Undergraduate FAQs

Potential applicants may have many questions about the University and the general admissions process. For answers to these, please consult the general FAQs linked from the main Undergraduate Admissions Website. The questions below will be answered with respect to the three undergraduate courses offered by the Faculty of Theology and Religion: Theology and Religion; Philosophy and Theology; Religion and Oriental Studies. The answers are reviewed and updated as necessary.

Please note that the University has published and will update advice for applicants and offer holders who are affected by Coronavirus.  Please follow links from the University's dedicated website here.

Why do people study Theology and Religion? Why should I consider studying it?

Students have a huge variety of reasons for studying Theology and Religion. Indeed there may be as many reasons as there are students. The study of Theology and Religion has been at the heart of intellectual development and learning for centuries and is woven into the foundation of the modern Universities. It is, therefore, a subject of great significance as well as of modern relevance. Millions of people worldwide profess some religious faith or identity. Religious ideas, history and debates are frequently in the news headlines. Aside from this, Theology and Religion encompasses a diverse range of subjects and skills. Theology and Religion students have an opportunity to engage in the study of history, literature, languages, philosophy, natural sciences, social sciences and other disciplines. The course is flexible and allows students either to explore a range of subjects or to focus on some particular strengths and interests. Students enjoy opportunities to read, write, discuss, learn languages and undertake independent research, depending on their routes through the course. All our students share an interest in and enthusiasm for the questions and challenges raised in the study of Theology and Religion.

Does an applicant’s personal faith or religious background/commitment affect the consideration of his or her application?

We welcome applications from individuals of any or no religious faith. The religious confessions, commitments and motivations of our students do not feature in tutors’ considerations of applications for study. In fact at no point, either at application or on course, are students requested or required to disclose their religious beliefs to the Faculty. We may say, however, that our faculty includes students and tutors of different religious faiths and none. We do not expect our students to arrive with knowledge of any religious tradition. However, it is very important that, regardless of their personal positions with regard to religion, all our students are able to approach religious ideas, issues, beliefs and debates critically, respectfully and open to learning.

What can I do with a degree in Theology and Religion? What are the destinations and career prospects of graduates?

Our degrees equip students with a wide range of transferable skills and the standard of our courses is well respected by both employers and other HE institutions. A BA in Theology and Religion or one of our joint courses will not equip you to become a dentist or civil engineer but our graduates can access and do succeed in a variety of careers and may be compared with other Humanities graduates from respected Universities. The destinations of our graduates are wide ranging and include employment in fields as diverse as government, finance, education, accountancy, commerce, development, the charitable sector, performing arts, the church or other religious ministry. Many graduates also choose to pursue further study, whether at masters or doctoral level in an associated subject or for example, on a teacher training (PGCE) or law conversion course. The testimonials on our Undergraduate Studies page give some indication of the paths that some of our alumni have taken. See also our Careers and Graduate Destinations page.

What transferable skills might I expect to gain on the course?

Students will have the opportunity to develop a variety of skills during the course. These include the effective communication of information, ideas and arguments in a range of oral and written formats. Students also learn to identify, gather and analyse primary data and source material, making discriminating use of library, IT and other tools and resources. Students are required to work independently, managing their time and competing priorities to meet the demands of a challenging workload. This means that students need to reflect upon their own strengths and weaknesses as well as those of others, when working collaboratively. During the course, students will be required to attend to, represent accurately, reflect on and interact with the ideas and arguments of others, with empathy, integrity and critical reflection. The degree invites and encourages students to think independently with critical self-awareness about their own beliefs, commitments and prejudices.

What would I study on the Theology and Religion BA course?

Our undergraduate curriculum encompasses a number of subject areas and disciplines. It includes studies in the history of religions, the nature of religion, contemporary religious ideas and practice, the Bible and other ancient texts, ethics, the philosophy of religion and theological ideas and Christian teaching. 

In the first year of the course, all students follow a programme of study, which showcases the variety of the course.  All students choose one language to study from scratch.

In the second and third year of the course, students may select (subject to only a few restrictions) from a long list of papers (units of study). All students also identify a research question and, under supervision, prepare a 12,000 word thesis.

For descriptions of what is available on the current course, please consult the documents called Schedules of Papers on our Course Handbooks page. The Schedules of Papers contain descriptions of the papers (units of study) available to students on all three BA courses and include information on course content, delivery and assessment.

