Guidance for Applicants

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The Department of the History of Art seeks, among other things:

  • to promote in all its students verbal and visual skills that are transferable to a wide range of employment situations and life experiences.
  • to provide challenging undergraduate courses that engage the critical intelligence, imagination and creativity of the students; that develop their independent thinking by drawing on technical skills in art historical investigation and exposition; that increase their sensitivity to the human issues at the heart of the analysis of past and present cultures.

Our admissions procedures are designed to select those students best fitted by ability and potential to benefit from the intensive, tutorially-based learning methods employed in the courses on offer to achieve these goals. While academic staff selecting students will be guided in their decision-making by the admissions criteria, it is important to remember that selection involves complex professional judgments and that selection for places at Oxford takes place in a highly competitive environment. On both counts, mere possession of the qualities identified in the admissions criteria does not guarantee a candidate the offer of a place.  For further guidance please follow the links below.

No specific A-levels are required, but students will be expected to receive scores of AAA or higher, including at least one examination that demonstrates essay-writing skills. If four A-levels are taken, conditions will only be set for three of them. Other equivalent qualifications are also accepted, please see the University International Qualifications Page.

Students do not have to take an A-level in Art History in order to apply to the course. Qualifications in Art or Art and Design are welcome, but students should note that at least one other examination involving essay-writing skills is also required. A-levels that demonstrate essay-writing skills include subjects such as Art History, History, English, Modern or Classical Languages, and some Social Science subjects. General Studies would normally not be accepted as an A-level subject.
Please see the main undergraduate admissions page for further information.

Please email if you have any general enquiries.

General guidance on writing your personal statement can be found at

General guidance for your academic referee can be found at

General guidance for international applicants can be found at

Guides for teachers and advisers at schools, colleges and other centres who advise potential applicants can be found at

Applicants are asked to submit two pieces of written work. The first must be a marked essay from an A-level or equivalent course, no longer than 2,000 words. This will demonstrate the ability to construct a sustained written argument. 

The second must be an essay of no more than 750 words written in response to a piece of art, architecture or design. Applicants should have had first-hand access to their chosen object so that they may examine it closely in person. In writing their response applicants may focus, as they wish, on whichever aspects of the object they consider to be most significant.  These might include the medium, the design or style, the technique, the subject matter, and/or the location. No special preparation or research is required for the 750 word analysis, which should be based on the applicant’s personal response to the object and should demonstrate curiosity and visual acuity and the ability to ground an argument in visual analysis.  It should be a new piece of writing, not previously submitted for another programme.

Applicants should include a good quality reproduction of their chosen object.  Note: Although access to museums and galleries is currently restricted due to the COVID pandemic, candidates should bear in mind that suitable objects may still be accessible.  Candidates may wish to write about a local building or public sculpture or a work of art in those spaces to which they still have access.  However, if a candidate feels that it is impossible to access a suitable object first-hand, they may write about an object that they are able to view in good quality reproduction.

All written work must be submitted to the College Admissions Office by 10th November.  Please refer to your application college for guidance on how to submit your written work.

Students invited for interview will be given two interviews, normally one including a tutor from the college to which you apply, and the other with two further college tutors / other members of the Department.

One interview will normally focus on the candidate’s submitted work and personal statement.  In the second the candidate will be asked to discuss photographs of works of art, buildings, or other artefacts.  Candidates will not be expected to recognize the objects, which are generally not well known.  Candidates will be assessed on their ability to engage intelligently in visual analysis and to make connections where relevant between the objects and their historical and cultural context.


Sample questions: The Telegraph 15 Oct 2014

Admission to the degree for the fourteen students per year will be highly competitive.

The following criteria will be applied in the assessment of candidates for the B.A. (Hons) in the History of Art.

  • Intellectual curiosity
  • Conceptual clarity
  • Flexibility (that is, the capacity to engage with alternative perspectives and/or new information)
  • Accuracy and attention to detail
  • Critical engagement
  • Capacity for hard work
  • Enthusiasm for the visual arts
  • Evidence of the potential to develop an art historical imagination (that is, the ability to ground an argument in visual analysis and to make connections where relevant between art works and their historical context) 

Candidates will be assessed against these criteria on the basis of information derived from the following sources:

  • UCAS forms, including in particular personal statements, school reports, qualifications achieved and qualifications predicted
  • written work submitted by candidates (which will include a marked essay from one of their A-level or equivalent further education courses and a 750-word response to a piece of art, architecture or design, interpreted in the broadest sense, to which they have had first-hand access)
  • performance in interviews
  • comparison, in all these areas, with other candidates

Every effort will be made to take into account the special needs or particular circumstances of all candidates in making judgments on these matters. Within these general criteria, the assessment of written work and interviews is guided by more specific criteria.

In assessing items of submitted written work, selectors will bear in mind the criteria listed below. Selectors will take into account the circumstances under which the work was written, in their best judgment, having regard for the information provided on any attached sheets and to comments made by teachers where these exist. Such circumstances might include the time allowed for the exercise, the level of the exercise and the resources made available to candidates.

  • critical reading and critical looking, when applicable
  • an analytical approach
  • coherence of argument
  • precision in the handling of concepts and in the evidence presented to support points
  • precision, clarity and facility of writing
  • relevance to the question, when applicable
  • art historical imagination, when applicable (that is, the ability to ground an argument in visual analysis and to make connections between art works and their historical context)
  • originality, when applicable

A general aim of interviews is to establish a sense of a candidate's potential for study at university level and to assess his or her aptitude for the small-group teaching that lies at the heart of Oxford’s tutorial-based system. Interviewers will assess the following abilities of candidates:

  • clarity of thought and expression
  • analytical ability
  • flexibility (that is, the capacity to engage with alternative perspectives and/or new information in small-group discussions)
  • enthusiasm and commitment
  • the use of appropriate cultural and historical knowledge (that is, demonstration by candidates that they have understood well what they have studied and that they are able to deploy cultural and historical evidence in support of an interpretation)
  • potential to develop an art historical imagination (that is, the ability to ground an argument in visual analysis and to make connections where appropriate between art works and their historical context)

Interviews will be designed to allow selectors to measure candidates against these criteria.

Mature applicants (aged 21 and over at the commencement of study) may choose to apply to Harris Manchester College, an Oxford college dedicated solely to teaching mature students of both sexes. It is also possible to apply to another college offering History of Art.

Further guidance on applying through Harris Manchester, including qualifications, the application process and written work can be found at:

Mature applicants who are unable to provide marked coursework may submit an essay written specifically for the application, as long as it is submitted with an explanatory note on the cover sheet.

If you are considering the History of Art for study at university, you might like to sample some of the very diverse approaches to the subject which have been reflected in more-or-less recent writing. For example:

  • Baxandall, Michael ‘Painting and experience in fifteenth century Italy: a primer in the social history of pictorial style’ (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988).
  • Clark, T. J. ‘The painting of modern life: Paris in the art of Manet and his followers’ (London: Thames and Hudson, 1995).
  • Clunas, Craig ‘Art in China’ (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).
  • Crow, Thomas ‘Modern art in the common culture’ (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1998).
  • Kemp, Martin ‘Behind the picture: art and evidence in the Italian Renaissance’ (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1997).
  • Nochlin, Linda ‘Women, art, and power: and other essays’ (London: Thames and Hudson, 1989).