Undergraduate Admissions

General questions about the course

What is special about the course?
There are three distinctive features that make the Oxford course unique:
The tutorial system – students are set work by their College tutor every week, and then have a tutorial to discuss it with their tutor. This regular high-intensity close contact with the academic staff means that teaching is tailored to the individual student, and that students have an unrivalled opportunity to stretch their intellect to its limit.
The non-modular nature of the course – the course is not sub-divided into modules, and nor are the examinations. The subject is treated as a whole and examinations are synoptic, covering all aspects of the course covered so far. This means that students get a very deep understanding of how the subject fits together rather than a set of seemingly disconnected modules.
The fourth year, which is entirely devoted to a research project, with no additional teaching or examinations. Students benefit from being active members of their chosen research group and have the opportunity to make a real contribution to chemical research. This is when many students make up their minds to pursue a career in research. There is nothing like the buzz of being the first person to do, make or understand something entirely new.
What is a typical day like for an undergraduate chemist at Oxford?
The following was written before the Covid-19 pandemic. It gives an idea of what we would hope to offer in the 2022/23 academic year and beyond, but is subject to any Covid-19 restrictions that are still in place.

Years 1-3
9 – 11am: Lectures
11am – 5pm: Two days per week, students have practical work in the Teaching Labs during this time (with a lunch break). One the other days, this time will be used for personal study, preparing for tutorials by completing reading or set problems and possibly attending a tutorial if there is one scheduled for that day.
Evening: Clubs, societies, socialising, events... (there are lots of options!) and sometimes a bit of extra study time.

Year 4
Approx. 9am – 5pm: Working in the Department on the chosen research project or, in the final term, writing up the thesis.
Evening: Clubs, societies, socialising, events... (there are lots of options!) and sometimes completing additional reading, study or other work related to the research project.
How is teaching split between Department and College?
Lectures, practicals, maths and physics classes (1st year) and Part II supervision (4th year) are all provided by the Department. Tutorial teaching is organised in Colleges.
How much choice is there in the course?
In the first two years of the course the lectures cover entirely core material, and so all students follow the same scheme of lectures. There is a small amount of choice in the practical course, once the key skills have been learned. The third year continues coverage of core material in lectures but also offers a choice of more specialised Options which cover a wide range of topics, some relating to research interests in the Department.

Practical work in the third year offers students more choice as well, with opportunities to tackle longer experiments (over several days), combining skills that have been covered in the earlier years of the course.

The fourth year is spent entirely on a research project, working with a supervisor chosen by the students. There is plenty of scope for students to choose their area of research and drive the direction of their project, within the limitations of the resources available. Students also have the option to choose to undertake their Part II year in a related field outside of the Department of Chemistry – details of these options vary from year to year.
How is the course assessed?
University exams are sat at the end of each academic year (1-3). There are no written exams in the fourth year, instead a thesis is submitted for assessment.

1st Year: Preliminary Examination in Chemistry (usually referred to as “Prelims”). Four papers, one in each of Inorganic Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Physical Chemistry and Mathematics for Chemistry. Students must pass in order to progress to the second year of the course. The level of examinations is set so that with reasonable commitment the vast majority of students do pass. For the few who fail there is an opportunity to resit in September. Marks in these exams do not count towards the degree classification.

2nd Year: Honour School of Chemistry Part IA. Three papers, one in each of Inorganic Chemistry, Organic Chemistry and Physical Chemistry. Overall these exams count 15% towards the MChem degree.

3rd Year: Honour School of Chemistry Part IB. Seven papers, two in each of Inorganic Chemistry, Organic Chemistry and Physical Chemistry, and one Options paper. Overall these exams count 50% towards the MChem degree.

4th Year: Honour School of Chemistry Part II. Thesis submitted for assessment. This counts 25% towards the MChem degree.

Practicals. In the first year the practical marks do not count towards the degree classification, but students are required to complete the course to a satisfactory standard in order to progress to the second year. Pratical work in the second and third years is combined to make up 10% of the MChem degree.
What's the difference between Oxford and Cambridge?
Both are excellent universities for teaching and research, and they are often found at (or near) the top of UK university league tables. Both employ tutorial-style teaching. The main difference, from a chemistry perspective, is that Oxford offers a Chemistry degree course, while Cambridge offers a Natural Sciences degree course where students specialise in Chemistry later in the course. The Oxford course contains more chemistry in terms of breadth and depth, and is designed for students who know they want to study this subject at University. Cambridge gives you a chance to try out a broad choice of science at the start and to home in on what you want to do later in the degree.
Will teaching be different next year (2021/22) because of Covid-19?
The University FAQs for undergraduate offer holders website has more information about teaching, exams and accommodation in the next academic year. The Department will confirm further details as soon as we are able to.

The Part II year

What is the Part II year?
The Part II year is the fourth year of the course. It is entirely devoted to a research project, with no additional teaching or examinations. Students benefit from being active members of their chosen research group and have the opportunity to make a real contribution to chemical research. This is when many students make up their minds to pursue a career in research.
 
How does the Part II allocation process work?
During the third year students are asked to submit their top three choices for supervisors / research groups to work with for Part II. The Department then completes the allocation and the majority of students are placed with one of their three choices. If this is not possible due to number and space restrictions, the Department supports students in finding another related research group so that they can still pursue a project that they are interested in.
What sort of research projects are available in the fourth year?
Have a look at our research website to find out about the research going on in the Department of Chemistry. The majority of supervisors in the Department will take Part II students in their group, although there are slight variations each year. Students also have the option to choose a project in a related field outside of the Department of Chemistry. Details of these options vary from year to year but in the past they have included: Biochemistry, Geography, History of Science, Materials, Medicine, Physiology and Plant Sciences.
Are there any opportunities for working in industry?
The Oxford MChem course does not have a formal “year in industry” option. Depending on the supervisor and project, there may be an opportunity for an industry collaboration in the Part II year. Students should discuss this with supervisors when making their choices in the third year. This kind of project is usually undertaken by one or two students each year.
Are there any opportunities to study abroad?
The Oxford MChem course does not have a formal “study abroad” option. Depending on the supervisor and project, there may be an opportunity for some or all of the Part II year to be undertaken abroad at an institution with whom the Oxford supervisor is collaborating on some of their work. There is currently also an arrangement for 4-5 students each year to complete their Part II at Berkeley (University of California).

College-related questions

Which Colleges offer Chemistry?
See this page.
What are tutorials?
Tutorials are the College teaching system. A tutor (usually a fellow of the College) teaches undergraduates in very small groups (usually 2 or 3 students). Students attend, on average, one or two tutorials every week of approximately 90 minutes in length and must undertake a considerable number of hours of preparatory work for each tutorial, including background reading, essay-writing and problem-solving. Tutorials are a great opportunity for students to ask questions, work through problems with the tutor’s guidance, address specific areas of the work that they have found more difficult or delve deeper into topics of particular interest.
What are Collections?
Collections are tests set by College tutors, usually at the beginning of each Term (starting from Hilary Term of the first year). They are usually made up of past examination questions or related problems, and allow students and their tutors to assess progress. They also provide an opportunity to practise attempting problems in an exam-style setting. Collections do not count towards the degree classification, but they are an important part of the tutorial teaching system.

Questions about admissions

Is there an aptitude test for Chemistry admissions?
For the October 2021 application deadline, there is no admissions test for the Oxford MChem course.
How are interviews going to work in December 2021?
Interviews will be online in 2021, as they were in 2020. Further information is available on the interview web pages.
What are you looking for in an application?
Our admissions criteria page explains in detail what we're looking for. In short, we are looking for students who are interested in chemistry and have the potential to do very well on our course.
Does it matter if I haven’t done A-Level Further Maths/Physics/Biology?
Our admissions criteria do not require students to study Further Maths, Physics, or Biology at A-level (or equivalent). The first year of the MChem assumes that students have only studied Chemistry and Maths to A-level. Given that the MChem does include some maths, physics and biology beyond A-level, taking a third science A-level may strengthen your application; for example, it may indicate that you are more interested in (and suited to) the course than a candidate who does not offer a third science. However we do make offers every year to candidates who are not taking a third science.
Does it matter whether or not I do a fourth A-level?
We will only make an offer on three A-levels; we appreciate that many schools are not able to offer a fourth A-level. However, we are interested in your ability to manage the academic demands of a challenging degree course, and there are instances where offering a fourth A-level can be argued to be an indicator of this ability. Typically just under half our A-level students have four or more A-levels and just over half have three.

Note that it is more important to achieve the three grades in the offer than to jeopardise your grades by over-extending yourself.
 
Will I get an offer if my predicted grades are below the admissions criteria?
When we assess your application, we only have limited real data to help. Your predicted grades are an important indicator in the assessment. We do not normally shortlist candidates who are not predicted to achieve the standard offer, but every year we do shortlist a few, as we are looking at your academic potential, which may be on an upward trajectory.
Can you suggest further reading?
We don’t have a recommended reading list, but we’d suggest maybe reading A-level texts from other syllabuses and/or anything that particularly interests you in Chemistry or in other related subjects. Read what you enjoy reading!
Is work experience important for selection?
We are aware of the difficulties of finding relevant work experience, and the nature of your work experience will have no impact on your application to the Chemistry course.
What should I write in my personal statement?
Make it personal! The personal statement is your opportunity to explain your own enthusiasm for the subject, why you want to spend the next 4 years studying it in great detail, and how your enthusiasm has already lead you to find out about aspects of chemistry beyond the A-level syllabus, for example. But please don’t make things up! We might use something in your personal statement as a starting point for your interview, to put you at ease, and our attempts may have the opposite effect if you've not read the books you've listed. Note that personal statements are usually a relatively unimportant part of a candidate's assessment.

For additional details or queries relating to the undergraduate Chemistry course at Oxford, or about the undergraduate admissions procedures for Chemistry, please contact the Undergraduate Office:

Email: admissions@chem.ox.ac.uk

For information about Chemistry graduate admissions please contact the Graduate Office:

Email: graduate.admissions@chem.ox.ac.uk

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