All Handbooks and Schedules of Papers are named according to the year in which students will be examined. Prospective students and applicants are advised that the course undertaken by students in future years may vary in its detail. Please see the University’s information on potential course changes. For the most representative information available, applicants should consult the most recent Handbooks and Schedules of Papers.

What would I study on the Philosophy and Theology BA course?

This course is delivered in part by the Philosophy Faculty and in part by the Faculty of Theology and Religion. Students on this course can access exactly the same options as students studying Theology and Religion (see above), although they will study fewer of these options to leave room for Philosophy.  Information on the Philosophy side of the course is available on the Philosophy Faculty Website

In the first year of the course, all students study two compulsory Philosophy options, a Theology paper on the Figure of Jesus through the Centuries and may choose a fourth option from the remaining Theology Preliminary papers (see the Schedule of Papers, details above).

In the second and third year of the course, students may select (subject to only a few restrictions) 3, 4 or 5 options from the long list of Theology papers (units of study). Students also study a number of compulsory and optional Philosophy papers to make a total of 8 papers.

For descriptions of what Theology and Religion options are available on the current course, please consult the documents called Schedules of Papers on our Course Handbooks page. The Schedules of Papers contain descriptions of the papers (units of study) available to students on all three BA courses and include information on course content, delivery and assessment.

All Handbooks and Schedules of Papers are named according to the year in which students will be examined. Prospective students and applicants are advised that the course undertaken by students in future years may vary in its detail. Please see the University’s information on potential course changes. For the most representative information available, applicants should consult the most recent Handbooks and Schedules of Papers.

What would I study on the Religion and Oriental Studies BA course?

This course is delivered in part by the Faculty of Theology and Religion and in part by the Oriental Studies Faculty. Students on this course can access exactly the same options as students studying Theology and Religion (see above), although they will study fewer of these options to leave room for Oriental Studies. Information on the Oriental Studies side of the course is available on the Oriental Studies Faculty Website

In the first year of the course, all students study one paper (unit of study) called Religion and Religions with the Faculty of Theology and Religion. The remaining three quarters of the course in this year is devoted to intensive language learning from scratch. The following languages may be available: Arabic, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Pali, Sanskrit, Tibetan.

In the second and third year of the course, students specialise in the religion relevant to their chosen language. Students will continue intensive study of that language and of set religious texts in their original language. This may be combined with further study in the religious tradition or a selection from any of the options available to undergraduates studying Theology and Religion (see above). Students study a total of 8 options, of which 3, 4 or 5 can be taught by the Faculty of Theology and Religion.

For descriptions of what Theology and Religion options are available on the current course, please consult the documents called Schedules of Papers on our Course Handbooks page. The Schedules of Papers contain descriptions of the papers (units of study) available to students on all three BA courses and include information on course content, delivery and assessment.

All Handbooks and Schedules of Papers are named according to the year in which students will be examined. Prospective students and applicants are advised that the course undertaken by students in future years may vary in its detail. Please see the University’s information on potential course changes. For the most representative information available, applicants should consult the most recent Handbooks and Schedules of Papers.

What is a typical day or week of term like for an undergraduate student at the Faculty of Theology and Religion?

The shape and structure of a week’s work will depend on which course options are being studied but the following sketches are typical.

A first year Theology and Religion student in the first term might expect to attend three language classes a week as well as an hour’s lecture for each of the three other course options. Each element of the first year course is therefore nurtured by lectures in every week of the course. Alongside these six hours of classes and lectures, students work independently on language learning and exercises. Much of the week is spent on independent study in preparation for a weekly tutorial on one of the course options.  For each tutorial, a student will research from recommended reading an essay of about 2,500 words, which is then discussed with a tutor and fellow student. 

A first year Philosophy and Theology student will have a similar workload but it will comprise Philosophy options as well. Formal logic is often taught in classes and learning a language is not compulsory for Philosophy and Theology students. First year Religion and Oriental Studies students will spend much of the week in intensive language classes and associated independent learning. Correspondingly, they can expect to prepare fewer tutorial essays.

