How to apply for a doctorate in the UK and get funding

The application process for a doctoral programme in the UK is very different from the process for applying for a first degree.

For one thing, there is no centralised application system. Second, not only does it vary according to the institution, but it can also depend on the type of programme you are applying for. That limits the level of information we can provide here, but these observations should be reasonably generic.

There are two main patterns of application, which are basically applying for a funded doctoral programme, and applying for a doctorate which is ‘yet-to-be funded’. In practice, there can be lots of other variants too.

  • Applying for a funded programme. Broadly, an institution will have a series of doctoral project opportunities (often called studentships) for which it has funding and you can apply for one of these, usually in competition with others. If this is within a collaborative doctoral training structure, there might be a centralised application process across the collaborating institutions. Funded doctoral projects are often advertised through academic job websites and publications, such as and, as well as through the respective university’s website
  • ‘Yet-to-be-funded’ doctorates. This is more of a two-stage process, where first you apply to an institution and, if they have accepted you as a potential doctoral candidate, they (or you) seek the funding afterwards. Unsurprisingly, this route may take longer and is more complex than applying for a funded programme.

But, either way, in order to give yourself the best chance, you should:

  • start preparing early - about a year in advance
  • be proactive and prepared to do a lot of the groundwork yourself 
  • have a good idea of the field you want to research
  • have a short list of institutions/universities that offer doctoral programmes in your field
  • know something about how doctorates are funded.