FAQ: Prospective Graduate Applicants

 

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©M Bockmuehl 2017

This page offers informal advice about admissions and funding.

For information and application forms, in all cases please consult the University’s Graduate Studies Prospectus. See also the Faculty of Theology & Religion’s Graduate Studies Guide and the University’s information for international students.

These are the only official sources. Other general questions about graduate study in theology should be directed to graduate.enquiries@theology.ox.ac.ukTo apply, use the central applications portal here.

What follows below is informal guidance we 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 up-to-date information and announcements about New Testament studies at Oxford (including employment opportunities), please follow our Twitter feed @NT4Ox.

Key supporting evidence for admission includes 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 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 normally 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. After admission to the DPhil, a one-year probationary period is observed, and followed by a rigorous internal assessment before registration for the DPhil.

Admission 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 among the more important criteria for admission, especially for 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 500 words:

  1. This should contextualize your interest in relation to the current state of scholarly debate in your proposed area of research. Here you should outline what you perceive to be the critical lacuna (or perhaps deadlock) in scholarship on the subject in question; which 8-12 writers or sources you would see as your leading conversation partners, both ancient and modern; and how your research would position itself in relation to them. This should include key scholarly contributors, if any, in languages other than English.
  2. 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 Master’s 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 a possible 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. An overall director of studies co-ordinates your work, but other colleagues normally contribute to the teaching and supervision of essays and dissertations. Assignment of a DPhil supervisor can sometimes be explored informally early on, and it is worth identifying and contacting an Oxford academic you may wish to work with. In straightforward cases, an applicant’s declaration of preference may well be taken into account if the colleague 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, which decides all admission and supervision matters.

Transcripts and GRE scores

There is currently a published minimum threshold of 67 for UK applicants or a GPA of 3.7 for North Americans. Aside from this minimum, no hard and fast ‘cut-off’ measures are laid down: admission is competitive. Successful applications typically show a First-Class qualifying degree (UK) or a GPA comfortably above 3.8, documenting competence across the relevant languages as well as historical and theological disciplines. The GRE is at present not formally required, but North American applicants almost invariably help their case by supplying strong GRE scores. While there are once again no absolute requirements, our successful applicants’ GRE scores have in recent years tended to be around the 95th percentile or better (mid-160s or above 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 110 or IELTS score of 7.5, taken within the last two years. For details of the current requirements see here.

Other Research Languages

Evidence of good competence in relevant ancient and modern languages counts for a good deal. Strong Greek and Hebrew (if possible including some extra-biblical competence) are essential for admission. Aramaic too is often desirable; this and languages like Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopic or Arabic may well be worth adding during preparatory studies before or after your arrival in Oxford, depending on the proposed research project.

Among modern languages, confident reading facility in German remains vital; this should if possible be in place at the time of application, certainly for the DPhil. Competence in German and French (and any other required modern languages) can be improved during the MSt or MPhil through Oxford’s own Language Centre. DPhil students may also wish to consider a stint in Germany (e.g. an intensive Goethe Institute course and possibly 1-2 semesters of university lectures, seminars and research) to deepen their facility in German; this almost invariably proves a major boost to their project and an invaluable asset for any future academic career.

Admissions Interviews

We schedule brief Skype-based (or, for internal applicants, in-person) conversations of 15-20 minutes with all shortlisted candidates in New Testament studies. This typically covers your submitted research proposal and takes place 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. One popular format in recent years has been an opportunity each November to meet with one or two potential Oxford New Testament supervisors during the annual conference of the Society of Biblical Literature. This is of course entirely optional, but can sometimes be a useful first point of personal contact. We usually release an online sign-up rota for these meetings in September; please keep an eye on the @NT4Ox Twitter feed at that time, and/or inquire by email.

Number of Admissions

Annual admission numbers of New Testament graduate students fluctuate depending on such factors as projected DPhil completions, numbers and strength of applications, funding opportunities, as well as potential supervisors’ plans for research leave or major administrative responsibilities. Importantly, since we are permitted to admit students with external funding we often have greater flexibility on admission than our North American competitors. In recent years we have tended to aim at a matriculation rate not much higher than 10% of applicants.

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 us in this respect in a better position than possibly any other UK University.  The information below is suggested as providing some useful starting points in the search for funding.

For international applicants it is an additional consideration that exchange rate movements in 2016 left Oxford’s fee levels looking considerably more attractive in Dollar or Euro terms.

Scholarships (also keep an eye on @NT4Ox)

  • 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 Scholarship schemes. Each year several of our best applicants in theology succeed in one of these schemes.
  • Among other all-inclusive packages, both the Rhodes and Commonwealth Scholarships are also distinguished, highly competitive awards.
  • The Faculty of Theology and Religion is in a position to offer a number of smaller graduate scholarships to new and existing students; see here.
  • Smaller Oxford based funds that have proved helpful to our existing students in the past include the Squire and Marriott Bursaries and, from time to time, the Crewdson Trust.
  • 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 also working with external supporters to secure additional awards, including a new full-fee award for 2018-2019 and another scholarship specifically for graduate students from China. For details of this and other opportunities see the information website at OxfordScholarships.com.
A partial list of academic funding secured in recent years by New Testament DPhil students at Oxford is available here.

Paid Employment in Oxford

UK immigration policy has been extraordinarily volatile in recent years – so be sure to check the latest state of play: you should only rely on official information. Registered graduate students have in recent years been permitted to 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.

Be sure to note the University’s own explicit Paid Employment Guidelines, which urge that the successful pursuit of a graduate course is unlikely to be compatible with more than 8 weekly hours of paid work.

M.B. Rev. 12/2017