Human Sciences at Oxford

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Human Sciences has been a subject at the University of Oxford since 1969, and is a more multi-disciplinary subject than courses of the same name offered at Imperial College London, and Durham and Sussex Universities.

The Course at Oxford

It is offered by 10 Oxford colleges:


Background reading

There are no "set texts" for a prospective human scientist, although the suggested reading list on the Human Sciences department homepage is a good place to start [11]. It's best just to look at some of the titles on Amazon or in a decent sized bookshop (they're often found in the popular science section) and see what interests you. Steve Jones's The Language of The Genes [12] and Richard Dawkins's The Selfish Gene [13] are good starting points, as they have plenty of detail while still being accessible. A lot of the books on the introductory reading list are, unfortunately, out of print, but I obtained quite a few on Ebay for ~£4 (it isn't worth worrying if you can't get hold of the one you want), and larger libraries should be able to supply a lot of the titles. I think it really is worth doing background reading, not just to mention on your personal statement or to talk about in your interviews (and I was asked what I had read) but also to give you a better idea of whether the course really is for you. Some of the reading may also come in useful if you get a place, especially The Selfish Gene (which I didn't read before my interview, but wish I had!).

Entry Requirements

AAA at A level or 38 points with 666 at the higher level for IBDP students is required as a minimum offer in order to study Human Sciences.

Although there are no subjects applicants must offer, students without at least AS level Biology will find much of the first year course challenging, as lectures for the genetics unit are taken with first year Biology and Biochemistry students. AS level Statistics, or A level Maths including Statistics modules, is also useful for tackling the first year Quantitative Methods for the Human Sciences module (where lectures, and in some cases tutorials, are shared with Experimental Psychology and PPP students).

TSA Test

From 2016, applicants are required to sit Oxford's 'Thinking Skills Assessment'. For a detailed overview of the TSA, see the TSA section on the 'PPE at Oxford' page.


To what extent is your course infuenced by the tutors in your college? From reading the website my understanding is that whilst all lectures will be in the Pauling Centre, a number of your tutors will also be based outside your college.

Firstly, not all lectures are at the Human Sciences centre - we have lectures in the zoology department with psychologists, biologists and biochemists for some options (stats and genetics); and also evolution and ecology at the zoology department, although are HumSci specific. We also have some of the same practicals as biologists, and we have one physiology practical in the medical sciences building. Some lectures are also shared with the geographers, in the environmental sciences building; some with Arch and Anthers, in the Exam Schools and anthropology building. You'll see a lot of Oxford if you do Human Sciences!

Secondly, yes, a lot of your tutors will be from outside your college - in my case, St Catz, Balliol, Hertford, and post-graduate departments. All colleges that offer HumSci will "farm out" their students for some subjects, and that's quite nice - you share tutes sometimes with people from other colleges, you see a wide range of tutors, etc. Not every college has the same tutes with the same people, but that's quite fun too, as you hear about different teaching styles.

Is there somewhat of a pecking order among the different HumSci colleges (I know people strongly warn against using the Norrington scores though), do any colleges have a particularly strong reputation for the course for instance?

I haven't heard of or noticed a pecking order - degree classes within years of HumSci students fluctuate from year to year and college to college. The fact that you will be taught from tutors at a number of different colleges probably standardises the teaching more than for other subjects!

Should I choose a college based on the tutor/number of tutors?

I wouldn't worry that a college you like only has a few (or just one!) tutor for your subject - it won't effect your education and studies. And offering more places doesn't make a college any easy to get in to - more people will apply, and pooling pre- and post-interview equalises numbers. Also, tutors change from year to year, so don't set your heart on working with a particular person!

I assumed Human Sciences was just like Biology, however on closer inspection it has lots of Anthropology/Sociology - is this the case, and is it really a social science degree or is it in fact a "natural" science type course? Additionally is it possible to take any politics based modules?

