PPE is one of the most famous courses offered by Oxford University. Many PPE graduates have gone on to careers in public life, but PPE is not just for aspiring politicians. PPEists can be found in a remarkable variety of careers in both the private and the public sector. Lincoln admits eight new students each year for PPE.
Why study PPE?
PPE is a very broad-based degree covering the social sciences and philosophy. It combines three subjects - each of which is extensive enough to be studied as a full degree course! The course course offers students the opportunity to study a range of subject-matters - from the narrowly empirical to the highly abstract - within a coherent overall structure. Whilst there may not seem to be much direct connection between some of the subjects on offer (say, the Politics of Sub-Saharan Africa and the Philosophy of the Later Wittgenstein) others are obviously much closer (say the Politics of Sub-Saharan Africa and Development Economics). PPE allows students to structure the course for themselves in such a way that different elements complement one another.
What is special about PPE at Lincoln?
Lincoln is a relatively small and intimate college but PPE is one of the largest subject-groups within the College. Each year we admit 8 or 9 students - a year-group large enough to be interestingly diverse and yet small enough to develop a strong sense of identity. We believe that peer groups can play a very positive role in supporting individuals in their studies and we encourage this in various ways, particularly in the first year: by class teaching, by ensuring that everyone has tutorials with a range of different partners and through social events.
The Lincoln tutors are experts in their respective disciplines, but they are all committed to the idea of PPE as a course within which the different elements play complementary roles. We encourage students to seek out links between the various subjects that they study and we exert no pressure on students to choose one particular subject or option (although, of course, we are happy to offer advice).
We try to ensure that Lincoln students are taught by our own tutors in the first year and for much of the second year and we make a point of monitoring progress particularly closely during those all-important initial stages.
Who are the PPE tutors?
There are four PPE tutors at Lincoln:
Dr Jody LaPorte (Politics)
Dr Alexei Parakhonyak (Economics)
Dr Jan Kvasnicka (Economics)
Dr Alex Prescott-Couch (Philosophy)
How is the course organised?
At the end of that year the student may (but does not have to) drop one of the three subjects. Thereafter students study 4 core papers ( or 6 if contInuing with all three subjects). Working on core papers will generally occupy the second stage of a PPE undergraduate's career.
Finally, the remaining special papers may be selected freely from an extensive list of options. If even this is not enough then it is possible to replace one of the optional papers by a short thesis on a topic chosen by the student (this is an option chosen by about 15 per cent of Lincoln PPE students).
What are the benefits of studying PPE?The benefits that should come from any good university degree course: the ability to work systematically and independently and to deal with difficult issues rigorously and in depth. Beyond that, it is notable that PPE demands and develops skills that span the divide between conventional "arts" and "science" courses. On the one hand, you will deal with a great deal of empirical and theoretical material and to be able to express that understanding in tightly-constructed arguments on paper. On the other hand, particularly in Economics and, to a lesser degree, in Philosophy, there is a need for the numeracy and ability to engage in symbolic reasoning of the type normally associated with the sciences. Finally, though, one of the most important benefits of studying PPE is the intangible, but very real, self-confidence which someone gains from having seriously studied the underlying processes at work in his or her society.
What about admissions?
There are three elements to the admissions procedure: the UCAS application form; a test of language and reasoning skills taken in a candidate's school (the TSA); and, for those candidates who are shortlisted, an interview with tutors. Our final decisions are based on all three elements. We require grades AAA at A-level, or equivalent, from those candidates to whom we offer places. There is no particular combination of subjects that we require of students as a pre-requisite for studying PPE; in particular, it is not necessary to have studied any of the three subjects in school. For the economics part of the course it is an advantage to have done A-Level (or AS-level) Mathematics. However, we do accept students who have not studied mathematics beyond GCSE level, and provide some extra help for them during the first year. PPE, in our view, involves the struggle to think as rigorously as possible about issues of overwhelming immediate interest and importance. In general, we are looking for people with analytical minds and the ability to back up argument with evidence - people, that is, who like to think rigorously and are prepared to look for explanations that are adequate to the complexity of social reality. We take students from all kinds of background and believe that the diversity of the PPE student body at Lincoln is an important source of its strength.
Although a background in Mathematics is not formally required for admission, PPE applicants should have sufficient interest in, and aptitude for, mathematics to cope with the mathematical elements of the course. Mathematics is a particular advantage for the Economics component of the course, as well as for the first year logic course in philosophy, and for understanding theories and data in politics.
Last year around 90% of the applicants who were offered places for PPE had studied Maths to at least AS-Level, or equivalent. You may like to consider taking Maths to AS-level, or an equivalent qualification such as IB Standard Level, even if you do not pursue it further. It is useful to have learnt the basics of differentiation before starting your university course in PPE.
What form do the written test and interview take?
Further details about the PPE written test (which is taken in schools during late October or early November) can be found on the Thinking Skills Assessment website. It is not designed to assess your school knowledge, nor does it presuppose any prior knowledge of Philosophy, Politics or Economics.
The precise form of interview we use varies slightly from year to year but there are usually two interviews, each lasting for about twenty minutes. The prime object of the interviews is to form a judgement regarding your intellectual potential and the atmosphere will be quite informal. The discussion may start in a number of ways. It is possible that a tutor will put a theory, a point of view or an argument to you and ask you for your comments. In any case, the aim will be to open up a discussion between the tutor and yourself in order to see how you go about thinking about a topic, not just to measure how much you know. You will do best if you think carefully about what is being said to you and give your reactions to it confidently. Don't hold back because you aren't sure that you have the right answer immediately - the aim is to develop a dialogue and the tutor will try to help you to refine your thoughts as the discussion proceeds.
In recent years there has been significant growth in the number of overseas and EU applicants for PPE. Given our commitment to diversity, we welcome this development. Students on PPE will need to have exceptionally good English to succeed on a course which requires the production of a huge amount of writing, often under time pressure, culminating in assessment by a series of written examinations. For students whose first language is not English, the University will expect them to meet a specific English Language Requirement.
Senior Status applicants: Applications from graduates in other subjects for direct entry to the second year of the PPE course may be considered. It is Lincoln's Policy in these cases to grant exemption only to those who have completed a substantial amount of study relevant to PPE in the course of their first degree.
Recommend background reading?
A very good (and extremely short) general introduction to philosophy is by Thomas Nagel. Called What does it all mean? it is published by Oxford University Press. Jonathan Wolff's An Introduction to Political Philosophy, also published by Oxford University Press, is a very helpful introduction to philosophy as it relates to politics.
For economics and politics it is important to inform yourself about contemporary affairs and the issues behind them by reading the analysis regularly in at least one serious newspaper. The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford offers some interesting examples of the application of economic analysis to every-day problems, and doesn't require any prior knowledge of economics. Finally, Arend Lijphart's Patterns of Democracy: Government Forms and Performance in Thirty-Six Countries (New Haven: Yale UP, 1999) gives a good introduction to comparative politics.
This information is based on questions asked by prospective students at Open Days. If you have other questions you need answered please write or send an e-mail to one of the PPE tutors or e-mail the Admissions Tutors at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here to visit the University's PPE website.