Written by Chris Banyard
To study for a PhD, you will need to meet certain entry requirements before the application process.
This is generalised guidance for most PhD programmes – you should check the specific PhD entry requirements and PhD eligibility criteria for each programme you apply for.
Additionally, there may be certain circumstances in which a special case could be made for an applicant who doesn’t meet the standard PhD requirements. You should discuss this with the potential PhD supervisor or admissions administrator.
Qualifications and academic eligibility
In most cases, a PhD applicant will need to show good performance at undergraduate level. This PhD entry requirement means at least a UK upper second class honours degree (2.1). This needs to be in a relevant discipline for the PhD study.
You may also need a Masters degree, in a relevant subject, to be eligible for a PhD application. Again, you should show good performance at this level, with a Merit or Distinction grade – please see table below for typical grade boundaries in the UK.
Typically, Arts and Humanities PhDs are more likely to require a Masters degree. For Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) PhDs, an undergraduate degree may be sufficient. This depends in the individual degree programme.
Masters Degree Grades
||Merit / Commendation
||Borderline Pass / Fail
What if I have a Masters, but my undergraduate degree is in a different subject or field?
A Masters degree usually supersedes a Bachelors, meaning that the undergraduate degree grade is less significant.
What if I have different qualifications?
International equivalents to these degrees may be accepted – the research institution you apply to will assess their suitability.
A special case may be made if an applicant does not have a typical formal qualification. For example, if you have extensive professional experience in a relevant area, it might make up for a lack of previous academic qualification. However, this is down to the discretion of the PhD supervisor and / or university, and they might ask you to undertake extra study.
A research institution will only admit students who they believe will complete the PhD to a high standard and within the time limit. Prospective doctoral researchers should also have a demonstrable interest in the area of study.
This is usually evaluated via the application process. A PhD supervisor will consider aspects of the application to determine whether you show enough competency and dedication for a PhD:
In most circumstances, a PhD student will need to be a resident of the country in which the research is being completed at the time of study, or hold a relevant visa.
International students (including EU, EEA and Swiss nationals) require a Student Route visa to study a PhD in the UK.
For PhD programmes beginning on 1 January 2021 onwards, EU, EEA and Swiss students will need to apply for a students visa in the UK. Find out more in our Brexit blog.
Similar visa requirements may be needed to study a PhD in other countries. Typically, in order to qualify for a visa for PhD study you will need to:
- Be studying full-time
- Have confirmation of enrolment before applying for a visa
- Have enough monetary support for the full length of study
The documentation you will need depends on your country of study. Always check the specific requirements for each country. Take a look at our international PhD study guide for more information.
If your PhD is not conducted in your first language, you may need to provide evidence of your proficiency. This is usually through a language test such as TOEFL or IELTS.
There may be some exceptions to this, such as if you have already studied an English-language degree in a native English-speaking country, for example.
Can I complete the language proficiency tests later?
Language proficiency tests usually need to be completed before the PhD start date. In some cases, it may be possible to receive an offer of enrolment for a PhD without the language proficiency, but this is normally conditional upon passing the test before the PhD start.
Other graduate entry tests
Some universities may require prospective students to take a graduate entry test in order to be eligible for a PhD. These are more common in the USA, Canada, and Australia for PhD applications.
This may be a general test or a subject-specific one. Also, some tests are more widely accepted than others. You should always check the particular PhD requirements.