A second or third year student might expect to prepare for about three tutorials per fortnight. They might attend anything between two and four lectures each week. Several final year course options are taught in classes at the Faculty, requiring reading and preparation in advance. Students who are researching and writing a thesis or extended essay will devote considerable time to this.

Students might expect to spend some time each week in the lecture theatre and class room as well as lots of time in the library of their choice or other private study space. Students should be able to spend time in quiet private study as well as enjoying the company and contribution of their peers and teachers. Their work will probably involve them in moving around Oxford, to the faculty, faculty library, central (Bodleian) library and different colleges. Students also find time for a range of social and other pursuits.

Can I apply to any college?

Not all colleges admit students for Theology and Religion; Philosophy and Theology and Religion and Oriental Studies. For an up to date list of Colleges admitting in these subjects please check the information in the current Undergraduate prospectus, online here.

In most years, the following colleges and permanent private halls admit students for courses as indicated in the table below.

 

 

Theology and Religion

Philosophy and Theology

Religion and Oriental Studies

Christ Church

 

 

 

Harris Manchester College

 

 

Jesus College

 

 

 

Keble College

 

 

 

Lady Margaret Hall

 

 

 

Mansfield College

 

 

 

Oriel College

 

 

 

Pembroke College

 

 

 

Regent's Park College

 

 

 

St Benet's Hall

 

 

 

St John's College

 

 

 

St Peter's College

 

 

 

Trinity College

 

 

 

Worcester College

 

 

 

Wycliffe Hall

 

 

 

 

Please note that both Harris Manchester and Wycliffe Hall admit only mature students (21 years and over).

Applicants may apply directly to a college or submit an ‘open application’ which will then be allocated to a college.

If you mistakenly apply to a college that does not admit students to the course for which you have applied, your application will be transferred to an appropriate college.

See the University’s online guidance on choosing a college and links to information on individual colleges.

Is my application or experience of the course affected by the College to which I apply?

All Colleges are signed up to a Common Framework for Undergraduate Admissions. This includes ensuring that an applicant’s prospects of admission are not affected by the college to which he or she has applied, or else been allocated. Theology and Religion tutors in each college work together in a common faculty admissions procedure to ensure that every application receives fair consideration. As part of this common faculty procedure, all shortlisted applicants are interviewed by at least two colleges. It sometimes means that applications are transferred across colleges prior to interview.

Why have I been invited to interview at a different college from the one to which I applied?

The distribution of applications across colleges is rarely even; neither does it reflect the number of places available across the colleges. In other words, some colleges with relatively few places to offer may receive a large proportion of applications, whilst other colleges with a number of places to offer receive fewer applications per place, for whatever reason. In order to ensure fair consideration of each application, the Faculty oversees a process whereby applicants are transferred from very oversubscribed colleges to other colleges with a lower ratio of applicants to places available. We consider it greatly to the applicant’s advantage to receive careful consideration by tutors at more than one college, regardless of any college preference expressed by the applicant at application. If you are reallocated to another college and invited to interview by them, this is an indication that tutors have evaluated your application positively and would like to consider it further. 

For what are tutors looking when they assess applications? What selection criteria do you use?

In making their decisions, tutors apply the following criteria:

To reach the interview stage of the admission process for any BA degree in the Faculty of Theology and Religion, applicants must fulfil the following criteria:

  • They must submit a strong UCAS form, including a supportive reference, excellent past examination results, and the predicted 3 ‘A’ grades at A-level or equivalent. 
  • They must submit written work which demonstrates
    • the ability to think clearly and to reason coherently, 
    • evidence of independence of thought, 
    • the ability to structure work and arguments in a logical way, and 
    • the ability to write clearly (and grammatically), with clear expression of thought.

In addition, for applicants to Philosophy and Theology tutors will consider performance in the Philosophy test.

At the interview stage in Theology and Religion, applicants must demonstrate:

  • an ability to think clearly, including understanding complex concepts, forming sound arguments, and listening and responding to counterarguments.
  • an openness to learning.
  • an ability at close textual reading and interpretation.
  • evidence of enthusiasm and/or motivation, including dedication and diligence in work, and evidence of independent thought and reading.
  • an ability to develop ideas presented in their submitted written work.
  • oral communications skills.

Philosophy and Theology applicants are also advised to consult the advice concerning selection criteria and interviews on the Philosophy Faculty Website.

