Physics is concerned with the study of the universe from the smallest to the largest scale: why it is the way it is and how it works. Such knowledge is basic to scientific progress. The language of physics is mathematics: formulating physical theories sometimes requires new mathematical structures. Physics is a fundamental science and a practical subject. Many techniques used in medical imaging, nanotechnology and quantum computing are derived from physics instrumentation. Even the World Wide Web was a spin-off from the information processing and communications requirements of high-energy particle physics.
Oxford has one of the largest university physics departments in the UK, with an outstanding and very diverse research programme in six sub-departments:
- Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics
- Atomic and Laser Physics
- Condensed Matter Physics (including Biophysics)
- Particle Physics
- Theoretical Physics.
Physics at Oxford is challenging and mathematical with a strong emphasis on fundamental concepts such as optics and relativity. The fourth-year MPhys 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. The department is equipped with state-of-the-art lecture facilities and teaching laboratories. Tutorials give students direct and regular access to physicists actively involved in research and provide an opportunity to explore scientific ideas with experts in the field.
More than 40% of Physics graduates go on to study for a higher degree, leading to careers in universities or in industry or in research and development, technical consultancy, manufacturing and science education. Many others enter professions unrelated to Physics, such as finance and business, where the analytical and problem-solving skills they have developed are highly sought after.
Project work/international opportunities
A wide choice of fourth-year MPhys projects is available across all six physics sub-departments. Third-year MPhys students carry out a short project in the teaching laboratories. Those taking the three-year BA course do a group project investigating a real industrial physics problem.
MMathPhys 4th year
The Physics and Mathematics Departments jointly offer an integrated master’s level course in Mathematical and Theoretical Physics. Physics students are able to apply for transfer to a fourth year studying entirely mathematical and theoretical physics, completing the 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 mmathphys.physics.ox.ac.uk.
A typical week
In the first year, time is equally divided between mathematics and physics, with about ten lectures and two tutorials plus one day in the practical laboratories a week. In the second and third years the core and mainstream physics topics are covered in tutorials and small group classes. Practical work is also done during the year. In the fourth year you take two major options and the MPhys project.
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 though classes for some of the more popular papers may be up to 40 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.
Short options, eg:
First University examinations: Four written papers; short option paper; satisfactory laboratory work
Short options, eg:
Final University examinations, Part A (BA and MPhys):
Final University examinations, Part B (MPhys): Six written papers; short option paper; mini-project; laboratory work
Final University examinations, Part B (BA): Four written papers; short option paper; mini project; group presentation; laboratory work; project report
Project and two option courses:
Final University examinations, Part C (MPhys):
Exams are taken in June at the end of each year of the courses. Most written papers are of 2.5 or 3 hours duration. Short options are shared across years 1–3 and are examined by a 1.5 hour paper; the titles shown are illustrative and may change from year to year of the course.
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 can be helpful to candidates in completing this course, although this is not required for admission.
We expect you to have taken and passed the practical component in any chosen science subjects.
All candidates must also take the Physics Aptitude Test as as part of their application. Please see how to apply for further details.
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.
Annual Course fees
(Channel Islands & Isle of Man)
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.
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.
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:
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
Additional Fees and Charges Information for Physics
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.
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 Physics website.
You do not need to submit any written work when you apply for this course.
What are tutors looking for?
Tutors are looking for enthusiastic and highly motivated students with the ability to apply basic principles to unfamiliar situations. The course requires a good level of mathematical competence: the ability to formulate a problem in mathematical terms and then extract the physical consequences from the solution.
For more detail on the selection criteria for this course, please see the Physics website.
There are many suitable sources for reading. Popular science books are normally readily available at your local library, as are copies of the New Scientist or other scientific periodicals. Anything that takes your interest will be valuable; we have no set reading list.
However, for general preparation prospective candidates can see the suggestions under ‘Preparation’ on the Physics website. We also recommend maths preparation.
There is also lots of information on the internet, on sites such as www.physics.org. or through some of the excellent science blogs. The University of Oxford publishes a science blog and our department also runs a project called Galaxy Zoo which is part of the Zooniverse community of projects, and which allows members of the public to contribute to astrophysics research. Large scientific organisations such as CERN and NASA publish a lot of good material online, for example the Astronomy Picture of the Day website.
iTunesU can also be a very useful resource, as it has a range of physics content, from public talks to undergraduate lectures, from a variety of reputable sources.
