Graduate FAQs

Parthenon, Athens

Parthenon, Athens

For FAQs about the graduate application procedure, please see the University's general site called  Any Questions

General FAQs about graduate study

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The normal route to the DPhil is via a Master's degree, either at Oxford or at another institution. It is unusual to be accepted for the DPhil without a Master's degree. Of the two Oxford Master's courses, the one-year Master of Studies is taken by the majority of Languages and Literature students. When people are doubtful, we tend to urge them in the direction of the MSt, thinking that there is great value in having as many of the cohort as possible taking the same course; there are usually special reasons when people choose to do the MPhil instead (for instance, cases where a student requires a particularly large amount of language strengthening before going on to the DPhil). The majority of Ancient History students, however, take the two-year MPhil.

Yes. The Faculty now accepts a number of part-time students on both its DPhil programmes (Ancient History; Classical Languages & Literature). Part-time students are fully integrated into the research culture of the Classics Faculty and afforded all the same opportunities and support as full-time students. They are expected to attend on a regular basis for supervision, skills training and participation in some of the research seminars, although the Faculty appreciates that part-time research students will have non-standard attendance and work patterns.

Although there is no requirement to reside in Oxford, part-time research students must attend the University on a regular basis (particularly in term-time) for supervision, study, skills training and specified seminars. Research degrees are not available by distance learning.

It is generally not possible for a candidate to register for a part-time degree if:

1) he or she requires a student visa for study in the United Kingdom, as current visa policy only allows registration for full-time study. (However, a candidate who is classified as 'overseas' by virtue of nationality and visa status, but who is employed in the UK with a work permit, may be able to register for a part-time degree, providing the extent of their current visa is greater than the minimum duration of the programme which is six years.)

2) he or she resides more than a few hours' travelling time from Oxford. The University and Faculty reserve the right to reject applications where insufficient evidence has been given of a candidate's willingness to engage as fully as possible with the academic life of the Faculty and college. The Faculty will not normally approve an application for part-time study requiring travel of more than four hours' total journey time to meet the basic attendance requirements.

We regret that it is not possible to read for the MSt or the MPhil on a part-time basis.

Every Oxford student is a member of one of its Colleges. Your college will offer you a great deal, and can play an important role in many aspects of your life, in - for instance - accommodation, pastoral support, travel funding, a stimulating cosmopolitan environment, social facilities of many different kinds, and further academic contacts in your subject and related areas: but it is important to be aware that, as a graduate, you will be doing work which is supervised and administered by the Faculty, so that the essential part of your academic experience here will be the same whichever college you go to.

Even though you must eventually be a member of one, you really do not need to choose a college at the application stage. We make offers every year to people who specify no preference in this matter, and those candidates are assigned a college by the system at a later stage. Not specifying a college choice affects your application not at all.

Among the main criteria used by applicants who do want to express a preference are: size, number of graduates, cosmopolitanism, beauty, location, history, atmosphere, facilities; and all these can be gauged - to an extent - from each college’s own website (if there is an Alternative website, that may be helpful too). It is essential to be aware from the start, though, that you'll be happy in whichever College you eventually find yourself - they all have many merits! It is however worth reflecting on whether you want to be at a college with both undergraduates and graduates, or one which caters exclusively for graduates.

It may also be worth enquiring whether there are at least two ancient world Fellows. 15 of the colleges which take both graduates and undergraduates have both a Literature and an Ancient History tutor: they are Balliol, Brasenose, Christ Church, Corpus Christi, Lady Margaret Hall, Magdalen, Merton, New, Oriel, Queen’s, St Hilda’s, St John’s, University, Wadham, Worcester). The colleges (Brasenose and New) where the two Ancient History Professors are based particularly tend to attract graduate applicants in this subject. In addition, Exeter, Jesus, St Anne’s, St Hugh’s, and Trinity have Languages and Literature Fellows; these all also have close formal links to ancient historians based in other colleges. Keble and Lincoln have Classical archaeologists, and Wolfson (which is a graduate-only college) has a large group of experts in Classical archaeology, linguistics, and many aspects of ancient west Asia.

Some candidates, having identified a potential supervisor, apply to the college where that scholar is based, and that is a perfectly reasonable strategy. But you should not feel bound to do this. There is also something to be said, indeed, for being in a different college, so that you gain a college advisor who is interested in your subject but who is not your supervisor. But since you can't predict for certain who will be available to supervise you, this calculation is not worth agonising over.

All applicants in possession of an offer are guaranteed a place at a college. So, choice of college will not affect your chance of being accepted, although you may not be accepted by your first-choice college.

