How to apply for an Oxford Masters Program

How to apply for an Oxford Masters Program

Why Oxford?

The University of Oxford is one of the most prestigious, preeminent, and oldest universities in the world. It is estimated that teaching started in Oxford in 1096, and since then has been a hub for academic, political, scientific and literary advancement. Times Higher Education has rated the University of Oxford as the top university in the world. The academic staff comes from over 100 countries, and has more than 50 Nobel Laureates who have worked there at some point in their careers.


The faculty is unmatched in terms of their groundbreaking research and eminence in their respected fields, ensuring that Master’s students will be taught and mentored by the very best. Master’s students will also be immersed in an intellectual, dynamic and energetic culture of learning, and set the foundations for meaningful and successful professional relationships. You will be hard-pressed to find a more employable institution to complete your Master’s degree. This article – written by one who was accepted into Oxford Master Program - will provide a comprehensive guide to make your application as seamless and effective as possible. To begin your application, set up an account on the Oxford University Application System


Choosing a Course

Oxford University


The University of Oxford’s graduate courses are renowned as some of the most rigorous and rewarding courses in the world. Oxford Master’s courses are shorter than most, with the majority taking place over the course of 9 months, as opposed to US graduate schools, which take place over 2 years. The length of these courses fast tracks graduates to a smooth shift into their chosen careers.


The University of Oxford offers almost 400 graduate courses over a vast range of specialities and departments. Oxford has five academic divisions; Humanities; Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences; Medical Sciences; Social Sciences; and the Department for Continuing Education.


Individual departments and faculties are divided within these divisions. For example, the ‘History of Art’ department is located under Humanities, and the ‘Law’ department is found in the Social Sciences division. A range of courses, qualifications, and certificates are offered within these departments. For example, in the ‘History of Art’ department, there are 3 course options; ‘History of Art DPhil’ (Full Time), ‘History of Art DPhil’ (Part Time), and ‘History of Art and Visual Culture MSt’.


Similarly, in the ‘Law’ department, there are over ten courses, from specific subjects such as ‘Intellectual Property Law and Practice’ PGDip, to the more broad ‘Law’ DPhil. To choose the perfect course for you, you can either search through the department in the website, or do a specific search on MastersAvenue.


If you know for sure you want to study for a Master’s but are unsure which degree to choose, MastersAvenue has created the ideal service for you. Our team has analysed the careers of over 7.5 million graduates, and produced a simple, easy way to see the most popular career paths of graduates. The ‘Global Degree and Career Survey’ will tell you the percentage of professionals who hold the Master’s degree and the ten most popular occupations of graduates. It then has a comprehensive list of where these Master’s courses are offered, including course rating, university rating, and value for money. Have a look at the Global Degree and Career Survey for further information.



Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation are very important when applying to Master’s courses at Oxford. They will show the university that you are intellectually capable, motivated, and can thrive in an academically demanding environment. Oxford will need three letters, usually from academic sources. In some cases, the university will accept a letter from a professional source; if for example, you did not complete an undergraduate degree and have been working for several years.


The three referees you decide upon should generally be professors that knew you well during your undergraduate studies. Prospective students should email their choices well in advance to the deadline, usually about two to three months before. This is because professors may be on sabbatical or under a heavy workload. Be sure to be polite, professional and grateful in your request, as letters are completely voluntary and they are doing you a massive favour. If they agree, send them a hand-written thank you note as well! You will be able to track whether your references have been sent on the Graduate Applicant Self Service website.



Statement of Academic Purpose

The statement of academic purpose is perhaps the most important element to your Oxford application. It will persuade the admission department that you are a prospective student who will not only thrive at the University of Oxford, but will also be a pleasure to teach.


Your statement should discuss your incentives and motivations for applying for further study in general, and more specifically at Oxford. While other universities may ask for a broader overview of what you intend to study, Oxford requires you to be more specific about your planned research field. For example, it is not enough to say you are interested in ‘English Literature’, but what particular elements spark your academic curiosity? It could be mid-20th century postcolonial literature, or Victorian supernatural novels. Explain why these topics appeal to you, and how a Master’s degree at Oxford will enable you to further explore these subjects, and contribute to fields of theory and research.


This is not to say, though, that you cannot express a broad array of interests-- this is perhaps even more beneficial. Ideally, you will be able to weave in and out of particular elements of a subject that you find particularly fascinating, and be able to connect these to one another in unusual and interesting ways. Say, for example, you are applying for an ‘English Literature’ course at Oxford and are captivated by Homer’s epics from Ancient Greece, as well as feminist writing of the late twentieth century. A sure-fire way to grab the attention of the admissions office would find a way to connect these two, maybe by discussing how female characters have changed over time.


A Master’s statement should be formal; try not to make any jokes, or use colloquial language. But, you are also not writing a university essay—the person reading this statement wants to get to know you and the moments in your academic career that have driven you to apply for Oxford. You should also discuss what you intend to do after you graduate with your Master’s degree; do you hope to continue your research and do a PhD, or get a job? Your statement should be about one to two pages. Check out these statement of purpose templates to give you a good idea.




Oxford will require an official transcript from your undergraduate institution. It should list individual grades from every module you took. Your previous university may take a few months to produce your transcript, so be sure to request one well in advance of the deadline. Official transcripts should have signatures or stamps by the university to certify their validity. If they do not, you have accessed an unofficial copy and should email your undergraduate university’s Student System, or department supervisor. Files cannot be submitted in Word documents, so make sure you convert the file to a PDF, JPG or PNG format. 


Transcripts may also be sent through electronic sharing systems, such as Digitary. Upon your undergraduate graduation, you will be sent a username and password for this service, and will be able to access your transcript through logging in and requesting it.


If you are still in the middle of your undergraduate degree, you may request a provisional transcript with your completed grades, and predicted grades for incomplete modules. If you are accepted to the University of Oxford, you will need to send your official transcript by 31st of August.


If you completed your undergraduate degree in a non-English speaking country, and your transcript is not in English, you must submit both the official transcript in the original language, and a translation of the transcript into English, by an authorised translator.



Writing Sample

The University of Oxford requires writing samples from your most recent degree. These are usually either 4,000 or 2,000 words. You may choose excerpts from longer academic essays, but if you do so you should include a note at the beginning that contextualises the extract. This writing sample needs to evidence that you are capable of academic work at the highest standard, so should be your most accomplished work. Oxford asks for a sample that will be assessed for ‘analytical and critical acumen, ability to construct and defend an argument, and powers of expression’.


A good tip would be to ask for advice from your referees. They have analysed your essays from a critical standpoint, and will give you good guidance on which essays to use.


International Students

International students are very likely to need a visa to be allowed to study at Oxford (or other British universities). We have written a special article on how to apply for a UK student visa.



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