What does MA (Oxon) mean?

A blog post in which I attempt to unravel the meanings (in the Oxford context) of matriculation, graduation, undergraduate master’s degrees, postgraduate bachelor’s degrees, and the meaning of the mysterious “MA (Oxon)”.

Soon after arriving at Oxford, undergraduates attend a ceremony called Matriculation, at which they wear formal dress and are officially added to the register of members of the University.

Most undergraduate degrees at Oxford are 3 years (or 9 terms) long.  If a student has met the degree requirements* at the end of their course, they will then attend a graduation ceremony at which they are formally awarded their degree, and are then referred to as a graduate of the University.  Most UK universities award a BA (Bachelor of Arts) for arts and humanities subjects, BSc (Bachelor of Sciences) for sciences; but at Oxford, virtually all undergraduates are awarded a BA, even if they did not read for an Arts subject.  An exception to this is that undergraduates on some 4-year science programmes are awarded an undergraduate master’s degree, e.g. Master of Earth Sciences (MEarthSc), Master of Engineering (MEng)**.

At Oxford (and at Cambridge), members of the University may apply for a Master of Arts degree 21 terms (7 years) after matriculation.  There is no period of study or examination.  Graduates pay a small fee and attend another graduation ceremony in order to receive their MA.

This is very different from the MAs awarded by most other universities, which involve tuition (and tuition fees) and examination.

This distinction is represented in a person’s postnominal letters.  MA (Oxon) or MA (Oxf) after someone’s name means that they have an Oxford MA.  MA (Cantab) is the same, but for Cambridge.

Full disclosure: I have an MA, but it’s not an Oxon or a Cantab 😉

*these are academic (having passed relevant examinations) and also residential (students have to have lived within 6 miles (undergraduates) or 25 miles (graduates) of the city centre in Full Term throughout their degree

**a further peculiarity is that some postgraduate degrees at Oxford are bachelor’s degrees, e.g. Bachelor of Civil Law (BCL), Bachelor of Music (BMus)

Further reading

Degrees of the University of Oxford

Learning to “speak Oxford”

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