Human Sciences IS very biology based - while it only represents 20% of the course, it its perhaps the hardest 20% of the course to pick up if you don't have biology A/AS level. Also, ecology and physiology are quite biology-heavy. A further 20% of the course is statistics. As far as I'm aware, you can't do any poltics modules at any point in the course - the closest you'd ever get would be anthropological essays on the political structres of acephalous groups or similar.

While HS is listed nominally in the social sciences section of the Oxford website etc, and there is a large sociology/anthropology/social geography element, I think more traditional "scientific" elements are treated as more important by most tutors, and I can't imagine someone was more interested in sociology particularly enjoying the course. Archaeology and Anthropology, or PPE, would probably be courses with more interest for you (from what you've said). Your A levels (with the exception of chemistry AS) aren't the most traditional, and I don't how they'd be viewed by admissions tutors.

I've seen this Human Sciences course which I don't think other universities have - it sounds sort of like a pre-med course?

It's nothing like pre-med (or pre-clinical medicine in the UK) as only a fifth of the first year course is genetics, and the rest is statistics and social sciences. There is a scheme where you can do a scientific first degree and then join a four year (rather than six) medicine degree programme, and Human Sciences is eligible for this. Is there an entrance exam for Human Sciences at Oxford? No, although you will usually be expected to submit to two pieces of suitable written work.

What made you want to study it? Which A levels did you take?

Well, I was pretty sure I wanted to study at Oxford if I could, so I got out the Oxford and Cambridge prospectuses, and looked at what courses I was doing the right AS levels for, and then looked at what I was interested in out of those - eg. I liked the look of Biological sciences, but I hate dissection, and I don't do Maths or Chemistry (which I would probably have needed); I didn't like the way geography is taught at Oxford, and I don't really like Cambridge; and I got rapidly fed up with English AS level, and couldn't face the thought of a degree in it, and English is what I'd always thought I would study!

I thought Human sciences would let me continue with all the bits of Biology I liked best (DNA, genetics, nature vs nuture), while dropping plant biology and dissection (eugh!). I'm also interested in studying sociology and psychology with reference to Biology - they make for unrespected A levels, but the options for the course really make them seem worth while and important.

I took English Lit and Lang (one A level), Biology, Geography and RS (philosophy), and French to AS level.

What kind of interview did you get, and how did you prepare for it (if at all)? Did you do any work experience?

In the interview, I just discussed what I'd been studying in Biology at school, what I'd read, my work experience, and talked about topis I'd put in my personal statement (but not all of these things in both interviews! They only last 20 - 30 minutes, so they can only ask you so much), and also interpreting graphs and talking through hypothetical situations.

In terms of preparation, all the med vet and Oxbridge students got together we a teacher, and we interviewed each other! Why your uni, why that course, why that college. We also had interviews with a nice man from a local teacher training college. It wasn't that much, or that much use, but it gave us confidence (I go to a comprehensive school, btw)

Work experience - I worked in a lab for a week, where they breed fruit flies and conduct genetic experiments on them to try and find ways to cure genetic human diseases, like myotic distrophy. What other courses did you apply to, seeing as HumSci is only offered at select places?

In the end, other than Oxford, I only applied to HumSci at Sussex. I applied to Biological Sciences at Edinburgh, since I enjoyed my work experience so much, and the guy who ran the lab would have given me lectures; and I applied to Geography at Birmingham, Manchester and Exeter. I got offers from all of them. I especially liked Manchester, because they let you take two courses a year that were nothing to do with geography!

What are you thinking of doing in the future, after your degree? I'd be interested to know the kind of jobs people do after a HumSci degree.

Now that I don't know - work for New Scientist or another scientific paper, get a PhD, work for the government... who knows? People with Human Sciences go into quite a diverse range of careers.


The University of Oxford admissions guide for Human Sciences

Oxford University Human Sciences home page [14]

TSR Wiki page on Oxford College pros and cons

A Week in the Life of a Human Sciences Student: