Applying for a PhD

a PORT for Modern Languages tutorial

1 PhD Application

1.2 Form and requirements

Preliminary remarks 
Since each University (and Department) has its own requirements, as soon as you receive your application by mail (or you download it from the Internet), the first step is to read it carefully. Moreover, these requirements do not only vary from institution to institution, but also from year to year, which means you should not rely on what your friends currently applying for a position elsewhere or even already enrolled in the second year of your own department can tell you. Rely exclusively on your application form.

Document collection and mailing
When you read your application form, you are likely to see that its different elements (e.g.: registration, scholarship, accommodation) are subject to different requirements. The first step that we suggest you make is therefore to distinguish and deal with them one by one. Listing single application forms according to their deadlines will help you not only to manage them in a tidier way but also to meet the deadlines themselves.

You might find it useful follow a guideline table, similar to the illustrative one we have drawn in the section 'Time', on the cover of a folder in which you will put an envelope for each application. You will then fill each envelope with an application form and the documents that each form requires as and when you obtain them. In this way your folder will work as a sort of filing cabinet, enabling you

  • to keep all documents regarding your application in the same place
  • to be always in control of the collection of documents required in connection with individual deadlines.

Moreover, if you write the destination on each envelope from the beginning, you will not have to do anything but to send them as soon as they are filled in, which will give you, again, the sense of the stage at which your application is. Mailing all documents required along with their form in a single envelope will also make the processing of your applications more secure and faster. 

Sample list of documents required
As we have already explained, each university requests that different (and a different number of) forms be filled in, but you will be probably asked to complete at least

  •  a form for your registration
  •  a form for each grant for which you intend to apply
  •  a form for accommodation in your university halls of residence

Again, each of these forms requires in its turn different documents, but some are commonly requested by all universities.



Documents required


Application form for acceptance as PhD student

Your research proposal This is of course the most important element in your application package, the most decisive factor over your success in the application process and when approaching your potential supervisors. We have therefore devoted a separate section to this subject: The research proposal.

Your BA and MA results (or your degree certificate if you graduated abroad)

The minimum grade to be eligible for a PhD varies from department to department, but it is unlikely to be lower than a II.1. Nevertheless, even if you got a II.2 in your BA, you can ask your potential supervisor to make a special case, emphasizing, for example, that although your overall grade was II.2, you were very strong in the specific area on which you want to conduct your research.
As far as foreign degrees are concerned, we suggest you contact the Admissions Office of the university and make sure you comply with their requirements.

Letters of reference

The large majority of British universities ask for two letters of reference. It is important that you choose two scholars who have a good knowledge of your academic profile. Give them enough time, and maintain contact with them - tell them what you're applying for and when, also send them any relevant information - they will then be able to assess exactly what is required, and write a reference accordingly. Let them see your C.V. and don't forget to ASK them whether they want to see examples of your work BEFORE you send it.
As to the dispatch of these letters, they are the only documents that you may be asked not to send yourself, since some universities prefer them to be sent directly to registrar's offices by the referees.

Language certificate
(only for foreign students)

Again, the minimum grade to be eligible as a PhD student varies from department to department, just as recognised certificates do. Make sure you comply with the requirements as specified by the university's Admissions Office.

Curriculum vitae

- if requested

If a CV is required, it is a good idea to let your referees see it before you send it . They might have useful suggestions about how to improve it.
Every CV must be prepared (or rather customized) taking account of its addressees, but there are some elements you should not ever forget to indicate. Click here - Structuring a CV - to verify what they are.

Grant application forms

Application form for acceptance as PhD student

Some universities allow you automatically to compete for a grant when you submit your application (ie., you don't need to fill in any extra papers). Other universities ask you for a specific application. In this case you are very likely to be required to attach a copy of your main application form (or of a part of it, e.g. the research proposal).
A copy of your main application is normally required also by government one being the and private institutions advertising grants.

Letter of conditional acceptance

In some cases government and private institutions ask you to attach the letter of conditional acceptance for your PhD course to your grant application form.

Letters of reference

If you are required to apply separately for an internal scholarship, you will be probably be asked to submit extra copies of references. The easiest and fastest way to do it is to ask the same referees for them, too. Obviously, this solution also applies for any other requests for grants and scholarships to private institutions.
Likewise, the rule that these letters must be sent directly by referees themselves applies for the large majority of government and private institutions.

Language certificate (for foreign students)

It is normally required by University Graduate Schools, but if you have not got one, you can explain that you are going to attend an internal language course.
Such an explanation, however, may not be accepted by some institutions. Always double-check.

The results of your first degrees  

Document testifying to your residential status

In order to compete for some grants you might be asked to prove that you satisfy requirements regarding your nationality or place of residence.

Research proposal

This is of course the most important element in your application for funding. We have therefore devoted a separate tutorial to this topic: The research proposal.

Application form for accommodation

Application form for your enrolment

Many universities have accommodation for postgraduates (even if not all of them), but if you want a room in one of their halls you have to prove your status as prospective PhD student by producing a copy of your application form.

Document testifying to your personal status

According to the type of accommodation you request, universities may ask for documents proving some aspect of your social and personal situation, such as physical disabilities, marital status, number of children, etc.