In addition, for those applicants to Religion and Oriental Studies who intend to study Islam/Arabic or Judaism/Hebrew, tutors will consider performance in the Oriental Studies Language Aptitude Test (OLAT).

At all stages the process is very competitive and there are more well-qualified candidates than there are places available. Meeting the entry requirements does not guarantee a place or even an interview but applications will be assessed on their relative merits.

When assessing an application tutors endeavour to do so holistically (looking at the whole application and not only one aspect of it) and contextually (in the light of data relating to an applicant’s context; this enables the significance of a comparative strength or weakness to be better evaluated). For information on how the University uses contextual data, please see here.

What grades do I need in order to make a competitive application?

The entry requirement for all three undergraduate courses is at least AAA at A Level or AA/AAB in Advanced Highers or in the IB (including core points), 38 for Theology and Religion and Religion or Oriental Studies and 39 for Philosophy and Theology, all with 666 at HL.

The University of Oxford also recognises a large number of equivalent qualifications. Please consult the websites for other UK qualifications, and international qualifications.

Do I need to have grades in particular subjects?

None of our three courses require the prior study of any particular subject at A Level or equivalent. A very wide range of subjects has been represented in successful applications from previous years. As indicated in the prospectus, students on the course may find it useful to have studied a subject involving essay writing and Religion and Oriental Studies students may benefit from experience in language learning (although this is not required and has no bearing on admissions decisions).

I have some weaker grades, is it still worth applying?

The standard offer made by admissions tutors in Theology and Religion is AAA at A Level or equivalent. An application is unlikely to succeed where applicants have not obtained (or are not predicted to obtain) the required grades for entry. Oxford makes its offers on the basis of grades rather than tariff points, which means that exceeding the requirement in one subject cannot compensate for missing the requirement in another (in other words A*AB at A Level does not meet the entry requirement).

We do not stipulate any particular attainment at GCSE (or equivalent) but this part of your academic record does comprise a significant portion of the information available to tutors.  For more information on the University’s policies and guidance in relation to GCSEs, please see here. Some weaker GCSE grades may not preclude you from making a competitive application but be aware that most applicants have impressive GCSE profiles.

When assessing an application tutors endeavour to do so holistically (looking at the whole application and not only one aspect of it) and contextually (in the light of data relating to an applicant’s context; this enables the significance of a comparative strength or weakness to be better evaluated). For information on how the University uses contextual data, please see here. Tutors do understand that bad things can happen to good students and may exercise discretion in certain cases. They also understand that students can improve and progress. Therefore, if your academic record does not fairly represent your ability, it is very helpful to receive an account of how and why this is the case. Referees are encouraged to account for shortcomings in an applicant’s academic record where such an account might enable the significance of those shortcomings to be better appreciated.

How do tutors consider grades obtained at re-sits?

It is generally the case that applications from students who achieve their required grades all at one sitting are more competitive than applications from students who have taken re-sits in order to achieve the required grades. Applicants who perform strongly in, e.g. A Level subjects three at the same sitting are able to demonstrate their capacity to balance a range of subjects and significant workload. (Many students studying Mathematics and Further Mathematics for A Level take these exams in different years because of the structure of the courses and constraints within school timetables.  This would not disadvantage their applications.) We would not normally make any offer of a place on the condition of grades lower than the standard entry requirement of AAA at A Level, or equivalent.

Nevertheless, there may be good reasons why resits are necessary and successful applications have been made by students who achieved the required grades at more than one sitting. In all such circumstances, we strongly recommend that, where possible, referees account for any poor performance or explain why a re-sit is necessary. See the question My work is or has been affected by circumstances beyond my control. Is it useful for tutors to know? below in this section. Tutors will consider this carefully when evaluating an applicant’s achieved grade(s) and/or predicted re-sit grade.

What are tutors looking for in a personal statement?

The University and UCAS supply a lot of useful advice on preparing your Personal Statement, please see here.

This is good advice, which the Faculty is pleased to underline. Do remember that your personal statement is personal. It is your opportunity to show tutors that you are a good fit for the course. Consider what you can do and say to demonstrate your interest, enthusiasm and aptitude for studying Theology and Religion; Philosophy and Theology or Religion and Oriental Studies.

