When and how to make an application for a UK doctorate

It's a good idea to get started a year or so before you might want to begin your doctorate.

Research funders and universities have varying timescales for their calls for applications. Entry to a UK doctoral programme may be available at any time of year, but many will start at the beginning of the academic year in October. It might be wise to gear your thinking and preparation towards such a starting time, i.e. about a year in advance of that.  

The real starting point for action is with your selected institution/s. Generally the first formal step is to make an online application through its website – you will almost certainly find out how to do that from its postgraduate (or research) opportunities pages. An online application will enable the institution to do some checks on your potential eligibility (such as like your existing academic qualifications, nationality or immigration status and so on).

It is likely that you will need to provide some or all of the following evidence to accompany your application:

  • proof of degree attainment
  • academic or professional references 
  • sample of prior research, writing or other work
  • evidence of previous research experience
  • outline of your proposed research project or idea.

The last of these is something that, depending on your route, you may only work up in detail once you are in contact with a potential supervisor.

As part of the application process, provided you are eligible, you will almost certainly be interviewed by your potential supervisor and also by other department or faculty members. You may be asked to give a short presentation as part of this. For international applicants, this may be possible using Skype or other remote meeting technology, but a face-to-face interview and visit is preferable where possible.

In some cases, if your application is accepted, you may then have to apply for funding separately.

If you are an international applicant, other issues may be important such as applying for a visa and English language requirements. There are several UK sources of specific help and advice for international applicants including:

EURAXESS UK  - advice for international researchers

Education UK (British Council) – advice for international students

UKCISA – the UK Council for International Student Affairs

UK Government Visas and Immigration service