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FAQ: Prospective Doctoral Applicants

The following advice covers a few procedural questions relating to admissions and funding. 

For initial information and application forms, in all cases please consult the University's Graduate Studies Prospectus as well as the Faculty of Theology & Religion's guide to Graduate Studies.  The University also maintains a new page with advice for applicants from the USA (other country-specific sites are also available).

To apply, use the central applications portal here.

These are the only official sources. Other general questions about graduate study in theology should be directed to graduate.enquiries@theology.ox.ac.uk

What follows below are some informal notes I have found helpful when offering guidance to applicants about the admissions process, and about what sort of student is likely to thrive in the Oxford system.

Generally speaking, the most important supporting evidence for admission is the application form along with transcripts, degree certificates, a carefully worked out and documented research proposal, and academic references written by recognized scholars and which provide a specifically grounded account of a student's talent and research potential (rather than, say, comments about someone's pleasant character or personal life).

Transcripts and GRE scores

There is a published minimum GPA score of 3.7, while the GRE is at present not formally required. Few hard and fast ‘cut-off’ measures are laid down, but depending on an applicant's alma mater I personally tend to favour GPA scores above 3.8 documenting a range of relevant historical and theological disciplines, as well as a GRE performance of 700 or better (90th percentile) in the verbal and 6.0 or 5.5 in the analytical writing section.

Proficiency in English

Among applicants with English as a second language, successful candidates are required to demonstrate high competence in spoken and written English, based on a TOEFL score of at least 109 or  IELTS score of 7.5, taken within the last two years. For details of the requirements see here.

Other Research Languages

Evidence of good competence in relevant ancient or modern languages counts for a good deal. Good Greek and Hebrew (if possible including some extra-biblical competence) are essential. Aramaic too is highly desirable and languages like Syriac, Coptic or Ethiopic may be worth adding during preparatory studies as required by the proposed research project. 

Among modern languages, good (not patchy) reading competence in German remains vital and should ideally be in place at the time of application for the DPhil (or can be acquired during the MSt year). French, Spanish or Italian may in the event also prove necessary, although it is sometimes possible to acquire adequate competence during the MSt or DPhil. I recommend to all my students a stint (e.g. an intensive summer language course plus at least one semester of research and courses) in Germany in their second year of research to deepen their facility in German; this almost invariably proves a major boost to their project and guarantees an invaluable skill for any future academic career.  

The MSt/MPhil as a Prerequisite for Doctoral Research you low

Our preparatory 9-month M.St. is required of most students not already in possession of exceptional pre-doctoral qualifications (i.e. excluding professional degrees like the MDiv). This is often a good time to acquire additional language or technical skills; Oxford's resources for linguistic and other requisite training are extensive. More in-depth preparation is possible through one of our two-year MPhil degrees, of which the demanding MPhil in Judaism and Christianity in the Graeco-Roman World is particularly valuable. After admission to the DPhil, a one-year probationary period is observed, and followed by a rigorous internal assessment before registration for the DPhil.  

Research Proposal

The articulation of a viable research proposal is one of the more important criteria for admission, especially to the DPhil. beyond merely identifying general areas of interest or heuristic questions you wish to ask, it would be good to draft a carefully crafted research statement of perhaps initially 300-500 words. This should contextualize your interest in relation to the current state of scholarly debate in your proposed area of research. You should outline what you perceive to be the critical lacuna in scholarship and which handful of writers or texts you would see as your leading conversation partners, both ancient and modern (and in the case of DPhil proposals, at least referencing key contributors, if any, in languages other than English). A vital aspect of a successful research proposal is the ability to identify the area and perhaps a credible direction of your hoped-for contribution to knowledge. (At MSt level this "contribution to knowledge" and the detail of engagement with the breadth of existing scholarship matters less than the ability to identify an intellectually promising line of inquiry.) You are welcome to enter into correspondence about this draft with your intended Oxford supervisor.

Choice of DPhil Supervisor

The assignment of a DPhil supervisor can sometimes be discussed informally early on, and it is worth identifying and contacting the person you wish to work with. In straightforward cases, an applicant’s declaration of preference may well be taken into account if the person concerned confirms a willingness to supervise. Confirmation of a likely supervisor is, however, possible only after you have been formally accepted by the Graduate Studies Committee.

Interviews

We have recently begun including Skype-based interviews of all shortlisted candidates in New Testament studies. The initial pilot was very promising, and we expect to continue this scheme in future years

Number of Admissions

This varies according to circumstances (incl. projected DPhil completions, sabbatical leave, other responsibilities, etc.). I typically accept one new DPhil student per year; occasionally two. Other colleagues follow different patterns. 

Funding

Funding a British doctorate has long been trickier than at some of the leading US research institutions that routinely cover fees and a stipend for all doctoral students they admit. Nevertheless, bright and resourceful students willing to engage in some sleuthing and multiple applications are often able to secure substantial funding packages from a variety of private and public sources, whether in their home countries or in the UK. Oxford's own access to government, university and college funds leave it in this respect in a better position than possibly any other UK University. 

Scholarships

  • For the very best candidates, the most straightforward funded Oxford doctorate in theology (full fees plus monthly stipend) is often via the prestigious Ertegun or Clarendon Scholarship schemes. Each year several of our best applicants in theology succeed in one of these schemes.
  • Among other all-inclusive packages, the Rhodes or Commonwealth Scholarships are also excellent, highly competitive awards.   
  • The Faculty of Theology and Religion is in a position to offer a number of smaller Graduate Studentships to new and existing students.
  • Beyond these, try the the Oxford Funding search engine as a useful pointer to dozens of other possibilities worth exploring. A number of these are college-based, may be separately advertised, and can often be combined with other smaller awards.
  • More generally for the UK, the "PS" website offers perhaps the most comprehensive gateway for postgraduate studentships.  PhD studentships tenable at specific UK institutions are also often advertised here
  • Specifically in New Testament, we have recently been able to improve our scholarship provision thanks to some externally funded awards, details of which are available on an external funder's information website at OxfordScholarships.com

A partial list of academic funding recently secured by Oxford DPhil students personally known to me is available
 here.

Paid Employment in Oxford

  • UK immigration policy has been somewhat volatile in recent years, but it remains the case that registered graduate students may currently take paid employment for up to 20 hours a week during term, and full-time during vacations.
  • Spouses of overseas students on courses longer than 12 months are also permitted to take paid employment.  


M.B. Rev. 10/2014