What does it take to get into an Oxford PhD?

First, to get into an Oxford PhD (DPhil) you are at least expected to have (a) 1st Class or Summa Cum Laude master’s or bachelor’s degree. Second, you need a unique and convincing (b) research proposal as well as a (c) personal statement. Finally, you need to get a (d) prospective DPhil supervisor’s support for your application.

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While the acceptance rate as well as the official entry requirements at Oxford DPhil program pages may seem modest, the high competition can make the admission process harder than you think.

Furthermore, securing external funding prior to your DPhil application may support your application among other things that increase your chances to get a funded PhD in the UK.

Why does Oxford call PhD a DPhil?

Simply put, a DPhil is the same as a PhD. Just like any UK PhD it involves the completion of an original and unique thesis and viva before a team of examiners who rate your work and thesis at the end of your DPhil.

The Difference between DPhil and a regular UK PhD is the introduction of Probationer Research Student (PRS) status for DPhil students. A probationary research student needs to prove her ability to pursue independent research.

A probationary period, although not named as one, is also implemented in various other schools in the UK.

Universities like LSE and Imperial College both require you to complete a research master’s before embarking on a PhD journey. So besides the Probationer Research Student (PRS) designation, the idea is not unique to Oxford.

The general criteria to get promoted from Probationer Research Student (PRS) to a DPhil student is to pass initial exams and submit a unique research proposal worthy of Oxford DPhil standard.

Overall, Oxford uses this phase of Probationer Research Student (PRS) to ensure your potential to complete the DPhil program.

100 years ago the Oxford philosophy tutor at St John’s, Sidney Ball, suggested a Doctor of Philosophy (DPhil). Its still the same thing which German researchers named as PhD.

100 years of the DPhil

Besides DPhil, Oxford also offered various doctoral training programs (1 yr research master + 3 years of independent research thesis project) in collaboration with other universities & industry partners.

What is required to be a PhD student at Oxford?

To be eligible for a Oxford DPhil you need

  1. A relevant master’s degree with much higher grades than normally required for a UK PhD admission. A CGPA of above 3.5 out of 4 in an American grading system is considered good for this.
  2. You can also apply after a 4-year undergraduate degree, however, you need outstanding grades and maybe some research acumen for such consideration. Outstanding grades at Oxford mean that you have got a CGPA of 3.7 or above when measuring on a scale of 4 in an American grading system.

If you are seeking country-specific DPhil requirements to accurately measure your grades you can look at the types of qualifications and grades from countries outside the UK.

If you need further details on international equivalences you can read my post on what are the requirements for PhD in the UK.

DPhil just after a 4-year Bachelor’s degree

Yes, if you are an outstanding student both in your grades and accomplishments e.g., research experience you got a good shot at getting into the Oxford DPhil, even without a master’s degree.

Later, like everyone else, you need to prove your potential as a Probationer Research Student (PRS) to get promoted to the DPhil program.

If you successfully pass the Probationer Research Student (PRS) stage then you are equally likely to complete your DPhil as those who already have a master’s before joining the DPhil program at Oxford.

Research Proposal and Personal Statement

The most important part of your DPhil, and of course PhD, the application is a research proposal and your personal statement.

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It would be best if you need to convince the hiring committee that your research as well as personal goals align with the mission of the research group you are intended to join at Oxford.

A good research proposal is highlighted by most PhD supervisors (70%) in the UK and many also indicated the importance of the overall quality of your application.

Moreover, the alignment with supervisors’ own research (60%) and the applicant’s ability to contribute to the field (60%) was highly mentioned by the UK PhD supervisors in a recent UK research & supervision survey.

“Originality for me probably, it has to be something that hasn’t been fully done before so there is really a need for that particular topic”.

Arts & Humanities, Russell Group, West Midlands, Late career


Officially every DPhil course requirement page says that publications are not required but recommended. I will add that they are strongly recommended.

Why publications are needed? They are the only thing that proves your familiarity with the process of conducting and publishing peer-reviewed research. Sometimes the conference papers also help in demonstrating your understanding of the research process.

If you have publications in a respected journal and your research proposal question for the DPhil aligns with your previous published work then you really are in a sweet spot.

What if you do not have publications? Now you are competing against other applicants who may come with publications.

This is why a gap year is advised before any PhD or DPhil application.

