So, here's all I (believe to) know on this topic and some follow up questions: Only the more wealthy (upper and middle class) did have the resources to send their offspring (of course mostly only the sons) to university. They had to pay tuition fees (how much?), but could also get a scholarship.

But I couldn't find anything on how they would apply for university. Did they have to take entrance exams? Where there limited places (did they maybe apply in advance)? Did they have to prove their identity and if so, how? What documents did they need to enroll? (I'm mostly asking that because there are records of women, who presented as men to get into university.)

I suppose there's a lot of change in the 19th century and differences between universities, but I'd mostly be interested in the second half of the century and let's say Oxford University (if specifics are known).

  • 1
    Why? Note that of these seven illustrious British scientists of the 19 century none of Faraday, Boole, or Wallace received a university education. A university education was far more restricted then than even now, and for aspiring scientists an appropriate apprenticeship, or equivalent technical training, would have been a more useful entry to that world. Commented Aug 8, 2022 at 16:34
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    IIRC John Adams had to take an oral examination to be admitted - and at the time, it was still "English" education. Might be instructive and help to inform future research,.
    – MCW
    Commented Aug 8, 2022 at 17:49
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    Related: How did people apply for university in the 18th century?
    – Robert Columbia
    Commented Aug 8, 2022 at 23:02
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    Swearing the 39 articles was a precondition and one reason English dissenters went to Scottish universities then.
    – C'est Moi
    Commented Aug 10, 2022 at 22:04

1 Answer 1


The Oxford colleges individually handled matriculation through Responsions and other exams:

Until 1887 all undergraduates were required to take classical pass or honour Moderations before proceeding to a final school, and this cut into the time available for science. Even when scientists were exempted from Mods. 'compulsory Greek' in the examinations--Responsions or its equivalents--that qualified undergraduates to embark on the NSS was relatively demanding.

...although the same web page also states:

No university entrance examination existed at Oxford before 1914. ... Admissions were in the hands of the colleges, and the University was required to matriculate any man whom a college chose to admit.

(The History of the University of Oxford vol VII, 'Nineteenth Century Oxford')

Dublin and Cambridge appear to have had similar procedures at that time.

The Wikipedia entry for Durham University says:

The university opened on 28 October 1833 with 19 "scholars" and 18 "students" on the Bachelor of Arts course and 5 students on the theology licence course. The university was the first in England to introduce matriculation examinations, although these had been in use at the University of St Andrews and Marischal College, Aberdeen since the 1820s

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