The decision to accept to the MSt, MPhil or DPhil is made by the Faculty. All those admitted are guaranteed a place in a college, but it is not always possible to offer them a place in their college of choice. The Faculty assessors will consider the type of qualification obtained, the overall standard (e.g. class) achieved, and the standard achieved in any relevant subjects. Particular attention will be paid to the level of attainment in Latin and/or Greek. References will be assessed for additional evidence of applicants' academic achievements, interests, and personal motivation. The applicant's personal statement will be assessed for the coherence of the proposal and for evidence of motivation, of understanding of the proposed field of study, and of ability to present a reasoned case in English (with allowances for academic and linguistic background). Assessors will also take into account the availability at Oxford of the courses, supervision, and/or technical support required. 

The application form lists a number of scholarships for which you can indicate that you wish to be considered. Most colleges also have a number of scholarships which can assist with the cost of study, though these are always highly competitive and may be restricted by subject area or country of origin. Details of some may appear on our scholarships page, and a more comprehensive list can be found in the University's Graduate Prospectus; the University Gazette announces deadlines during term time and also publishes a supplement at the beginning of the year which contains details of university prizes.

Final acceptance, after an offer is made, is conditional on submission of a satisfactory financial declaration to your college. The initial decision to make an offer of a place is taken on academic grounds, without a prior judgement as to the eventual likelihood of your securing funding.

Unfortunately, those who cannot secure funding, and are unable to support themselves by other means, cannot be admitted to the course.

Please see the Graduate Admissions website for information on other potential sources of funding.

The choice of supervisor is determined firstly by the area of study, and secondly by the need to share the supervising load equitably between supervisors. You are encouraged to name a preferred supervisor when making your application, and where possible this will be taken into account, although we cannot always guarantee that you will be assigned to your preferred supervisor.

An MSt or MPhil student might expect to have one hour's contact in most weeks with their supervisor or another tutor. Arrangements between DPhil students and their supervisors are more flexible, depending on the needs and working patterns of the student at the different periods of their research; typically, meetings might happen once every two to four weeks.

Doctoral students are encouraged to acquire some teaching experience, though this should not exceed six hours a week. They regularly teach for the intensive undergraduate language classes (MILC) organised by the Faculty, and may also give tutorials for colleges. The Faculty organises an annual Tutorial Training Day in Hilary Term for graduate students in Ancient History and Classical Languages and Literature. Those who have attended the Tutorial Training Day can add their name to the Faculty's tutorial teaching register. Each Trinity Term there is a lecture series called 'Fresh Voices', given by graduates to undergraduates; this offers an opportunity to acquire lecturing experience, and to receive feedback from an academic in attendance.

The Ioannou Centre for Classical and Byzantine Studies, in the centre of Oxford, provides a comprehensive Faculty centre, with a lecture theatre, three seminar rooms, several teaching/research rooms and workspaces (plus computing facilities) for graduate students and academic visitors. Occasions such as private and public lectures, conferences, Faculty meetings and social events take place here. The common room and Ioannou Centre in general form a good focus for meeting other Classicists. The Work in Progress seminars, run and attended just by graduates, are particularly important in this respect.

FAQs about graduate study in Ancient History

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On the ancient languages, the position is this. We are very willing to accept at the Masters level people who have not had the chance to study one or both of the classical languages (if they have been doing a course where those were an option, we look for an explanation from candidate or referee as to why they did not take the opportunity). We then expect them to take one of the languages very seriously during the MSt or MPhil. In order to do that, it is really helpful to have made a start, so if you can take at least some classes or go to one of the excellent summer schools, that would really help. We don't expect you to be 'proficient' by the time you apply, but to succeed against the competition you will need to show that you have done everything open to you to lay the foundations of a knowledge of Greek and/or Latin which we'll help you to develop properly when you take up a Masters place.

If you are going to go further, to doctoral work, we do insist that you have a good qualification in at least one (and preferably both) of the ancient languages (and recommend, if you have done one from scratch during your Masters, that you then begin the other one while you do the doctorate).

The Faculty has been developing its teaching structures for elementary and intermediate Greek and Latin for half a century, and devotes considerable resources to this aspect of our work. The language teaching team are used to accommodating various combinations of ability and experience. You will receive expert guidance as to which course and classes are most suitable for your particular needs when you get here, and do not need to work that out precisely in advance.

There is almost no aspect of ancient history on which higher original research can properly be conducted in English alone, without  an accurate knowledge of scholarship in the three other international languages of scholarship: French, Italian and German. If you are considering a doctorate in Ancient History - anywhere - you will eventually need to be able to read these languages. During your Masters or Doctoral course at Oxford, we will encourage and help you to deepen your knowledge of these - and of any other languages (ancient or modern) which you may need. The university offers excellent teaching facilities in a wide range of languages.

We know that applicants for our courses will come to us from an enormous variety of backgrounds, and it is impossible to do justice in a general statement to all the trajectories which might be suitable for admission to Oxford for higher degrees in ancient history.

