For almost a millennium, the University of Oxford has made a name for itself as the world’s foremost institution for higher education. Together with Cambridge, it forms the prestigious Oxbridge schools.
Like the Ivy League in the U.S., “Oxbridge” is a famous pair of universities in the UK well-known for producing high-level scholars and cutting-edge research. They are some of the oldest universities in the world and the best in the UK. Oxford and Cambridge are academically comparable to Harvard and Stanford, and all are consistently high performers on international college ranking lists.
Even if you know nothing about Oxford, most likely you’ve heard of it. It’s one of the most difficult schools to get into. It is as rich in history as it is prolific in research output.
It is referenced often in other media to indicate a certain social and academic prestige. (One of its earliest references in fiction dates back to 1400, in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales: “A clerk [student] … of Oxenforde,” who studied philosophy). Its beautiful campus has also served as a backdrop in high-profile films such as X Men: First Class, The Golden Compass, and even a James Bond movie.
In this article, we’ll break down the University of Oxford’s acceptance rate, tuition, notable alumni, rankings, and more. By the end, you’ll learn the facts and figures behind the school’s reputation, what to expect as a student there, and what you’d have to do in order to increase your chances of getting in.
University of Oxford Acceptance Rate
Oxford’s undergraduate acceptance rate is approximately 17%. To put this number in context, roughly 80% of undergraduates and 36% of graduate students are from the UK. International student acceptance rates vary slightly, but we’ll get to those numbers in a moment.
At 17%, Oxford is highly competitive, but not nearly as rigorous as Harvard, Columbia, or Yale, whose acceptance rates hover around 5%. At the same time, Oxford’s acceptance rate is slightly lower than Cambridge’s 21%. Nevertheless, both Oxford and Cambridge receive upwards of 20,000 undergrad applications per year, domestically and internationally.
Unlike many top-tier U.S. schools, Oxford’s acceptance rate has steadily risen for the past five years. This trend is in part due to the school’s conscious effort to expand accessibility and inclusion to traditionally underrepresented groups, such as women, minorities, the socioeconomically disadvantaged, and the disabled.
The most popular undergraduate majors at Oxford are economics & management, medicine, maths & computer science, and biomedical sciences. If some of these undergrad majors — namely medicine — sound unfamiliar, that’s because of the UK’s different approach to higher education.
With the exception of professional or technical degrees, most U.S. undergraduate degrees focus on broad knowledge and skills. On the other hand, UK degrees expect students to go in-depth in their chosen field. As a result, there are usually no general education requirements. That’s why medicine and law are available as baccalaureate majors: students start learning the required courses for these disciplines right away instead of waiting until graduate school.
Like at most English universities, Oxford’s undergraduate degrees take three years to complete. In most cases, students can add a master’s degree for only one additional year.
University of Oxford Tuition
Despite being in the same caliber as the Ivy League and other top U.S. schools, Oxford doesn’t cost nearly as much. Currently, students from the UK or Ireland pay £9,250 ($13,027), while international students pay £26,770-37,510 ($37,700-52,825) per year. The price variability depends on major; some require students to go abroad for a year, for which there is an additional fee.
You can expect living costs to range from £10,575-15,390 ($14,893-21,673) per 9-month school year. This includes food, accommodation, textbooks, and other costs. Oxford guarantees undergraduate accommodations for the first year and at least one other year.
To help cover the costs, Oxford offers financial aid in various forms. For example, low-income UK or Ireland students receive annual bursaries (grants) scalable depending on household income. For students whose families make less than £16,000 ($22,533), the largest bursary is £3,200 ($4,507) per year.
In addition, undergraduates who are UK residents and have an annual household income of £27,500 ($38,728) or less will receive a Crankstart Scholarship worth up to £5,000 ($7,042) per year. There are additional bursaries and scholarships available to UK students with other extenuating circumstances or disadvantaged backgrounds.
UK students can also apply for loans from the UK government, but international students must seek loans from their home country. However, a few scholarships are available for students from select countries in Asia, eastern Europe, China, Russia, and more.
The Oxford website has a convenient tool you can use to search for scholarships you may be eligible for and estimate your total costs based on country of origin, major, starting year, and college.