However, if you do not have publications then you need to put forward other proofs demonstrating your ability to complete independent projects and overcome challenges.

Remember: Many candidates with no peer-reviewed publications receive Oxford DPhil offers each year.

Pre-DPhil Research Experience

I have discussed in the post what top UK universities look for in PhD applicants.

However to summarize it here any experience in or outside academia that aligns with your intended research topic and the prospective research supervisor can strengthen your application.

Graduate Tests

GRE and GMAT scores are required for many DPhil programs e.g., DPhil in Finance, Management, etc.

On the other hand, GRE scores are not required and simply cannot support your application.

This may be due to the fact that GRE tests you on specific criteria and many research areas may emphasize more their subject-related knowledge.

Oxford application guidelines clearly state that “your application should only include documents that are required or recommended for your course.” Otherwise, they are unnecessary and will be ignored completely.

Language Tests

If you are a non-native English speaker then you may need to prove your language proficiency with various accepted tests at Oxford.

Oxford DPhil usually requires an overall 7.5 on IELTS and 110 on TOEFL. You can check your program specifications from the course-specific page on Oxford’s website.

How smart do I need to be to be accepted as a PhD student to Oxford or Cambridge?

PhD more about persistence and tenacity than smartness. However, for an institution like Oxford, you may need to go the extra mile in your DPhil application.

  1. You need to demonstrate that you have the ability to execute long term research projects
  2. You need to show the ability that you can work with minimal supervision.
  3. Your previous works, research projects, and internships are aligned with the specific research question you are trying to address for your thesis project.
  4. You must be able to convince your prospective supervisor and the hiring committee that you are really interested in a research career.
  5. You must exemplify that you are able to question your own thinking. Make sure to use the word “however” as much as you can when writing your research proposal.
  6. Most importantly, you should exhibit in your DPhil interview that you are the person who can contribute to their research group.
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How competitive is Oxford PhD?

Clinical Neurosciences1053029%
Atomic & Laser Physics801721%
Organic Chemistry1863720%
Computer Science5237815%
Plant Sciences2827%
Here are a few acceptance rates to give you an idea of the variance in competitiveness across Oxford DPhil admission. A higher acceptance rate means getting into an Oxford PhD (DPhil) is easier.

Oxford DPhil is quite competitive with an acceptance rate of around 16% (1780 acceptances for postgraduate research positions out of 10,890 applications in the 2020-21 entry).

The competition gets brutal when the acceptance rate drops to around 12.7 % when it comes to the doctoral training center for mathematical, physical, and life science and 8% when we look at the doctoral training center for medical sciences.

You can check the subject vise detail and level of competence in the graduate admission statistics sheet for the 2020-21 entry.

To give you a perspective many top graduate schools in the US have lower acceptance rates than 10%.

Is it hard to get into a PhD at Oxford?

Oxford DPhil admission looks brutal when we see the high number of applications i.e., 10,890 in 2020-21 entry, and such low numbers of acceptances e.g., 1780 for the respective year.

However, Oxford research postgraduate degrees admission (with around 16% acceptance rate) does not come out more competitive or hard than other UK institutions which may or may not have a history and standing like Oxford.

Therefore, while I admit that getting into an Oxford DPhil is really challenging I won’t say that getting into an Oxford PhD (DPhil) is harder than other top UK institutions.

What does it take to get into an Oxford PhD? Stats for how competitive a DPhil at Oxford is. Is it hard to get into a PhD at Oxford?
Keep your hopes high Oxford is really competitive but for research degrees I think its less competitive than many other institutions.

Oxford’s Master’s or DPhil

The Probationer Research Student (PRS) comes in handy when it comes to assessing the potential for success of a DPhil student.

You are usually granted two chances to apply for DPhil when you are a Probationer Research Student (PRS). If you prove that you have passed the criteria set for DPhil promotion then you can go for D Phil.

If you struggle to pass the examinations or provide a research proposal worthy of DPhil research then the assessing committee may decide to let you leave with a Master’s degree (MLitt or the MSc by Research).

Is it worth doing a PhD at Oxford?

Yes, its totally worth it. Any body will encourage you to pursue a PhD at such institution.

However, when wise PhD (DPhil) applicants are thinking about doing a PhD then they are not considering the brand of the university.

In fact, they try to filter the institutions based on their research area, research question, and prospective PhD supervisor’s research alignment with their research interests.