Most applicants will have studied for a first University degree in which they will have had a chance to study ancient history itself, but here too there will be great diversity in the interpretation of the subject, from very political histoire événementielle to much more general thematic work in cultural or social history, as well as in the amount of time which applicants have been able to devote to ancient history as opposed to other Classical or non-Classical subjects.

In the selection process, we need to be fair in comparing the many applicants who will already have an excellent knowledge of Greek and Roman historians (and other literary and documentary sources) in the original language with excellent applicants who have worked in translation and whose courses so far have not included many formally ancient historical subjects.

As a lowest common denominator, we propose two things: the first is that to do graduate work in Greek or Roman history requires that a sufficient part of a first degree course must have been devoted to ancient Greece and/or Rome to provide a good level of background knowledge; and the second is that those aspiring to do historical work at this level should have acquired some experience in the basics of primary historical or archaeological work - above all the judicious evaluation of evidence and the processes involved in using it to construct historical explanation.

We do not necessarily expect that all applicants will combine these qualifications, though most no doubt will. Some applicants have, for instance, studied the history of other periods, and the literature of ancient Greece and Rome, and that combination would be perfectly acceptable.

Graduate work in ancient history also requires considerable commitment to language-learning, and you are referred to a separate entry on that subject.

These pieces of writing are there to show us how you, personally, are doing ancient history at the moment - what subjects interest you, and why; how you write; how you cope with evidence and develop an argument; what you can do with existing scholarship. All these proficiencies are really important to the selection procedure. Choose the work you send in with all that in mind!

For DPhil applicants, who must immediately start on high-level research when they arrive, it is especially vital that we can see your competence to undertake this in a pair of really good pieces of Masters work or the equivalent.

For applicants for the MSt and MPhil, who usually have only undergraduate-level work to send, we shall naturally make all appropriate allowance, but you should still try to find material which informs us about your interests and abilities in relation to ancient history.

The big pictures of your interests, knowledge, and skills at using evidence and historical reasoning are obviously very important to our assessment, but you should also edit your submissions carefully. It’s not just that we will assess your knowledge of history and relevant languages from the accuracy of your use of technical terms and proper names, but that the extent to which you have checked, proof-read and corrected your own work before submitting it is an indication of your attentiveness to detail and thoroughness which help us work out how well you are suited to the research component of graduate work.

Variety helps us assess the range and diversity of your skills and interests. So unless you really have to, please try to avoid sending two pieces of the same long text.

We’d also much rather that you didn’t send in a text longer than the word-limit, simply highlighting a section which amounts to the prescribed word-limit. The reason for that is that assessors are tempted to read the whole, and if they do, candidates who have sent in longer and fuller arguments might be unfairly advantaged by comparison with those who have adhered strictly to the rules. What you should do in excerpting from a longer piece is to write a few sentences of ‘story so far’ and ‘what happens next’, and append those at the beginning and end of what you send us - the whole to be within the limit, please!

Sometimes candidates send in work on areas completely outside ancient history. That can be helpful if it illustrates an interdisciplinary interest which is relevant to the way you want to do ancient history, but otherwise should be avoided, as it doesn’t greatly assist the comparison of your ability at ancient history with that of other candidates.

Your attention is drawn to the rule which says that these texts must be in English. Even though the academic assessors can read submissions in other languages, the administrators who process the application will simply mark it invalid unless you abide by this rule. If English is not your native language - and even if it is - please also note that, as we assess these pieces, we shall be thinking about how fluent, expressive, and correct your English usage is! 

We don't expect a candidate to have a precise knowledge of the subject of their thesis, which will emerge in the first year of research. Your aspirations at this stage may be more particular or more general, but in either case we won't hold you to them! A lot changes when you really get going.

There are all sorts of ways in which you might describe your plans, but it is always useful to us, as we compare your application to other people’s, if (alongside a detailed description of your interests), you identify some particular problems of the kind with which you plan to engage (with some framing in place and time), and a bit of detail to show that you have started to explore the area (examples of the kind of evidence with which you'd propose to work, allusions to the main debates as you see them, and to how your plans relate to the principal bibliography on these questions).

Oxford ancient history research is still mainly conducted by individuals working on their own. There are some major research projects, such as, notably, the Roman Economy Project, but the overwhelming majority of doctoral candidates choose the area that interests them personally, and we select an appropriate supervisor or supervisors. There are, as you’ve seen from the website, a good number of ancient historians permanently based here, so that we can cover most areas.

You are warmly encouraged to discuss your plans with any of us before you apply, and to make reference to such a discussion in your application, or to suggest one or more Oxford ancient historians whose work seems to you to be relevant to your plans. We can’t quite guarantee that we shall be able to assign a particular colleague to you as your Supervisor (though we like to follow your wishes if we can).

Equally, every year we offer places to applicants who have not contacted anyone in Oxford and who do not identify a particular person whose work is relevant to theirs, so you must not feel obliged to consult in this way. 

