University of Oxford

History Faculty

The Application Process

General Selection Criteria

The following criteria are to be applied in the assessment of candidates for History.  In the case of candidates for the Joint Schools with History, these criteria are to be applied in assessment for the History side of each school.

  • Intellectual curiosity
  • Conceptual clarity
  • Flexibility - the capacity to engage with alternative perspectives and/or new information
  • Accuracy and attention to detail
  • Critical engagement
  • Capacity for hard work
  • Enthusiasm for History
  • Evidence of historical imagination and understanding, in particular, the ability to speculate and compare, alongside the possession of appropriate historical knowledge and the capacity to deploy it.

At various points of the Admissions process candidates will be assessed against these criteria on the basis of information derived from a variety of sources:

  • UCAS forms, including, in particular, personal statements, school reports, qualifications achieved and qualifications predicted
  • Performance at GCSE
  • Performance in the History Aptitude Test (HAT)
  • Written work submitted by candidates
  • Performance in interviews
  • Comparison, in all these areas, with other candidates

History Aptitude Test

All candidates for History, or any joint school including History, are required to take the History Aptitude Test in late October/early November. This year it must be taken on the 2nd November 2016. More information.

Written Work

Candidates for History will be asked to send in an essay on a historical topic by 10 November. This should be a marked essay of A2 level, or equivalent, written in your own time as part of your normal school/college work. There are additional requirements for some joint-school candidates: please see below.

Please send an ordinary essay, not a structured question, nor a source-based response, nor a personal study. Your work should be accompanied by a signed certificate stating the circumstances under which the work was written. Click on this link to download the written work cover sheet. Your written work should be about 1500 words long, and not longer than 2000 words.  If these requirements cause any problems, please contact the Tutor for Admissions at your college of preference. Note that in selecting work for submission you should choose a piece which has enthused you and on which you are willing to talk. Do not worry if you have changed your mind on the topic since writing it. Tutors are impressed by candidates who remain intellectually engaged with their work.


Interviews are not intended to be confrontational although they will undoubtedly be intellectually challenging. The tutors are interested in finding out what your intellectual potential is; they do not wish to catch you out. But remember to think carefully about the questions you have been asked; your interviewers will not mind if you pause to think. Try not to go in with some pre-packaged prepared piece you are determined to deliver at all costs.

Your submitted essay is likely to form a starting point for discussion in at least one of your interviews. The tutors are not so much interested in the level of your knowledge as in your ability to think historically. They wish to test your flexibility, your conceptual skills, and the precision of your thinking. They will use a variety of methods to assess these skills, but you are likely to be asked about the definition of terms you have used; you may be asked to compare the material you have submitted with some other historical example you have studied; and you may be asked how new pieces of information presented to you affect the arguments you have made.

Some colleges may require you to read a short passage of historical writing while you are up for interview, which they will ask you to discuss as part of the interview process.

You may be asked questions about statements on your UCAS form. Tutors will be particularly interested in evidence of a historical sensitivity: e.g. relating to places you have visited or books you have read. If you are planning a gap-year you should be prepared to discuss your plans.

Tutors like to see an interest in political history backed by interest in political ideas, and in the social and economic context of politics. We welcome historians who have or may develop an interest in archaeology, literature, culture, sociology, foreign languages, the arts or religion – in short, in any aspect of historical inquiry, or in any other intellectual discipline that can enrich our historical understanding.

Please note that you will probably be interviewed at the college to which you applied, or the college to which you were allocated, if you made an open application. However, in some cases your application may be referred to another college. This can happen if a college is significantly oversubscribed for your subject that year, and the faculty will re-distribute candidates with the aim of ensuring greater parity in the number of applicants interviewed in each college. During the interview week itself, you may be offered further opportunities to have an interview at other colleges.

The Minimum Offer

In order to take up a conditional offer of a place in History or any of its joint schools, Oxford requires you to achieve three As at A2 in A-level, for places offered in the Admissions Process 2011.  You need not have taken all three A levels in the same year.  You do not need to have an A*. 

Joint schools

If you are thinking of applying for any of the joint schools with history, you should think about how the two disciplines relate to each other. How does the study of history differ from the study of literature, or politics, or economics? Are there differences between the study of ancient history and modern history (when does ‘modern’ begin?)? How does a knowledge of each side of your chosen joint school enrich, or affect, the study of the other side? Tutors will want to be sure that you have made a positive decision to study two subjects alongside, and in relation to, each other.

Candidates for all the joint schools with History will take the History Aptitude Test in early November. All candidates will be asked to submit an essay on a historical topic by 10 November, as above.

Written Work for Joint School Candidates

Ancient and Modern History

In the case of candidates for Ancient and Modern History, the written work may deal with a topic from either ancient or modern history. You do not need to write an additional essay on Ancient History.

History and Economics

You are no longer required (as of Admissions 2015 for 2016 entry) to submit an essay in Economics. Instead, you will have to answer a special Economics question in the History Aptitude Test - Question Four, designed specially for History and Economics applicants. See here for a specimen paper.

History and English

In the case of History and English, you should submit two additional marked essays prepared in the normal course of your college or school work in English. These should not be specially rewritten for Oxford entrance, nor should they be timed essays, creative writing, or critical commentary on a short piece of verse or prose. Both essays should be on an English Literature topic with the exception that one may be on an English Language topic. One piece of moderated course work done for either English Literature or English Language courses or course components is acceptable.

History and Modern Languages

In the case of History and Modern Languages you are required to submit two additional pieces of recent school or college written work (preferably of different kinds) for the language you are currently studying. This work should be essays or similar pieces of work which have already been written and marked with teachers’ corrections. At least one piece should be written in the target language. There will also be a 30-minute written test in the target language. It is intended to test your grasp of grammar. A sample of the test is available from the Oxford Colleges Admissions Office.

History and Politics

In the case of History and Politics, there are typically no further requirements, though some colleges may ask candidates for an additional piece of writing.

Joint Schools Selection Criteria

Candidates are assessed separately for each side of the Joint Schools. For the criteria applied in History, please see above; for those applied in other subjects, see the individual Department / Faculty websites:

Page last updated: 14/07/2016, at 09:34

Contact Us

There are a number of ways that you can contact us directly:

By post:

Faculty of History
George Street
Oxford OX1 2RL
United Kingdom

By telephone or fax:

Tel: +44 1865 615000
Fax: +44 1865 250704

Or by email:

For information on graduate admissions, contact:

For information on undergraduate admissions, contact: