FAQ: Prospective Graduate 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 hereThese 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.  For information and announcements about New Testament studies at Oxford (including employment opportunities), please follow our Twitter feed @NT4Ox 

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).

The MSt/MPhil as Preparation for Doctoral Research

Our preparatory 1-year MSt or 2-year MPhil is required of most students not already in possession of exceptional pre-doctoral qualifications (which usually exclude 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.  It is worth noting that the route via the MSt or MPhil Is designed to facilitate and accelerate entry into doctoral research, not to extend the overall duration of the programme: because Oxford Master's theses may be reused and developed for the DPhil, it is possible and indeed intended to complete the MSt plus DPhil in 1+3 years and the MPhil plus DPhil in 2+2 years. By comparison, candidates entering straight into the DPhil typically also take around 4 years to complete.

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 on the subject, as well as which handful of perhaps 8-12 writers or texts you would see as your leading conversation partners, both ancient and modern (and in the case of DPhil proposals, this should at least reference the key contributors 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 and indeed encouraged to enter into correspondence about this initial draft with your intended Oxford supervisor, before finalizing a revised proposal with your application.

Choice of Supervisor

Master's supervision is usually decided as needed once a student arrives. 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. 

Transcripts and GRE scores

There is a published minimum GPA score of 3.7. The GRE is at present not formally required, although North American applicants will usually help their case by supplying scores. 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 appreciably above the 90th percentile (mid-160s) or better in the verbal reasoning 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.  

Admissions Interviews

(1) We schedule Skype-based interviews of all shortlisted candidates in New Testament studies. This typically includes a 15-minute conversation about your submitted research proposal in the last week of February or the first week of March. 

(2) Where possible we also offer an earlier informal opportunity for a preliminary conversation about your plans during the annual meeting in November of the Society of Biblical Literature. This is of course entirely optional, but can sometimes be a useful first point of personal contact. In recent years we have released sign-up slots for these meetings by Doodle poll in September; please keep an eye on the @NT4Ox Twitter feed and/or inquire by email.

Number of Admissions

Admissions can vary significantly  according to circumstances (incl. projected DPhil completions, supervisors' sabbatical leave, major administrative responsibilities, etc.). I typically accept one or two new DPhil students per year; other colleagues follow different patterns. 


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.  The following information is suggested as providing some useful starting points.


  • 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 are trying to work to secure externally funded awards, details of which are available on an information website at OxfordScholarships.com

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

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. 10/2015