University of Oxford Requirements
Unlike U.S. universities, Oxford requires you to choose which course (major) you want to study and apply only to that course using the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) application.
Different courses will have different requirements, which come in the form of admissions exams, submission of written work, and/or completing required classes in high school. However, every course will require specific results on your A-Levels, other UK equivalent, or international equivalent.
For example, if you’re a UK student applying as a Physics major, you’ll need to receive A*AA on your A-Levels, with an A* on Mathematics, Physics, or Further Mathematics. An A* is a score of 90%+, and an A is a score of 80-89%. Therefore, you’ll need a total of three A-Levels, hence the three scores.
In terms of subject requirements, Oxford requires you to have Physics and Maths to A-Level or other equivalent, and recommends a Maths Mechanics class. Applicants must also take the Physics Aptitude Test (PAT), an entrance exam administered by the university.
If you’re an American student applying as a Physics major, you’ll need to earn equivalent test scores as part of your application. In this case, it’s scoring 5s on four APs (on subjects required for the Physics major) or scoring 5s on three APs plus at least a 32 on the ACT or 1470 on the SAT. Search for the necessary international qualifications for your particular course here.
Oxford shortlists about half of the total number of applicants for interviews with faculty and staff after reviewing your UCAS application (which includes a personal statement and teacher reference), grades, and test scores. If you do not receive an invitation to interview, this means your application has been rejected. However, if you do make it to the interview stage, you have a great chance to demonstrate your enthusiasm and critical thinking skills in your major of choice.
University of Oxford Notable Alumni
The list of Oxford-educated royals, politicians, philosophers, economists, scientists, poets, authors, actors, and musicians is exhaustive. Many are British nationals, including 28 UK prime ministers — like Margaret Thatcher and David Cameron — and hundreds of members of Parliament. Among the scientist alumni are Albert Einstein, Edwin Hubble, Stephen Hawking, and Howard Florey — Nobel Prize-winning inventor of penicillin.
Some of the most famous writers of English literature studied at Oxford: Lewis Carroll, Oscar Wilde, Vera Brittain, J.R.R. Tolkein, C.S. Lewis, John Donne, Percy Bysshe Shelley, T.S. Eliot. Carroll, Tolkein, and Lewis also became lecturers at the university.
Other alumni names you might know come from film and drama: Hugh Grant, Rosamund Pike, Felicity Jones, Gemma Chan, Rowan Atkinson.
It isn’t just Brits — people from all around the world come to study at Oxford. Former U.S. president Bill Clinton, former India prime minister Indira Gandhi, and former State Counsellor of Burma Aung San Suu Kyi took their lessons in politics back to their home country. Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, the world’s youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner, completed her BA in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) in 2020.
Current notable faculty include co-inventor of the World Wide Web Tim Berners-Lee, award-winning astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell, and pioneering neuroscientist Colin Blakemore.
With such an impressive roster of alumni and faculty, Oxford continues to make history through the successes of its students and faculty around the world.
History of the University of Oxford – When Was It Founded?
There is no exact date, but teaching at Oxford began as early as 1096 and expanded quickly in 1167, when King Henry II banned English students from attending the University of Paris.
This puts the school’s first days almost 1,000 years ago, making it the oldest university in the English-speaking world.
The first known international student, Emo of Friesland, arrived in 1190, catalyzing the school’s interest in strengthening international relations through education. This was long before Oxford established its first halls of residence and official colleges, which they did in the 13th century. University, Balliol, and Merton Colleges were set up between 1249 and 1264 and still exist today.
For generations after, Oxford scholars have had lively religious and political debates. In the 14th century, John Wycliffe advocated for a vernacular Bible, at odds with the papacy. During the Reformation, at least three Anglican churchmen were tried for heresy and burnt at the stake in Oxford.
The 18th and 19th centuries were a time of significant scientific innovation and religious revival. For example, professor Edmund Halley predicted the periodic return of what we now know as Halley’s comet. In 1860, evolutionist Thomas Huxley famously debated with Bishop Samuel Wilberforce at the University Museum.