On the website you will see a long list of possible subjects. Most of these courses are taught through tutorials, which means that you work for a period (typically, one week) on a topic and then discuss your findings with the person teaching you. At Masters level, this is extremely likely to be done one-to-one. This has various consequences.

1) Our aim is to customise the course to each student's personal needs and interests, helping the taught courses inform the choice of dissertation, which itself looks forward to the possibility of doctoral work. So the titles of the subjects as they appear on the list are meant to be vague, and each tutor will discuss with each student which aspects of 'Cicero' or 'Greek history 479-403' they would most like to study. Tutors will have lists of possible topics, but will be open to the student's preferences, and happy to include other relevant questions. We also do regularly make use of the vaguest option of all: 'Any other subject (subject to approval)', and there are enough of us to cover most eventualities.

2) The shape of the tutorial process is also adjustable: tutors may already have a store of suitable reading-lists, or they may start you off on a process of more open-ended investigation; while for the tutorial itself, you may find it helpful to prepare a couple of thousand words on the problems which interest you, to give a lead to the discussion: the shape of the dialectic is very adaptable to suit you, your tutor, and the subject. Your tutor may suggest that you do topics once a week for a fixed period, or it may be possible (especially in the more spacious timetable of the MPhil course) to spread the timetable out further.

3) Most options are assessed on two 5000-word pieces of written work which address wide topics within the chosen area, and which you submit by a fixed date near the end of the course. These could be pretty closely related to two of the six or seven tutorial topics you did, but they don't have to be: so there's room for creativity and flexibility there too.

It is through the work that you do to prepare for each tutorial discussion that you explore and come to understand the new subject. The discussion is designed to make you think again about the debates and problems, and to offer new perspectives on what you have been investigating, making further (and developing) suggestions for future work. In addition, and especially on the more mainstream areas, there is a wide coverage of university lectures. These are intended in part for undergraduate students, but most will also have unfamiliar material and new ideas which are highly relevant to graduates too. You are welcome to go to any lectures you like, and some will be directly relevant to some subjects, but they are back-up to the work you do for yourself, a further source of stimulating opinion, not the primary means of 'delivering' a course. 

MSt and MPhil students are expected to attend a fortnightly seminar in ‘Ancient History: Methods and Approaches’, as well as one of the two fortnightly seminars on ‘Greece and the East’ and ‘Rome and the West’. 

FAQs about graduate study in Classical Languages and Literature

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Yes, you can. This is the case with a fair number of our Master’s students. Provided your attainment in the degree-level language is high enough, we are happy for you to study the second language as part of the course. Tuition at both elementary and intermediate level in both languages is provided by our language teaching team.

It is rarer for doctoral candidates to be accepted with only one of the ancient languages, but this does happen in some circumstances. In such cases, we normally make it a requirement for you to study the second language and to pass a test in your first year of doctoral work.

Yes, you do: the same language requirements apply to Classical Reception graduates as to others. We feel strongly that proficiency in the ancient languages is a prerequisite for a proper understanding of the ways in which later authors and cultures responded to the Classical world.

Assessors will take note of the declared circumstances under which the written work was done, and access it accordingly. Different standards of content and presentation will be expected from an honours thesis, a weekly essay, or a piece written under exam conditions. Taking these differences into account, assessors will be looking for signs of good basic knowledge, understanding of problems, powers of analysis and expression, and ability to construct a coherent train of thought, to deploy evidence, and to shape an argument. The quality of English expression and of presentation may also be part of the assessment, according to the circumstances under which the work was done. There is no necessary expectation that the subject matter of the written work should be close to the proposed thesis topic.

Where two pieces of written work are requested, they should be two rather than one. They can be two extracts from a longer thesis. For either piece of work, it is possible to send in part of a larger piece and summarise the rest, or to send in the whole piece and highlight in yellow the part that you are showing the assessors.

Incoming graduates in Languages and Literature are expected to attend a weekly seminar in ‘Research Techniques’, which in the second term includes presentational skills, as the students give papers on topics of their choice. These seminars are compulsory for MSt and MPhil students in Languages and Literature, and DPhil students are strongly recommended to attend. In addition, doctoral students are expected to attend two ‘professorial seminars’ in their first year in order to develop professional skills through concentration on a particular text or text-based theme, and they are strongly encouraged to continue attending seminars in later years.

Serious research on most areas in Classics requires an ability to read scholarship in several modern languages (for many areas of Greek and Latin literature German, French and Italian are the most important).The University Language Centre offers courses in these languages. For DPhil students in Languages and Literature, demonstration of reading competence in two modern languages is a requirement of Confirmation of Status, and tailored training in those languages is provided. Typically, students sit a written test in the first of these languages at the end of the first year and in the second at the end of the second year; the tests consist of passages of Classical scholarship for translation into English.