Physics and Philosophy | University of Oxford
Lights bulbs
Perpetual motion with light bulbs and energy-saver bulb
(Image credit: Shutterstock/Chones).

Physics and Philosophy

Physics and Philosophy is a demanding and rewarding course, combining the most rigorous and fundamental subjects in the arts and the sciences. It seeks understanding of the nature of reality and of our knowledge of it. There are strong links between physics and philosophy, and the stimulus for each discipline lies in part in the other.

Oxford has one of the largest physics departments in the UK, with an outstanding and broad research programme. The expertise in the department ensures the curriculum is updated in the light of developments in research.

The Philosophy Faculty is the largest in the UK, and one of the most prestigious in the world. The large number of students reading Philosophy leads to a diverse and lively philosophical community.

The Oxford research group in Philosophy of Physics is extremely active, with interests in classical space–time theories, foundations of classical statistical mechanics, quantum mechanics, quantum field theory and quantum gravity.

The fourth-year MPhysPhil option courses bring you to the threshold of current research, and can lead to subject specialism. An accepted student can also complete in three years with a BA.

MMathPhys 4th year

The Physics and Mathematics Departments jointly offer an integrated master’s level course in Mathematical and Theoretical Physics. Physics and Philosophy students are able to apply for transfer to a fourth year studying entirely mathematical and theoretical physics, completing their degree with an MMathPhys. The course offers research-level training in: Particle physics, Condensed matter physics, Astrophysics, Plasma physics and Continuous media. For full details see


Graduates in Physics and Philosophy offer an unusual and valuable combination of skills to employers in commerce and industry. Almost 40% go on to study for a higher degree. Some will enter science professions such as research and development or technical roles in industry. Many others enter professions unrelated to their subject.

Related courses

Students interested in this course might also like to consider Mathematics and Philosophy, Computer Science and Philosophy or Physics.

A typical week

Your work is divided between private study, tutorials, classes (two or three weekly) and lectures (about ten weekly). Private study (reading for and writing essays, completing problem sets) will take up the majority of your working time.

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 10 students though classes for some of the more popular papers may be up to 20 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

Current courses


  • Mechanics and special relativity
  • Differential equations and matrix algebra
  • Calculus and waves
  • Elements of deductive logic
  • General philosophy
  • Introductory philosophy of physics


First University examinations:
Three written papers in Physics; two written papers in Philosophy

2nd year

Current courses


  • Thermal physics
  • Electromagnetism
  • Quantum physics
  • Mathematical methods
  • Physics practicals
  • Early modern philosophy or Knowledge and reality
  • Philosophy of special relativity


Final University examinations, Part A:
Three papers in Physics; satisfactory lab work

3rd year

Current courses

One elective paper in either Physics or Philosophy


A choice of three (or five if the elective paper is in Physics) of the following subjects:

  • Classical mechanics
  • Flows, fluctuations and complexity
  • Symmetry and relativity
  • Quantum, atomic and molecular physics
  • Sub-atomic physics
  • General relativity and cosmology
  • Condensed-matter physics


  • Philosophy of science option
  • Philosophy of quantum mechanics
  • Choice of Philosophy option (if the elective paper is in philosophy) e.g. Ethics or Wittgenstein


Final University examinations, Part B:
Three or four written papers in Philosophy; one or two written papers and one short paper in Physics

4th year


Three units chosen in any combination from the lists for Physics and Philosophy Advanced philosophy of physics is an option.

The options listed above are illustrative and may change. More information about current options is available on the Physics and Philosophy websites.


Final University examinations, Part C:
A mix (three in all) of written papers and essays, or thesis (in Philosophy), or project (in Physics)

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

  • A-levels: A*AA to include Mathematics and Physics. The A* must be in Mathematics, Physics or Further Mathematics.
  • Advanced Highers: AA/AAB
  • IB: 39 (including core points) with 766 at HL (the 7 should be in either Physics or Mathematics)
  • Or any other equivalent (see other UK qualifications, and international qualifications)

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 expected to have Physics and Mathematics to A-level, Advanced Higher, Higher Level in the IB or another equivalent. The inclusion of a Maths Mechanics module would also be highly recommended. Further Mathematics and an arts subject can be helpful to candidates 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 Physics Aptitude Test (PAT) as 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 Physics and Philosophy

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.

Application information

If your application for Physics and Philosophy is unsuccessful you will be considered for Physics. If you do not want to be considered for Physics please make this clear at interview.

Written test

All candidates must take the Physics Aptitude Test (PAT) 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.

Updates to PAT: The test consists of maths and physics questions, which are mixed in sequence (there are not separate maths or physics sections). Formula sheets, tables and data books are not permitted. Calculators will be permitted from 2018. Guidelines about the use of calculators along with details of the syllabus and links to supporting materials which candidates are encouraged to look at for preparation are available on the PAT page

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

Written work

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

What are tutors looking for?

Philosophy is rarely taught in schools, but anyone who has an interest in general questions about the nature of science, mathematics, mind, knowledge or truth has an interest in philosophy. No more than that is needed – you are not disadvantaged if you have not studied Philosophy before. Philosophy tutors will be looking for a critical and analytical approach to abstract questions and an ability to defend a point of view by reasoned argument.

The Physics tutors will ask you the same style of questions about mathematics and physics as they ask Physics applicants, to determine your mathematical and problem-solving ability and potential for further study (see Physics).

For more detail on the selection criteria for this course, please see the Physics and for Philosophy websites. 

Suggested reading

There are many introductions to philosophy: we recommend Myles Burnyeat and Ted Honderich’s Philosophy as it is a very useful collection. Martin Hollis' An Invitation to Philosophy and Simon Blackburn’s Think are also recommended but feel free to pick up any introductory or beginners’ text.

Please see the entry for Physics for further suggestions.


Rhys Jones

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


'Philosophy has an effect on how you view physics; how we look at where the theories came from. For example, if we're asking, ‘does time exist?,' as a physicist you have some idea of what time is, and it brings a different attitude to the whole question.'

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?*