scientist in HIV epidemiology within Public Health England. She says: ‘My undergraduate degree in Human Sciences was excellent preparation for my career. The field of HIV is multifaceted which means we not only measure the prevalence and incidence of HIV but also seek to understand the complexities of sexual behaviour and the political and social context of HIV. Human Sciences gave me a solid grounding in statistical methods, biological and social sciences. Specifically, the cross-disciplinary ethos of the course taught me the importance of collaboration with academics and advocates with a wide range of expertise and the need to interpret data within a social, human context.’

Graduate Vanessa produced the series Frozen Planet. She has worked as a producer/director on a variety of wildlife series including Wildlife on One, The Natural World, Life of Mammals and Planet Earth. She also co-wrote the book accompanying Frozen Planet and has contributed to a number of academic books including The Biology of Religion, as well as magazines on various wildlife and conservation subjects. Several scientific papers have also been published on the basis of exceptional behavioural footage taken on films she has produced

Related courses

Students interested in this course might also like to consider Archaeology and Anthropology, Biochemistry (Molecular and Cellular), Biological Sciences, Biomedical Sciences, Earth Sciences (Geology), Geography, Psychology (Experimental) and Psychology, Philosophy and Linguistics.

A typical week

During years 1 and 2 your work is divided between lectures (about ten a week) and tutorials (one or two a week with more in the first year). In addition, some practical experience in genetics, physiology, demography or statistics is offered in certain terms. Computers are used in the teaching of quantitative methods. In the third year the tutorial and class requirement is reduced to allow more time for option papers and students’ research for their dissertations. 

Tutorials are usually 2-4 students and a tutor. Class sizes may vary depending on the options you choose. There would usually be no more than around 20 students although the more popular classes may include up to 30 students.

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.

1st year


Five compulsory courses are taken:
  • The biology of organisms including humans
  • Genetics and evolution
  • Society, culture and environment
  • Sociology and demography
  • Quantitative methods for the human sciences


First University examinations:
Five written papers; satisfactory practical record
2nd year


Five courses are taken:
  • Behaviour and its evolution, animal and human
  • Human genetics and evolution
  • Human ecology
  • Demography and population
  • Either Anthropological analysis and interpretation or Sociological theory


The Human Ecology course is assessed by an extended essay written in the final term of the second year and a presentation given in the first term of the third year.

3rd year


  • Dissertation to be completed by the beginning of the final term
  • Option courses (two chosen) from a list which may vary slightly depending on teaching availability: Anthropology of a selected region (for example Africa, Japan, Lowland South America or South Asia); Biological conservation; Cognitive and evolutionary anthropology; Evolution and medicine; Gender theories and realities: Cross-cultural perspectives; General linguistics; Health and disease; Physical and forensic anthropology: An introduction to human skeletal remains; Quantitative methods; Social policy; Sociology of post-industrial societies; South and southern Africa; plus a range of psychology options
The options listed above are illustrative and may change. More information about current options is available on the Human Sciences website.


Final University examinations:

Currently six written papers and a dissertation plus the extended essay and presentation (see under second year)

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.) 

Biology or Mathematics to A-level, Advanced Higher, Higher Level in the IB or any other equivalent can be helpful to students in completing this course, although they are not required for admission.

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 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 Human Sciences

There are no compulsory costs for this course beyond the fees shown above and your living costs.

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 (TSA) 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.

For everything you need to know, and further guidance on how to prepare, see 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?

The attributes tutors are looking for in applicants include:

  • keenness
  • an ability to see things in context and make connections
  • readiness to modify ideas in the light of evidence
  • the capacity to form and express a personal point of view.

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

Suggested reading

An introductory reading list can be found on the Human Sciences website.


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


'In my first term I have studied human geography, anthropology, maths, physiology, genetics and evolution!

That’s what I love about Human Sciences – it covers so many different areas and subjects. It’s interesting to develop an understanding of humans as both social and biological creatures by seeing how everything fits together.

I instantly fell in love with my college and I’ve made a great group of friends. Everyone has been really friendly right from day one, and the 2nd and 3rd years were brilliant at making all the new students feel welcome. The people and the city are amazing and there’s a really friendly vibe everywhere you go.

Before the first term starts properly there is Freshers’ Week – time for all the new students to settle in. This was organised really well, with a mix of tours and information, as well as checking out the Oxford clubbing scene. There were also more chilled things like going to the famous G&D’s ice cream parlour, and plenty of time to just relax and make new friends. The college system means that you feel that you belong right from the very beginning, as there is such a sense of community. Friendly rivalry with other colleges also bonds us closer together!

I’ve gone from lazing around all summer to being on the girls’ football, netball and rowing teams – the fact that I’d never really done any of them before coming here didn’t matter, because college sport is as much about having fun as it is about winning things.' 


She currently works as the Principal Scientist in HIV epidemiology at the Health Protection Agency. She says:   

‘My undergraduate degree in Human Sciences was excellent preparation for my career. The field of HIV is multifaceted which means we not only measure the prevalence and incidence of HIV but also seek to understand the complexities of sexual behaviour and the political and social context of HIV. Human Sciences gave me a solid grounding in statistical methods, and biological and social sciences. Specifically, the cross-disciplinary ethos of the course taught me the importance of collaboration with academics and advocates with a wide range of expertise, and the need to interpret data within a social, human context.’

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

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