You might find some helpful ideas to get you thinking in the answer to question What can I do to prepare for the application process and potentially strengthen my application? below in the 'Other' Section.

My work is or has been affected by circumstances beyond my control. Is it useful for tutors to know?

Our admissions processes are designed to allow applications to be assessed individually and holistically. This means that we endeavour to look at the whole of your application as it represents you as an individual and a potential student on one of our courses. We therefore recognise that for a number of understandable reasons, a student’s academic record may not accurately represent his or her real academic merit and potential. We also understand that a student’s academic performance may have been affected by factors beyond his or her control.  These are often described as mitigating circumstances, for example, illness, bereavement, undiagnosed Specific Learning Difficulty, significant school disruption.

If your academic record and performance has been affected by circumstances beyond your control, then our tutors need to know this in order to make a fair and informed assessment of your application. We strongly advise that any mitigating circumstances are disclosed in the application. The most straightforward way to do this is for your referee to make a clear note of these circumstances, or otherwise give an account of your academic record, in the UCAS reference. If for any reason this is not possible, we advise you to contact the college considering your application to provide further details. It is not advisable for referees to ignore or “gloss over” weaknesses in an applicant’s academic record, if and when an explanation for those weaknesses could be provided.

Is it an advantage or disadvantage to apply for deferred entry? Will taking a ‘gap year’ affect my application?

A ‘gap year’ might describe any interruption to academic study, which means that a student does not continue studying throughout consecutive academic years, typically a ‘gap’ of one academic year between leaving school and entering Higher Education. Students have a number of reasons for taking a gap year, perhaps to earn money to fund their studies, to undertake voluntary work, to travel, to focus on other interests (e.g. sport or music) or for personal reasons, such as family responsibilities.

Deferred entry means applying in advance to begin your course in more than a year’s time. For example, submitting an application in October 2020 with a view to starting your course in October 2022. Some applicants prefer to apply for deferred entry to secure the offer of a University place before embarking on a gap year.

At any college, admissions tutors in Theology and Religion, Philosophy and Theology and Religion and Oriental Studies welcome applications for deferred entry. A gap year does not necessarily either advantage or disadvantage an application, whatever the student’s reason for taking a gap year. Applicants for deferred entry will be assessed against the same criteria as any other applicant to the course, relative to those other applicants. Applicants for deferred entry have made competitive, and indeed, successful applications in previous years. Some candidates prefer to apply for non-deferred entry whilst on their gap year, alongside most of the field of applicants for entry in the same year. It is possible to apply before the October deadline during your gap year. If you apply during your gap year, please ensure that you can be available to interview (normally in Oxford, if possible, and if not then over Skype) and able to access a functioning email address.

I am 21 years of age or over, how should I apply? Are there any special considerations?

Students aged 21 or over (there is no upper limit) are designated “mature”. Mature students should apply for the course through UCAS; their applications are considered at the same time and according to the same procedures as applicants from non-mature candidates. 

The circumstances of individual mature students vary greatly and there is plenty of advice for mature students on the main admissions website.

We warmly welcome applications from mature students and encourage you to contact the Faculty or a college for any advice you might need. Mature students are welcome to apply to any college but please note that Harris Manchester College and Wycliffe Hall admit only mature students.

I have already graduated with a degree; can I apply to study another BA at Oxford? Are there any special considerations?

Students who already hold a degree should apply for our BA courses through UCAS; their applications are considered at the same time and according to the same procedures as applicants for a first degree.

If you already have a degree, you may be eligible to hold “senior status.” This means that you are exempted from the first year and first year examination and so you may enter the second year of the degree and complete the BA in two rather than three years. 

There is plenty of advice on second undergraduate degrees on the main admissions website.

You may also wish to consider the Postgraduate Diploma in Theology and Religion, which is a nine-month graduate course.

Are applicants considered only for the course to which they have applied? I applied for Philosophy and Theology but have been invited to interview for Theology and Religion, why?

All applicants are considered for the course to which they have applied.

Additionally, applicants to joint schools (with Philosophy or Oriental Studies) may be considered for the BA in Theology and Religion. This can happen at two stages in the process:

1. At shortlisting – a Philosophy and Theology applicant who is not due to be invited for an interview in the course to which they have applied, may occasionally be invited to interview for admission to the Theology and Religion Course. In such cases, the college will write to an applicant explaining that his or her application is now being considered for the Theology and Religion course and will, henceforth, be treated as a Theology and Religion application. In other words, that applicant will be interviewed by Theology and Religion tutors only.

