One way to fund your PhD is to win a scholarship from your university or from an independent organisation such as a charity, trust or research foundation.
This guide will help you understand how different types of scholarship work and what you need to apply for them. It also explains the important differences between scholarships and studentships or other types of PhD funding.
A PhD scholarship is an amount of money paid to an individual student to help them complete a PhD (or other type of doctorate).
Eligibility and selection for a scholarship are usually based on personal criteria and circumstances:
Some PhD scholarships combine these principles (for example, by seeking to identify students with high academic potential from under-represented backgrounds). It's a good idea to check the specific criteria before you apply.
Some PhD funding awards are labelled as studentships instead of scholarships.
Whereas a scholarship provides a certain amount of funding for a student to study at PhD level, a studentship funds the completion of a specific project (and is almost always ongoing throughout a PhD).
Good examples of PhD studentships are those offered by the UK's Research Councils. These awards are either linked to advertised PhD opportunities or awarded to students for the projects they propose. Either way, the studentship funding is tied to the project.
The difference between PhD scholarships and PhD studentships isn't always clear-cut, but the end result is usually the same: both are (potential) funding for you to do your PhD!
A PhD scholarship will almost always make a significant contribution to covering the cost of a PhD, but the exact value varies. Some awards provide full funding for fees and living costs over the typical length of your PhD. Others may simply provide a lump sum for you to put towards your expenses.
Whatever its value, a scholarshipn, unlike a PhD loan, doesn't need to be repaid.
The first place to look for a PhD scholarship (or other funding) should be the university you study at. Most research-intensive universities have funding available to help support their postgraduate students. Universities are also involved in awarding other funding from governments, charities or businesses.
Scholarships (and similar awards) from universities include:
You can learn more about these and other options, or start searching for awards, using our guide to PhD funding from universities.
Some PhD scholarships are specifically designed to support international students. They can be particularly helpful if you aren't eligible for other forms of public funding (such as student loans or national studentships) in the country you wish to study abroad in.
Examples of international PhD scholarships include:
Most international scholarships are very generous, with funding available for PhD fees, living costs and travel expenses. But they can also be very competitive. See our guide to international PhD funding for more information.
PhD scholarships, grants and bursaries are also offered by some independent organisations.
Good examples include medical charities, such as the British Heart Foundation, or broader research foundations such as the Wellcome Trust or Leverhulme Trust. Many smaller bodies such as local heritage organisations, special interest groups or philanthropic societies will also contribute towards supporting PhD students and their research.
The value of charitable scholarships varies a lot. Some awards are equivalent to full PhD studentships (and may already be attached to projects). Others are small grants designed to help top up other funding.
Our guide to PhD funding from charities and trusts explains how this kind of funding works and how to go about finding and applying for it.
Most PhD scholarships can be combined with other funding such as doctoral loans, income from working during a PhD, or other grants and scholarships. Smaller scholarships are often designed to be used in this way as part of a 'portfolio funding' approach to your PhD.
However, it's always worth checking the criteria for any scholarship you apply for. Some larger scholarships are designed to offer full funding and won't be awarded to applicants who have already covered part of the cost of their PhD.
Application and eligibility crtieria for PhD scholarships are as varied as the different organisations who offer them. So, your first step should always be to check the details before you apply.
Scholarship providers will generally want to see some or all of the following:
If you aren't sure what you need to provide for a PhD scholarship application, get in touch with the funding body and check – it's better to take a bit more time preparing now than to waste an application because you've missed a key requirement.
Applying for PhD scholarships can be a busy time, particularly if you're also in the process of applying for your PhD itself. Follow these steps to make the process easier (and hopefully more successful!):
In general, it's a good idea to start your funding search early and to seek advice from your prospective supervisor (if possible). Elsewhere in this section you can read more about other types of PhD funding, or read student stories news and advice on our PhD study blog.
Last updated - 11/12/2020