Watch a series of short videos of students talking about some aspect of their time at Oxford.
'I’ve always wanted to study physics. I saw Apollo 13 when I was about 13 years old and there’s this bit where the scientists are trying to fit a square peg into a round hole – this made me want to work for NASA! But the more physics I study, the more I realise that there’s so much awesome stuff apart from astrophysics; I’ve ended up focusing on condensed matter which gets me thinking about the applications of physics in the real world. Learning the theoretical stuff is all very well, but I like being able to get useful things out of it.
In the second year, part of my marks came from presenting a paper to my examiners; learning to explain science to people who don’t have your level of knowledge is incredibly valuable. It’s great preparation for giving presentations at conferences as a graduate physicist (which is what I hope to go on to be).
I am president of the Oxford University Physics Society. One of the main things we do is get famous physicists in to speak to us. This can help students to remember the exciting, real-world cool stuff that got them into physics in the first place, even when they’re struggling through reams of maths problem sheets.
I also do some access work, which includes going into schools and trying to inspire students with science workshops. You can make explosions, make huge machines, take mountains to pieces, and play with liquid nitrogen (which is always fun!). Through talking to my friends at other universities, I can see that it’s definitely true that we have much more work to do at Oxford. This has been great for my time management skills, though!'
She is now a Trainee Clinical Scientist at the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust. She says:
‘Since graduating, I have been following the IPEM Medical Physics training scheme specialising in radiotherapy physics, nuclear medicine and physiological measurements. Throughout my degree I developed the practical skills necessary for work in a clinical science setting, both for routine and experimental work. The practice in scientific writing and research skills has been invaluable for hospital-based medical physics project work. The tutorial teaching style has enabled me to interact with colleagues within a small department, sharing thoughts and ideas with confidence.’
First job after graduating
I graduated with a BA and after three intense years of physics study, I wanted to experience something completely different, so I spent a year working in the 3rd sector both in the UK and abroad. But I soon realised that I missed being able to apply all the technical skills I had painstakingly developed throughout my degree. It was then that I decided to join a graduate scheme at QinetiQ, a leading Aerospace and Defence company, as a systems engineer. I had no engineering background and hadn’t previously considered a career in engineering; but the specific skills are easily picked up on the job. What recruiters are looking for is someone who is capable of picking up and handling new ideas quickly and effectively. And that is exactly what a physics degree prepares you for.
My current job is within Defence systems engineering, as a Consultant Analyst at PA Consulting. We work directly with lots of interesting clients to help solve their complex systems problems and challenges. My work involves a lot of modelling, analysis and “systems thinking”, and requires me to deal with large volumes of information and data as well as understand different situations and the surrounding context. The work is usually classified and in a military setting, so it’s not somewhere you can use Google to check the answers! Every piece of work is unique, exciting and challenging, and I continuously use the skills I developed at university in my day-to-day job.
How did Oxford prepare you for this type of work?
The tutorial system is one of the greatest things about studying at Oxford. Having to present your proofs and answers to world-leading mathematicians and academics on a twice-weekly basis can seem daunting, but it accelerates your understanding of difficult concepts and ideas, and equips you with the ability to deal with any other problems in a rigorous and precise way. The pace of the course is very rapid and the amount of material that is covered is vast. Very quickly, you will start to learn how to digest large volumes of information, understand it, and apply it to solving problems effectively. The ability to analyse situations critically, understand abstract problems and patterns, and apply a high level of computational knowledge are skills that are vital across all sectors and industries, both public and private, and are highly valued by employers.
What was the most important thing your time at Oxford taught you?
My time at Oxford shaped my career in many ways. Before university, I had always assumed that I would become an academic but that was probably because I didn’t realise the large number and variety of opportunities that were available to me. I discovered that a physics degree from Oxford meant that no doors were closed to me – I came across opportunities in: further study, research, finance, teaching, accounting, engineering, energy, communication, media, medical technology, consulting and design. One of the reasons so many services and sectors are looking to employ physics graduates is that there is a shortage of highly numerate and analytical people in the workplace.
Physicists, engineers and scientists have contributed to a staggering proportion of humankind’s progresses and one of the greatest advantages of a career in this area is the ability to have a real impact on the lives of others.
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.
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.