2. When offers are made – a candidate who has been interviewed for Philosophy and Theology may ultimately receive an offer of a place to study Theology and Religion.

Please note that in neither case has consideration for the Theology and Religion course precluded consideration for the Philosophy and Theology course. Students are considered for the course to which they applied in the first instance and transfer to the Theology and Religion course is only considered where an application to Philosophy and Theology will make no further progress. 

The most usual reasons for transferring Philosophy and Theology students to the Theology and Religion course is because (i) Theology and Religion tutors are confident of an applicant’s aptitude in Theology, independent of Philosophy and consider his or her application to be competitive in the Theology and Religion field and (ii) there is greater capacity for interviewing and places on the Theology and Religion course.

As outlined in the answer to What would I study on the Theology and Religion BA course? (see under 'General Questions about the Courses' above) there is a great deal of overlap between the Theology and Religion and Philosophy and Theology course. Students on the Theology and Religion course are able to take Philosophy of Religion, a paper delivered by the Philosophy Faculty, as well as several options delivered by the Faculty of Theology and Religion with philosophical content, including but not limited to Analytic Philosophy and Christian Theology; Themes in Nineteenth Century Theology and Religion; Faith and Reason from the Enlightenment to the Romantic Age and the study of particular theologians. If you find the kind of questions posed in these papers engaging, you are encouraged to seriously consider accepting an interview or the offer of a place in Theology and Religion.

Applicants are not transferred in the other direction, i.e. from Theology and Religion to Philosophy and Theology as applicants for the latter are required to sit the Philosophy Test.

Transfer from Religion and Oriental Studies to Theology and Religion is unlikely because the content of these two courses is more distinct.

Do I need to sit a test?

Applicants for the BA Philosophy and Theology need to sit the Philosophy Test.

Applicants for the BA Religion and Oriental Studies, specialising in Arabic/Islam or in Hebrew/Judaism need to sit the OLAT (Oriental Languages Aptitude Test).

Registration is not automatic; applicants will need to register to sit the relevant test.

Applicants to the BA Theology and Religion and BA Religion and Oriental Studies specialising in other languages (not Hebrew or Arabic) are not required to sit a test.

I need to sit a test, where will I find further useful information?

Up to date information on how to register for a test, how to prepare and when and where to sit it are available on the University’s Undergraduate Admissions webpages:

Here for the Philosophy Test.

Here for the OLAT.

These sites also include information on what to do if you require special consideration, for example, if your test performance has been affected by circumstances beyond your control, such as illness.

How are the test answers and marks used in the admissions process?

Test results are just one element of an application. Tutors take them into account, just as they consider your academic record or written work. We do not employ strict cut-offs. In other words, we do not use the test marks to decline all candidates with marks below X; neither are all candidates with marks above Y guaranteed an invitation to interview. Nevertheless, it is the case that a strong performance in the test contributes to a competitive application and that candidates who perform well in the test are more likely to be shortlisted and ultimately, to receive an offer of a place.

Applicants are required to submit written work. Why and what should I submit?

Applicants to any of our three courses are required to submit one piece of written work. Please note that if written work is not received before the deadline, an application will normally be considered incomplete and disregarded.

Ideally, applicants should submit a single, self-contained piece of writing, composed as part of a current or recent course of study. It should not exceed about 2,000 words in length (and shorter is fine) but should demonstrate the following qualities:

  • the ability to think clearly and to reason coherently, 
  • evidence of independence of thought, 
  • the ability to structure work and arguments in a logical way, and 
  • the ability to write clearly (and grammatically), with clear expression of thought.

Both typewritten and (legible) handwritten submissions are welcome but be aware that work submitted on paper will be scanned. Please submit before the deadline, according to the instructions here.

Your work may be on any subject and not necessarily Theology or Religion. If you are taking e.g. A Level Religious Studies and consider one of your essays for that course to represent your best work then, of course, you should submit it. However, essays on other subjects, e.g. English, History, Politics etc are also welcome. You should submit the work that you think best demonstrates the four qualities listed above. It is fine to ask for the advice and opinion of your teacher or another advisor at your school. It is not usually necessary (see below for exceptions) to write something especially for submission. Do not imagine that tutors only want to read essays on their own specialist subjects; they would rather read an essay you have written on a subject about which you are well informed. It is not the intention of this requirement to add much to the workload of applicants at an already very busy time.

