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PhD Application Advice for International Students

Written by Ben Taylor

Applying for a PhD can be a complicated process at the best of times, but if you’re making an international PhD application there are extra complexities to take into account, such as visas, residence permits and language tests.

This page is a checklist of the typical PhD requirements for international students, giving you an idea of the steps you’ll need to take when applying for a PhD abroad.

#1 Choose your PhD

The first (and one of the most important!) parts of your international PhD journey is to find and choose a PhD programme that appeals to you and your research interests. Generally speaking, these will fall under one of the following two categories:

  • Self-proposed projects, where you submit your own research proposal
  • Advertised positions, where you apply to a PhD project that has already been agreed on

Our programme directory is the perfect place to begin this part of your search, with thousands of PhDs listed.

#2 Make sure you meet the PhD entry requirements for international students

You’ll need to check the entry requirements for your chosen PhD project and make sure that you meet them. You should ensure that your Bachelors and / or Masters qualification is in a relevant subject area and also that you achieved a sufficiently high enough academic grade.

In the UK, this grade will usually need to be a 2.1 at undergraduate level and a Merit or Distinction in your Masters. Depending on which country you completed your previous university education in, you may need to seek further advice and guidance on whether your qualification and grade meets the entry requirements. The UK ENIC (the UK’s centre for the recognition of international qualifications) can advise you on this if you’re applying for a UK PhD.

Proof of your English language proficiency is another important part of an international PhD application. If you haven’t already studied in an English-speaking country, you’ll usually need to provide an English language test result, such as IELTS or TOEFL.

#3 Contact a supervisor

The next box to tick in your international PhD application checklist is to contact and introduce yourself to the supervisor you’d like to work with during your doctorate.

If you’re applying for an advertised position, this part is fairly simple. But if you’re putting forward your own proposal, you’ll have to actually find and choose a supervisor first before you can contact them.

#4 Apply for the PhD!

Once you’ve received the backing of a supervisor, you can apply for the PhD itself. Bear in mind that you might need to provide and send certified copies of your academic transcripts and certificates, which can take a considerable amount of time if you need to have them translated and posted.

You may also be invited to take part in a video interview over Skype or Zoom.

#5 Check funding options

Being an international student can sometimes make it trickier to access PhD funding that is reserved for domestic researchers. However, the situation in the UK has improved in recent years, with international students eligible to apply for generous Research Council studentships from the 2021-22 academic year onwards.

In any case, there are several funding options in the UK that you should consider as an international student:

Our guide to applying for PhD funding has lots of information and advice on navigating this part of the process.

#6 Apply for a PhD student visa

The final stage in the international PhD application process is to sort out your student visa. We’ve written a comprehensive guide to the UK’s point-based Student Route visa system, which has information on:

If you’re already thinking about your post-PhD plans, the UK’s Graduate Route post-study work visa is an exciting opportunity, allowing PhD graduates to live and work in the UK for up to three years after finishing their doctorate.


Last Updated: 25 June 2021