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Why do Chemistry at university, and why do Chemistry at Oxford or Cambridge? It’s a wide-ranging science, and makes use of many areas of other disciplines. It is involves elements of maths, physics and biology, and is a diverse and innovative subject. If you loved chemistry at school, that’s a good place to start, as university chemistry develops and explains many of the secrets presented as fact in the A-Level course. 

Note: This post, and most of our other posts on Chemistry will focus on the Oxford Chemistry degree. Chemistry is offered as a stand alone course at Oxford, whereas it is offered as an integrated part of the Natural Sciences course at Cambridge. 

Important aspects of university chemistry:

  • Synthesis: A synthesis reaction is an important chemical reaction, where two simpler chemical species combine to form a more complex product. 
  • Structure: Structure refers to the arrangement of the chemical bonds between atoms in molecules. This topic gives rise to the classic chemistry drawing: lines connecting different dots, symbolising an atom. 
  • Reaction mechanisms: reaction mechanisms are the sequences of elementary reactions, by which chemical (irreversible) change occurs. 
  • Properties: properties is fairly self explanatory. It investigates the different nature of molecules and atoms, and how they behave under different conditions. 

Which A-Levels are required?

Chemistry and Maths are both compulsory prerequisites for studying Chemistry at Oxford. The course is very mathematical; you even have the opportunity to study advanced maths as a standalone subject, such as group theory. The Oxford offer is A*A*A, with two A*s in maths or science subjects. Other science subjects and Further Maths A-Level are not compulsory, but are highly recommended. 

What’s the success rate for Oxford Chemistry?

Of those who apply to study Chemistry, 91% are interviewed, and 29% are successful, so just over 1 in 4 candidates are successful. The overall intake is nearly 200

What Oxford students wish they’d known before applying to Chemistry: 

The course is a lot of work, but on the other hand, because you spend a lot of time in labs, you become really close with friends from your course, so there are a lot of people to talk to about Chemistry problems. There is a real teamwork element to the degree.

Daniel, Chemistry, Oxford

So many people say it’s the hardest degree, and there are so many full on hours due to labs, but if you work hard, you will always get rewards. Chemistry is just one of those degrees where if you do the work and do it at the time, you will have the time to be involved with other things and reap the rewards.

Michael, Chemistry, Oxford

To get more of an idea what Chemistry is really like, why not check out our guide to a Chemistry student’s life?

Where else could I do Chemistry?

Chemistry is offered at many of the major universities across the country, and you can also study it alongside other science subjects under the umbrella of natural sciences. Some universities offering Chemistry include: 

  • Bath
  • Bristol
  • Durham
  • Kent
  • King’s College London
  • Reading

You can apply for Natural Sciences at some universities, and Chemistry at others, with a single personal statement, due to the close nature of the two subjects, and the ability to specialise solely in chemistry as a Natural Science degree progresses. 


Chemistry is a notoriously difficult degree, but that shouldn’t put you off. It’s an exciting, innovative subject, and it means studying the very essentials of our world – how things function at an atomic and molecular level. If you feel like exploring the subject further, why not check out our Chemistry further reading suggestions?