There is no restriction as to the kind of work you may submit, providing that it is your own work. You might choose to submit, for example, a mock A Level essay, completed under examination conditions or a homework essay from your IB course.

If you are taking an EPQ qualification, please do not submit the whole project but you may submit an excerpt. If you prefer this option, please identify an excerpt (about 1,000-2,000 words) that will make sense as a stand-alone piece. You may top and tail the excerpt with a sentence or two about what comes before it and what follows it in the project, where that aids comprehension.

The admissions process supplies tutors with plentiful opportunities to gauge how students perform under pressure or when faced with new questions in a new context (e.g. at interview or in the Philosophy Test). The written work submitted by applicants instead provides tutors with an opportunity to see how students perform in something more like their “comfort zone.” Ideally, submitted work usually reflects what an applicant can produce in a context where they are supported (by teachers and peers) and familiar with the material under discussion. 

Do not make a “fair copy” or revise your regular work. We welcome work complete with teacher’s comments and/or crossings-out. If nothing else, it indicates the context in which the piece was written.

I don’t have recent written work from a course, what should I do?

Don’t worry. Your situation is not uncommon, especially if you are a mature student (whose A Level work may date from several decades ago) or a student with a science background (whose recent work may not include essays that demonstrate the required qualities).

Notwithstanding the reassurances given about written work in the section above, in cases where an applicant has no recent, suitable written work available, the Faculty is pleased to accept a piece that has been written especially for submission. You are welcome to choose your own subject/question but remember that it should enable you to demonstrate the following qualities:

  • the ability to think clearly and to reason coherently, 
  • evidence of independence of thought, 
  • the ability to structure work and arguments in a logical way, and 
  • the ability to write clearly (and grammatically), with clear expression of thought.

You should, therefore, avoid topics and questions that are purely descriptive and instead choose something that encourages analysis. Try to make some kind of argument or come to some kind of decision. The Faculty does not prescribe titles but the following are offered, either as titles to use or to guide your own formulation of a title.

‘Theology and Religion should not be studied in a secular University.’ Discuss.

How might you resolve the ethical issues surrounding blood sports/cosmetic surgery/medical testing on animals? [choose an issue that interests you] 

‘If God does not exist, then religion is pointless.’ Do you agree?

You may, of course, contact your college to ask for advice.

Since applicants will submit different kinds of work, how do you ensure the work is assessed fairly?

In the instructions here, you will find a cover sheet, on which the context of the written work should be specified. This information enables us to distinguish timed examination essays from Extended Project excerpts; school work from an essay written especially for submission and without support.

Are all applicants invited to interview?

Not all applicants are invited to interview.  If you are invited to interview you should receive an invitation from the college just over a week before the interviews are due to take place. The anticipated dates for interviews in each subject are advertised on the University’s admissions website. See general Interview Guidance, including practical information such as help with travel costs. 

In recent years, tutors have invited the following proportions of applicants to interview:

  • In 2019, 65.3% of Theology and Religion applicants and 38.7% of Philosophy and Theology applicants were invited to interview.
  • In 2018, 68.7% of Theology and Religion applicants and 46.3% of Philosophy and Theology applicants were invited to interview.
  • In 2017, 60.8% of Theology and Religion applicants and 51.3% of Philosophy and Theology applicants were invited to interview.

It should be understood, therefore, that meeting the entry requirements for the course is no guarantee of an invitation to interview. It should also be understood that an invitation to interview represents a significant achievement in itself.

How many interviews do applicants attend?

All applicants for all three courses will receive a Theology and Religion interview in at least two colleges. This gives applicants two opportunities to demonstrate their skills and aptitude and enables tutors to meet a sample of applicants from across the University.

Applicants to Philosophy and Theology will also be interviewed by Philosophy tutors in at least one college.

Applicants to Religion and Oriental Studies will also be interviewed at the Oriental Studies Faculty and may be interviewed by Oriental Studies tutors in a college.