Women were first allowed to attend all-female colleges in 1878, but were only allowed to attend select all-male colleges starting in 1974. Since then, all other colleges have followed suit. Today all of them are co-ed. Total enrollment is about 24,000: 11,955 undergraduates and 12,010 postgraduates.
What Are the Colleges of the University of Oxford?
All students and faculty must be members of one of Oxford’s 39 colleges or six permanent private halls (PPHs). Both are affiliated with the Oxford brand, but PPHs are also run by specific Christian denominations.
PPHs primarily educate future theologians and clergy at both the undergraduate and graduate level. The largest is Regent’s Park College, at about 200 total students, while the oldest is Blackfriars, founded in 1221. The other four are Campion Hall, St. Benet’s Hall, St. Stephen’s House, and Wycliffe Hall.
The colleges, like the PPHs, are relatively independent and self-governing. They relate to the larger university much like U.S. states do to the federal government. Most Oxford colleges offer their own accommodations, meals, libraries, sports, and other events, fostering a sense of community through shared academics and social activities. Some colleges only accept graduate students, while some accept both graduate and undergraduates.
Most colleges offer all majors, and the only distinctions between one college and another are based on location, size, and college-specific events. However, some majors are not offered at all colleges. For example, music is only available through 23 of these colleges, which still leaves plenty of options.
All of this means that, within a single college, you can meet fellow students with a wide range of academic interests. For example, St. Catherine’s is the largest college that admits both undergraduates and graduates (983 total), representing diverse passions and demographics. It’s also one of the newest colleges; the facilities are a modern counterpoint to Oxford’s classic Gothic spires.
On the other hand, Harris Manchester is the smallest college with a total of 265 undergraduates and postgraduates. You’ll get a big community feel from St. Catherine’s and a more intimate, close-knit environment with Harris Manchester. But no matter which college you’re in, you can benefit from university-wide events and opportunities to befriend students from other colleges.
University of Oxford Ranking
Oxford and Cambridge share a friendly rivalry, competing to be the best school in the UK. However, Oxford often emerges on top, out of all English universities as well as institutions around the world.
According to Times Higher Education, Oxford is the #1 university in the world. It has held that spot for the past five years. THE ranks institutions based on their teaching, research, knowledge transfer, and international outlook. Not only does Oxford have unique teaching methods and copious research output, but it also demonstrates a vibrant global perspective: 45% of students are international.
QS World University Rankings places Oxford at #2, just after MIT.
Though these stats vary slightly, the overall message is clear: Oxford is a leader in higher education worldwide. Different ranking sites value different aspects of the college experience, but they all pretty much agree that the Oxford experience is singular.
Unlike some schools that excel in certain areas more than others, every field at Oxford leaves you in good company. Whether it’s biology, mathematics, psychology, chemistry, nanoscience, engineering, computer science, or English literature, there is no shortage of brilliant faculty and peers to learn from.
Oxford University Acceptance Rate for International Students
Since Oxford has such a long and enduring legacy of educating international students, it’s no surprise that a fifth of undergraduates and two-thirds of graduate students come from over 150 countries around the world.
The school’s overall acceptance rate is 17%, but it’s significantly more competitive for international undergraduate applicants: their international student acceptance rate last year was about 9%.
On the other hand, the postgraduate acceptance rate was about 26%. Based on numbers alone, you’d have a better chance of getting into Oxford as a graduate student than you would as an undergrad.
Of course, your research prospects, academic standing, and accomplishments still have to be impeccable regardless of which Oxford program you’re applying to.
Unlike many top U.S. universities, Oxford does not emphasize extracurriculars as heavily. Instead, they are more interested in seeing applicants demonstrate excellent academic performance and passion for their chosen field of study. If extracurriculars relate to this passion, it will only boost the applicant’s chances.
For example, if you’re applying to study politics at Oxford, you should at least earn high marks on your politics, history, philosophy, sociology, and/or law A-Levels. In addition, if you’re involved in a local political party or government in your community, discussing these experiences can help distinguish your application from other politics applicants who perhaps don’t have relevant politics extracurriculars.
And of course, explain in your personal statement why you want to study politics at Oxford instead of a top university in another country.