Physics | University of Oxford
ATLAS detector
The central part of the ATLAS detector at the Large Hadron Collider, Geneva, built in Oxford.
(Credit: Physics Department)

Physics

mortar boardUCAS codeF303calendarDuration

4 years (MPhys)
3 years (BA)

pencilEntrance requirements

A*AA (with the A* in Physics, Maths or Further Maths)

HeadSubject requirements  Physics and Maths
  Maths Mechanics modules
  Further Maths
tickAdmissions test(s)ox.ac.uk/patcrossWritten workNone
bar chartAdmissions statistics*

Interviewed: 39%
Successful: 15%
Intake: 181
*3-year average 2016-18

phoneContact

+44 (0) 1865 272200
Email Physics

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

Unistats information for this course can be found at the bottom of the page

Please note that there may be no data available if the number of course participants is very small.

Physics is concerned with the study of the universe from the smallest to the largest scale: it is about unravelling its complexities to discover the way it is and how it works. Discoveries in physics have formed the foundation of countless technological advances and play an important role in many scientific areas. 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. The contributions of physics to solving global problems such as energy production, environmental protection, global warming and public health are essential and have an enormous impact on our society.

Oxford has one of the largest university physics departments in the UK, with an outstanding and very diverse research programme in six sub-departments:

  • Astrophysics
  • 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. You can also complete the course in three years graduating 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.

Project work/international opportunities

In the third year, those taking the MPhys carry out a short project in the teaching laboratories whilst those on the three-year BA course do a group project investigating a real industrial physics problem. There is further flexibility to undertake computational and experimental projects. A wide choice of fourth-year MPhys projects is available across all six physics sub-departments.

students socializing students at a lecture
“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.

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.”
KARLA-LUISE
 “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.”
SARA

Physics

A typical week

In the first year your time will be equally divided between mathematics and physics, with about ten lectures and two tutorials plus one day a week working on experimental physics in the practical laboratories. 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 will 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.

Course structure

YEAR 1

CURRENT COURSES

  • Classical mechanics and special relativity
  • Electromagnetism, circuit theory and optics
  • Mathematical methods I
  • Differential equations and waves

Short options, for example:

  • Astronomy
  • Complex analysis
  • Quantum ideas

ASSESSMENT

First University examinations: four written papers; short option paper; satisfactory laboratory work

YEAR 2

CURRENT COURSES

  • Thermal physics
  • Electromagnetism and optics
  • Quantum physics
  • Mathematical methods II

Short options, for example:

  • Classical mechanics
  • Climate physics
  • Introduction to biological physics

ASSESSMENT

Final University examinations, Part A (BA and MPhys): three written papers; short option paper; laboratory work; individual presentation

YEAR 3
CURRENT COURSES
  • Fluids
  • Symmetry and relativity
  • Atomic and laser physics
  • Nuclear and particle physics
  • General relativity 
  • Condensed-matter physics
  • Computational and experimental projects
Short options, for example: 
  • Advanced quantum mechanics
  • Classical mechanics
  • Plasma physics

ASSESSMENT

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

YEAR 4

RESEARCH

Project and two option courses:

  • MPhys project
Current major options:
  • Astrophysics
  • Laser science and quantum information processing
  • Condensed matter
  • Particle physics
  • Atmospheres and oceans
  • Theoretical physics
  • Biological physics

ASSESSMENT

Final University examinations, Part C (MPhys): project report; two major option papers

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

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.

MMathPhys Year 4

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 their degree with an MMathPhys. The course offers research-level training in: Particle physics, Condensed matter physics, Astrophysics, Plasma physics and Continuous media.  
mmathphys.physics.ox.ac.uk

Academic requirements 

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

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 expected to have Physics and Maths to A-level, Advanced Higher, Higher Level in the IB or another equivalent.
 Recommended: The inclusion of a Maths Mechanics module is also highly recommended.
  Helpful: Further Maths can be helpful to candidates in completing this course, although it is 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.

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

Applying

Admissions tests

Test: PAT
Test date:30 October 2019            
Registration deadline:                   6pm 15 October 2019                                                                                                      

All candidates must take the Physics Aptitude Test (PAT) as part of their application. Separate registration for each test is required and it is the responsibility of the candidate to ensure that they are registered for these tests. 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 PAT page

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.

Written work

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 language of physics is mathematics and formulating physical theories requires new mathematical structures. Therefore, the tutors are also looking for a good level of mathematical competence and 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.

Careers

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.

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 Physics

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

Contextual information

Course data from Discover Uni 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