This means that you will have at least two interviews and more depending on your course. It is unusual for a candidate to be given more than four or five interviews over the course of two days. 

What is a Theology and Religion interview like?

First and foremost, an interview is a conversation. You might expect an interview to last about 25-30 minutes, during which time you will need to listen to the interviewer(s) and give voice to your own thoughts and ideas. Interviews will vary by college and by interviewer but typically, an interview might be conducted by two academics, one of whom at any one time might be taking notes (or else notes might be taken by another tutor, devoted to that purpose). 

During the interview, you may be presented with ‘stimulus’ or ‘prompt’ material – a text, object, image or issue – to think about and form the basis for discussion. Do not worry if this material is unfamiliar. Remember that prior study of Theology and Religion is not expected and interviewers may well be trying to gauge your response to new ideas. You should expect to be challenged and to face counter arguments. You should also expect to critique your own ideas and to formulate arguments in defence of different positions. You will need to think and concentrate hard in an interview and it is perfectly permissible to take a moment or two to do so. Do not imagine, however, that you should only present your final and polished answer. Interviewers are trying to see how you think so it is a good idea to “talk-through” your thinking so that interviewers can understand how you are approaching the material and the question. You are not required to give a polished performance; interviewers are not auditioning speech makers but engaging with potential students. As well as communicating your own ideas, it is very important that you listen carefully to your interviewers. Make sure you understand their questions and respond to their prompts and counter arguments – they will be trying to help you work well. Do not attempt to steer the conversation onto your favourite topics but engage fully with what is being presented. If you require clarification on anything, you should ask for it as this is what a student would do with his or her tutor.

How should I prepare?

Interviewers do not assume any specialist knowledge and there is no need to study particular topics in advance. However, if you have mentioned areas that interest you or books you have read in your personal statement, make sure you are prepared to discuss these. It’s also a good idea to keep a copy of the written work that you submit and be prepared to discuss what you wrote.

Generally, it’s a good idea to accustom yourself to being presented with new ideas and material. Read books and articles, listen to podcasts and follow the news and current affairs. If you are used to encountering fresh subject matter and new ideas, you will be more comfortable when confronted with some at interview. Look at the answer to What can I do to prepare for the application process and potentially strengthen their applications? in the 'Other' section below for some ideas.

Since an interview is a conversation, it will help if you can practice talking about academic subjects that interest you in a conversational setting, where it is also important to listen to what is being said in return. It can take a little while for some people to feel comfortable but it does get easier with practice. This can be as simple as discussing your work with a friend, family member or teacher. 

Do not worry about what to wear!

What can I do to prepare for the application process and potentially strengthen my application?

1. Do your research! There is a lot of information available on this Faculty website as well as on the main University undergraduate admissions website.  Make sure you have the information you need. Remember that you can browse current course options to ensure that you choose the right course for you.  See under 'General Questions about the Courses' above on What would I study on the Theology and Religion BA course?

2. Explore your academic interests. This can be done in a variety of ways and however you choose to stretch yourself and go beyond your current studies, make sure that you choose something that interests and challenges you and that you are actively engaged.

You might investigate new areas of study in the fields of Theology, Religion or Philosophy by reading introductory books or podcasts (such as the BBC Radio’s In Our Time). Alternatively, you might select something you’ve enjoyed from e.g. A Level courses and dig a little deeper by, for example, reading primary texts, sources or other works by the same authors. Local Universities and Museums regularly host public lectures and exhibitions and you may wish to attend these. Remember that many works of fiction, literature, film and music may also allow you to flex your intellectual muscles. You might consider keeping a journal of your reading or listening. Think about your experience of the material, what you’ve learned and what questions you have. The idea is not to vastly increase your workload, still less to spend money but rather to indulge your enthusiasms and build your confidence in tackling new ideas and questions and discussing them. It may also provide discussion points for your personal statement.

3. Take opportunities to discuss your interests and your current work with friends, family and teachers.

4. Work well on any current studies to do well in your examinations and understand the material thoroughly. 

5. If you are able, do consider visiting Oxford for one of the University Open Days.

Take a look at our Access and Participate pages for further information and links to resources.

My question is not answered here. What shall I do?

Email your question to undergraduate.enquiries@theology.ox.ac.uk. You will receive an answer and it may be added to the list of FAQs!