First things first, how do PhD funding applications actually work? It obviously depends on the type of funding you apply for, but here are some general pointers to get you started.
Applying for PhD funding vs applying for a PhD
If your PhD is advertised as a funded project then you won't need to make a separate application for funding: you simply apply for the PhD opportunity and get the stipend or studentship that comes with it. This is common in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects. If that's you, you don't really need the advice on this page – you can just get started finding a funded PhD!
If you're proposing your own PhD topic then you will need to apply for funding separately. This is common in Arts, Humanities and Social Science subjects, though some STEM projects are also advertised for self-funded students. If you're one of them then the information here is designed to help you.
Where to apply
A lot of PhD funding is already allocated to universities, even if the money itself comes from an external source. This is the case for UK Research Council studentships as well as many scholarships from large charities like the Leverhulme Trust or the Wolfson Foundation.
You normally apply for this kind of funding after the university has accepted your PhD application. Sometimes it's a completely separate process, or you may automatically be entered into consideration for a PhD scholarship from your university.
Other funding bodies like smaller charities or learned societies will usually accept applications directly from students. They may also want confirmation that you've been accepted for a PhD before they'll consider you.
Applications for the PhD loan go directly to student finance. You'll need to say where you plan to do your PhD, but you don't need to have finished applying for it yet.
Deadlines for PhD funding are usually set quite far in advance. You may need to begin your funding application during the winter or early spring of the academic year before your degree starts. This provides time for funders to assess applications and select candidates (most PhD scholarships and studentships are awarded competitively).
Deadlines for student loans are more relaxed as only your basic eligibility needs to be checked. For example, you can actually apply for a UK PhD loan at any point up until three months before the end of your degree.
What you'll need
Application requirements for PhD funding are similar to those for a PhD.
You'll normally need to provide details of your existing or pending qualifications, a proposal for the project you plan to research, and some form of personal statement that explains your broader goals and establishes your 'fit' with this scholarship or studentship. Some funders may also ask to see an appropriate academic CV and references.
Bear in mind that the things a funder wants to see may be slightly different to the things a university wants to see. For example, they may care less about the academic detail and methodology for your project and more about how its outcomes support their own objectives.