Arts & Humanities vs STEM PhD Applications – What’s the Difference? | FindAPhD.com
Wide shot of people working in an office space

Arts & Humanities vs STEM PhD Applications – What’s the Difference?

The process of applying for a PhD can vary hugely depending on the discipline you’re interested in and what kind of project you choose to apply for.

Whereas pre-designed projects are very common in STEM subjects, it’s much more common for applicants in the Arts & Humanities to propose their own research idea. In this blog, we’ll take a look at the main differences between the two.

Applying for a STEM PhD

In the majority of cases, PhDs in STEM subjects are predesigned projects. This means that the research question and objectives will have already been set out for you, and your application will simply have to show that you’re the best person to carry it out – you can think of this as a bit like applying for a job.

You can find a project by searching for topic areas you’re interested in using our course finder. Projects might be advertised by individual universities or by Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) or Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTPs), which are research consortiums made up of universities and industry partners.

To apply, you’ll usually need a personal statement, cover letter, CV, academic transcripts and references.

It’s common for STEM PhDs to have funding attached. This means you don’t need to complete a separate funding application – if you’re successful in earning a spot on the PhD, all your expenses will be covered! However, this isn’t always the case. If your project isn’t funded, then you’ll need find an alternative – for UK students, this usually means combining the government’s doctoral loan with another source of funding such as a university scholarship.

It's pretty uncommon for STEM PhD applicants to propose their own research topic, but it is technically possible. In this case, your application process will more closely resemble that of an Arts or Humanities PhD. Speaking of which…

Apply for an Arts or Humanities PhD

If you’re applying for a PhD in the Arts or Humanities, it’s more likely that you’ll be proposing your own research project. Once you’ve decided on a topic you’d like to research, you’ll need to find and contact a supervisor. You’ll need an academic to agree to supervise your project before you can submit an application.

PhD applications are usually made directly to the university department you’ll be studying at. You’ll generally need to submit a research proposal, cover letter, CV, transcripts, references and a writing sample.

In terms of funding, things can be a little more complicated than for STEM applications. There are some UKRI studentships available for self-proposed PhD projects, which will cover your full tuition and living costs. It’s common for students to say they’d like to be considered for whatever studentships the university has access to when completing their main application, meaning you won’t have to apply for funding separately. Occasionally, you may be required to submit a separate funding application once you’ve been accepted as a PhD student – your supervisor can help you with this.

UKRI funding is competitive, and many students will need to find alternative sources of funding. As for self-funded STEM applicants, students looking to fund an Arts and Humanities PhD will generally do this through the UK government’s doctoral loan combined with a university scholarship, funding from charities and trusts or part-time work.

Browse PhD projects today

Ready to start your search? Browse over 4,000 PhDs, as well as opportunities to propose your own project, on our website.


You may also like...

PhD FAQS - Common Questions About Postgraduate Study

We've answered some of the most frequently asked questions about PhDs, covering course types, applications, funding and the benefits of further study.

Read more
PhD Applications - Information, Guidance & Advice

Getting ready to apply for a PhD? Our guides explain research proposals, references and entry tests for doctoral programmes.

Read more
How to Write a Great PhD Research Proposal | FindAPhD.com

Understand what a successful PhD research proposal needs to include and how to go about writing one for your project application.

Read more
Questions to Ask PhD Supervisors and How To Contact Them

Our guide explains how to contact a potential PhD supervisor to discuss your proposal or ideas with them before applying.

Read more
PhD Application Advice for International Students

A checklist of the things you'll need to do when making an international PhD application, from meeting the entry requirements to sorting out your visa.

Read more
Guide To All The Essential Study Abroad Documents

What documents you need for a complete study abroad application, what they are and what they should and should not include.

Read more


Last Updated: 02 May 2024