Plus, a more prudent move for a PhD applicant is to consider the personality match as well as the research group match for better PhD experience and growth.

Thus, your interest in learning from a researcher who is working at Oxford and your research topic match is much more significant than the overall worth of an Oxford brand.

That said, an Oxford DPhil is likely to impress people more if you are far from Oxford. At Oxford, you will be like everybody else which may lead to self-deprecation.

Oxford prestige works more if you get further away from it. It’s simple at Oxford everyone is like you and if you move to another country where people consider Oxford as a high-prestige institution they will appreciate your exposure to this world-class institution more.

On the other hand, if you try to stay post-DPhil at Oxford, you might need to consider the additional competition Oxford attracts even for temporary postdoc and lectureship contracts due to its prestige.

Moreover, academics usually won’t recommend you to stay at the same institutions post-PhD or Post-DPhil in our case. The reason is moving between different institutions on temporary work contracts is considered good for your initial exposure.

How long does a PhD at Oxford take?

A DPhil is typically designed to complete in 4-years. DPhil is designed to first embark you as Probationer Research Student (PRS) where you complete (i) taught courses and (ii) draft your research proposal for the DPhil.

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After completion of the Probationer Research Student (PRS) period, you are recommended by your DPhil supervisor and assessed by a committee that approves your readiness for the DPhil journey.

  • If you are promoted to DPhil then you start working on your thesis just like any UK PhD, here you are required to complete an original research project which culminates in the viva examination.
  • If you are denied then you may have to spend more time as Probationer Research Student (PRS) and then again apply for your DPhil promotion.

It is possible to complete a PhD (DPhil) at Oxford in less than 3 years

Yes, it is possible with the current DPhil format.

There are exceptional students who complete their thesis in under a year after completing the Probationer Research Student (PRS).

To complete the DPhil fast you need to be extremely laser-focused on what you are trying to accomplish in your thesis and have a little bit of luck too.

Can one obtain a joint DPhil at Oxford – a doctorate from two different departments?

You can pursue interdisciplinary research at the DPhil level, however, it’s not called a joint degree.

Instead, these days many DPhil students work with academics of two or more departments due to the interdisciplinary nature of their research question.

This means they are mentored by two professors with different areas of research. Interdisciplinary research is appreciated when you look for jobs post-DPhil.

How much does Oxford Pay you as a PhD stipend?

An Oxford PhD stipend may not be higher than a typical UK PhD stipend.

UK PhD stipend after a recent increase is considered enough by many students while still considered low by others.

However, the situation may vary due to different types of grants. You may get paid more if your research project is financed by an industry employer who is willing to pay more.

That said, an Oxford DPhil stipend or stipend of any UK PhD may not be the highest PhD stipend in the world. Therefore, if you are deciding to pursue a PhD at Oxford don’t get your stipend expectations high.

FAQS: What does it take to get into an Oxford PhD?

Can I get an Oxford PhD?

Yes, you are eligible to apply for Oxford PhD (DPhil) if you have a research masters or 4-year undergraduate diploma with distinction. Other requirements can be some research experience or publications in journals with a good reputation. English language scores are required if English is not your first language.

What is the difference between a PhD an a DPhil?

A PhD and A DPhil are the same things. There is no difference in the research thesis or viva process. However, a DPhil at Oxford requires you to complete a set of courses and develop a research proposal during Probationer Research Student (PRS) status. If you complete the requirements you are promoted and you can work on your DPhil thesis.

How do I get into Oxford University to do a DPhil degree?

Simply, you need to persuade a researcher at Oxford that your research interests and the topic for your DPhil are aligned with her. If she thinks that you are a good match then she will put a good word for you before the hiring committee when you formally apply for a DPhil degree. This recommendation by the prospective DPhil supervisor for you can really increase your chances of getting into an Oxford DPhil.

Is it difficult to get into Oxford for PhD?

Yes, Oxford DPhil admission is quite hard. Oxford looks for the same characteristics in PhD applicants as other top UK universities. However, considering the number of applicants who apply from all over the world and the overall acceptance rate, I won’t say that Oxford is more difficult to get into compared to other top UK or US institutions.

What is the average GPA to get into Oxford DPhil?

GPA or your previous grade is only one element, among many, when it comes to your DPhil application. Still, a minimum GPA of 3.7 out of 4.0 is written in the entry requirement for many DPhil program pages on the Oxford website.