Applying For A PhD

Thinking about applying for a PhD? Follow our tips to help you complete a successful application.

1. Do your homework

It's a good idea to start researching programmes up to a 18 months before you intend to start the course.

For example, if you wish to start your PhD in October 2021, begin your search in May 2020.

This will give you plenty of time to thoroughly investigate all the PhD projects that you think are potential candidates, and to narrow down your choices and make your final decision.

It will also allow you to put together carefully tailored applications, as well as sort out any required documentation, such as references and English Language tests (e.g. TOEFL, IELTS).

2. Check the entry requirements

Double check the entry requirements for all PhD programs you are considering applying to, as sometimes they may not be wholly clear, and therefore confuse you as to whether you meet the institution's criteria.

If this is the case, contact the admissions team for the programme and ask them to clarify the entry requirements.

3. Choose a research topic

If you apply for a funded project or to a research centre or group at a university, you will normally be asked to provide a statement explaining your suitablility for working in that area. 

If you want to propose your own area of research, you need to decide on a research topic and you will usually be expected to write a research proposal.

Some areas may only require a summary of academic interests and they will use this to match you to potential supervisors.

Make sure you check the requirements carefully for each subject area, as they may differ.

4. Find a supervisor

If you are joining a funded project, you will often have a supervisor allocated to you.

If you are proposing your own research topic, you can look for a supervisor to support and advise you. 

You can either ask a member of our faculty to be your supervisor if you think they have the expertise to support you or the university may choose to match you with a supervisor during the assessment of your application.

It may be possible to ask to be supervised by a particular member of faculty, which might be considered, but there is no guarantee they will allow your request.

5. Fill out your application form

For any application you make, be sure you have included all the necessary information before sending it off. This includes your:

  • personal statement
  • references
  • undergraduate degree transcript
  • English language test results, and
  • any relevant funding application form(s).

6. Talk to your referees

Be considerate of your referees and make sure you give them plenty of time to write you a reference.

Remember they are busy with their own lives, and you can not expect them to clear their schedule to write you a reference if you've only asked them a week before the application deadline.

Ideally, ask them at least a month before you are planning to send off your application - tell them a bit about the PhD you are applying for, and why you want to do it.

A copy of the project description, your personal statement and your CV may be helpful to them to write you a good reference.

7. Don't miss the deadline

For some universities, you are able to fill in and submit your application online - however, if you have to post your application off, make sure you complete it in plenty of time for the mail service to deliver it before the application deadline.

It's worth contacting the institution you have applied to a week or so after mailing your application to make sure they have received it, as it could end up being lost or delayed in the mailing process.

Make sure you get your application in well before the deadline, as places to a PhD are generally quite limited, and you don't want to miss out on being considered for a place because they are already full.

8. Check fees, funding and support 

Many universities will have a number of PhD funding and scholarship opportunities.

If your application is successful, you will normally have your fee status assessed. If your fee status is unclear, you may be asked to fill out a questionnaire.

If you disagree with the outcome of your fee status assessment, you might be able to appeal the decision.

9. Confirm your offers

If the university decides to offer you a place, they will notify you via their online system or through the post.

Check if your offer includes conditions, such as completing your Masters or first degree with a certain grade, or meeting a minimum level of English language requirements.

You may still accept an offer even if you don't have funding, however, you should make sure you have this in place before you start your program.

Further information

For more tips and advice on applying for a PhD, please see: