Students: an Overview

Students: an Overview

Social Sciences departments offer a wide range of diverse, stimulating and high quality undergraduate, postgraduate taught and postgraduate research programmes, all of which are underpinned by the innovative research being undertaken by our academics. Degrees range from lab-based science in departments such as Geography and Archaeology, through to the professionally-oriented provision in Business and Education. A number of part-time postgraduate taught and postgraduate research programmes are also offered.

Across the division, we have:

  • just under 2,000 Undergraduate (UG) students;
  • just over 2,000 Taught Postgraduate (PGT) students (on Master’s programmes); and
  • just over 1,100 Postgraduate Research (doctoral students – known at Oxford as ‘DPhils’)

Upon arrival, you should familiarise yourself with the range of programmes that your department offers, which may or may not include undergraduate provision.


For postgraduates

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The University has agreed to a student number cap, which means that at present departments cannot exceed the quotas allocated to them at programme level, and that, should any new course be agreed, its student numbers will have to come from within existing student numbers.

For UG students, admissions are largely managed by the colleges. Applicants submit their UCAS applications by 15 October, and may need to take a test as part of their application and/or send in written work. Shortlisted candidates will then be invited to interviews in December and decisions are communicated in early or mid-January. Quotas for UG students are managed by the colleges in conjunction with departments.

For PG students, admissions are handled by the University. Applications are submitted to the Graduate Admissions office, who will confirmed whether they have all the required elements before forwarding them to departments for assessment. Decisions to admit students are made by at least three members of academic staff, though often an admissions panel may be used. Decisions will then be recorded in the student system and communicated to the applicant. 

Each PG programme has a quota, and a recommended ‘over-offer’ ratio. It is important that offers are carefully managed with the aim of recruiting to quota. For advice or information, please contact the Academic Office.

Course changes

Any proposed new courses, major changes* or new options added to existing courses at any level (UG, PGT or PGR) must be considered and agreed by the relevant departmental, divisional and University committees. This means it can take some time for such proposals to be approved. Student consultation is an important part of the process which should be managed by the department, so you should take account of this in your planning. For guidance on the process and likely timescales, please contact the Academic Office.

*A major change is anything which affects the overall aims of the programme or the way(s) in which it is delivered.

Quality assurance

The divisional team works closely with departments on quality assurance matters, including Student Handbooks, exam conventions, examiners’ reports and student surveys. A range of information and guidance is available on the division’s Academic Office WebLearn site.

Many of our graduate students undertake fieldwork, and a small number of undergraduate students may also do so. Prior to undertaking fieldwork students must:

  • discuss the proposed project with their supervisor
  • complete a risk assessment form, to be approved by their supervisor and then the Head of Department where appropriate (see 'Overseas travel policy' under 'Health & Safety' of this Handbook for more information)
  • undertake any necessary or relevant training.

Academic supervisors have responsibilities to their students as set out in the University policy on supervisors’ responsibilities. The division produces a fact sheet and practical guide for fieldwork supervisors. Departments are responsible for ensuring that the appropriate processes are followed, and that any fieldwork is formally approved in advance.

Fieldwork is described in more detail under the Health & Safety section of this Handbook. Support and advice is available from the Divisional Safety Officer and on the fieldwork pages of the divisional website. There is also a website dedicated to fieldworkers’ experiences.


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Masters students will be assessed through a blend of examinations and coursework. Each course has its own Course Handbook and examination conventions, and the framework is formalised in the University’s Examination Regulations.

Doctoral students are usually admitted as Probationer Research Students (PRS) and are required to transfer and then confirm their status. The timing of this should be as follows:

  • transfer to full DPhil status, assessed by two academic assessors, by the end of their fourth term
  • confirmation of DPhil status, assessed by two academic assessors, within nine terms of admission as a PRS.

The University website provides further information on key milestones for DPhil students.

Students who progress from an Oxford MPhil to an Oxford DPhil are usually admitted directly as DPhil students. They are therefore not usually obliged to transfer their status, and the timing of their Confirmation of Status is also different.