The Ultimate PhD Application Checklist for International Students
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The Ultimate PhD Application Checklist for International Students

Written by Taru Medha

Applying for a PhD as an international student can feel a bit daunting. Have you definitely applied for the right visa? Which language test do you need to do? At what point should you book your flights? There’s a lot to consider!

You may decide to use a study abroad consultant (sometimes referred to as a counsellor) who you usually pay to help you with your application and papers. But, as we’ve explained in our blog, they’re not for everyone.

So to help you feel confident that you’ve got everything covered in your PhD application, here’s a checklist of all the things that you need to do (and have) from the very beginning all the way through to when you are ready to fly. Have a read, make some notes and then refer back to it as many times as you wish throughout your application process.

Let’s get the basics out of the way

To apply for a PhD degree abroad, you must have completed a Masters first. Most PhD degrees require you to have got a certain mark on your Masters to be able to get in. At this stage, also make sure you have all your previous transcripts ready because you will be needing them for your application.

More importantly, you must hold a passport with enough validity (most countries ask you to have one valid until six months from the end date on your student visa) and enough blank pages.

Once those are out of the way, you are ready to begin the actual bulk of the process. It is important to take the application process step-by-step, so you do not miss out on anything important.

#1: Find the right PhD

It all begins with knowing where you are going to be spending the next three to five years of your life.

At this stage you probably have an idea of your area of PhD research. Depending on your area of research, there are two ways to go forward. You can search for advertised PhD programmes (more common in ‘STEM’ subjects) or you can propose your own topic to a supervisor or university (more common in Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences).

Finding a PhD is nothing like looking for a Masters degree. For one, it is a longer and more ambitious commitment. So, make sure the PhD you choose pairs with your passion and interests. The other important factor to consider is the supervisor you work with.

You can browse through a list of thousands of PhD courses on our website and find one what is best for you.

#2 Take the required language/admission test

The next step is to take a language proficiency test as specified by your university. You can find this information listed in the entry requirements for your course. Since most universities now offer courses in English, you would most likely be required to take the IELTS or TOEFL.

Some universities also accept other English language tests like the Cambridge English Certificates, the PTE Academic or the Duolingo test.

If you want to study a PhD in Business and Management, You may also be asked to take additional admission test like the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT).

#3 Get your supporting documents ready

You should now have all your initial documentation including your previous transcripts and your language/academic test results with you. If you are proposing your own project, you will need to submit a research proposal which outlines the scope and significance of your PhD topic. It is crucial to your PhD application as it judges your ability to plan and explain your research topic.

For advertised PhDs, you might still need Letters of Recommendation (LOR) or References and a Statement of Purpose (SOP) or personal statement to complete your application.

References are a way to attest to your eligibility and character and can be provided by your previous professors or a recent employer. As you are waiting for your test scores, this is a good time to get in touch with your referees. Remember to give them enough time to get back to you.

A personal statement is a short essay that allows you to talk about yourself, why you want to apply for the course and why you think you are a suitable candidate.

#4 Research and apply for scholarships

You can search for and apply for scholarships alongside your application. The best place to begin your search is the university website. Most universities offer generous scholarships to international students.

You can then look at the country’s government websites to know about any other government grants, bursaries or scholarships that might be applicable to you. It might also be a good option to look at websites that have a comprehensive list of scholarships, offered by other private or public firms, available for every country.

Once you have all of the above, you are ready to make your application.


From there on, it is a waiting game. In most cases, you need to have a letter of admission from a university before you can proceed with any of the next steps.

#5 Apply for your student visa

The first thing you should do after you have confirmation from your university is apply for your student visa. Even though visa requirements differ according to your nationality and the country you are applying to, if you are an international student and need a visa to enter, you will need the following documents almost everywhere:

  • A valid passport
  • Letter of admission from a recognised institution
  • Proof of financial means (in the form of recent bank statements or confirmation of scholarship)
  • Proof of language proficiency

Some countries also ask you to provide a medical certificate and health insurance as part of the visa application. You can find a list of everything you need to submit on the country’s official website.

#6 Book your accommodation

Whether you opt for university-provided accommodation or a private one, it is advisable to book your accommodation well in advance so you’re not panicking about where you’re going to spend the first few nights in a new country. Moreover, some countries also ask you to provide proof of residence when you apply for a student visa.

#7 Get health insurance

Despite it being a requirement on the visa application for a lot of countries, it is always a good idea to have international health insurance. With health insurance you are sure you are covered in case of an accident or unforeseen illness without it burning a massive hole in your pocket.

You should now be ready to show up at the airport with your hopes and dreams (and your luggage) and begin your study abroad journey.

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Last Updated: 16 November 2022