Top Tips for a Successful PhD Application

The first part of any PhD is to get accepted as a PhD candidate. Here are some tips on how to increase your chances of a successful application.


  1. Do your research before applying. Develop criteria for evaluating universities, programmes, supervisors and research ideas and identify the university, supervisor and research project that best suits your interests and needs.
  2. Make informal contact with your prospective supervisor. It is best to meet your prospective supervisor in person, or speak to him or her on the phone. At the very least, you should send him or her your proposal for preliminary feedback.
  3. Read the requirements for the application process carefully and make sure you have all the necessary documents before you submit the application.
  4. Be meticulous when completing the application form. Get someone else to read through it for you and make sure you have proofread it carefully.  Typographical, spelling and grammatical errors in the application create a bad impression.
  5. Emphasise your qualities, particularly those that will help you be successful at independent research. But remember to be honest and not exaggerate your abilities.
  6. Make sure you select your referees carefully. Their reports could make all the difference. Ask their permission and preferably speak to them about your plans. At the very least send them an email with details and an attached curriculum vitae.
  7. Spend a lot of time and effort in preparing your research proposal. It is probably the most important part of your application and you should treat it as if it is the PhD itself. Research, write and reference it formally. Proofread it carefully and get feedback from trusted academics that you have studied under before sending it informally to your prospective supervisor (tip 2 above).
  8. Make sure you have the requisite qualifications, both academic and, where relevant, English language. Your application will be rejected if you have not achieved the required standard. If in doubt, speak to the postgraduate office of the university you will be applying to.
  9. Make sure you have the funding available and can provide proof of funding if necessary.
  10. Meet the deadline.