Universities set their own requirements for what PhD application documents they want you to send as part of your application.  In this post, we tell you about the documents and information they generally ask for.

1.  Your Research Proposal

We start with the research proposal, because this is by far the most important document in your PhD application.

Your research proposal is a detailed plan of the research that you’re applying to do with the university.  In this document, you tell the university what you are going to research, why it’s important to do this research, and how you plan to do it.

Make sure to take a look at our tips for how to write your PhD research proposal.

2.  University Application Form

You apply for your PhD using the university’s online application form.  In this, you provide general information about yourself, such as your personal and contact details, your qualifications, and your work history.

3.  Name of PhD Supervisor

Before you apply for your PhD, you should find out about academics at the university with interest in your research area.

Many universities encourage you to get in touch with the academic before you send your PhD application.  This way, the potential supervisor can tell you whether or not he or she is interested in your research project, and is available to act as your supervisor.

If you have identified a potential PhD supervisor, put his or her name in your application.  So, when the admissions staff receive your application, they will know to send it directly to this member of staff.

4.  Academic Transcripts and Certificates

With your PhD application, you need to include your undergraduate and Masters transcripts and degree certificates.  If you’re applying without a Masters degree, make sure to read our post on this topic.

A transcript is a detailed record of the subjects, modules and exams that you have taken.  It usually provides an explanation of the grading system, and shows the grades you have achieved including your average grade.

If you haven’t finished your degree yet, you should send a provisional transcript showing your results and progress so far.

As for the graduation certificates, not all universities ask for them when you first apply.  Usually, your academic transcripts will provide the information the admissions staff need to assess your application.

5.  Official Translations

Any application documents that are not in English may need to be officially translated by a certified or sworn translator.  This is a person who has the required licence to work as a translator.

Usually, certified translations must include the following details:

  • The full name of the translator
  • The translator’s or translation company’s contact details
  • Date of translation
  • A statement confirming that the translated document is an accurate translation of the original document

6.  Proof of English Language Ability

If English is not your first language, you will be required to provide proof of your proficiency level.

Check the university’s website for information on the English language tests they accept, and the scores they require.  The university may be able to accept other evidence, such as an undergraduate degree taught entirely in English.  But it will depend on the type of degree, and where you have completed it.

If you haven’t yet reached the scores required by the university by the time you apply, say in your application what your current score is and when you are planning to take or retake the test.

It’s worth knowing that if you have to apply for a student visa, the UK visa authorities will only accept English language tests from specific providers.  You will find this information on the university’s website.

7.  Personal Statement

The PhD personal statement is also known as a ‘statement of purpose’.  This is usually one page in length, and you use this document to introduce yourself to the university.

You write the personal statement in addition to your research proposal, which is a separate document.

In your personal statement you tell the university why you are applying for a PhD programme, why you have chosen to apply to this specific university, and what makes you an ideal candidate.

You can do this by giving more details of your qualifications and experience, including any relevant work history, and by outlining your future career plans.

8.  Academic References

With your Phd application, you should also include two academic references. These are letters of recommendation from two academic members of staff from your previous university.  If you left university a while ago, you could provide one academic reference and one work reference.

Make sure you select your referees carefully and only ask someone who knows you well to provide a recommendation for you.

If you have been given reference letters, you can upload them online with your PhD application.  However, first check if the university accepts references in this format.

When completing your online application, you will be asked to provide your referees’ contact details.  After you submit your application, the university will contact your referees directly to get confidential recommendations for you.

Some universities do not accept ‘open’ references.  These are reference letters that have been given to you directly from your previous university, employer or other referee.

9.  CV or Resume

Unless it’s a requirement that has been specified by the university, there is no need to include your CV.

The only exception to this is if your professional experience is relevant to your research project.  Or, if you’re requesting admission onto a PhD programme based on your work history.

If you do include your CV with your application, make sure you still complete the relevant sections of the application form.  Don’t simply write ‘see CV’ – it’s not helpful to the admissions staff reading your application.

10.  Writing Samples

For some PhD subjects, you may need to send one or two samples of your written work.  For example an essay or a short story.

Usually, writing samples are required for subjects like literature, media studies, philosophy, history or sociology.  However, any department could ask for them, including science subjects.

Your writing samples will help the university assess:

      • Your analytical abilities
      • Your critical thinking
      • Whether you can write in a logical, clear and coherent manner
      • Your ability to build and defend an academic argument
      • Your creative writing skills (if you are applying for a PhD in an arts subject or literature)

11.  Portfolio and Video Auditions

For PhD programmes in creative subjects, you will usually need to include a portfolio showing examples of your work.

Performance-based PhD programmes that involve an audition, such as music or drama,  may accept a video audition, if you’re unable to travel to the university for a live audition.

12.  Passport Copy

This isn’t relevant when the university is considering your application.  However, if you need to apply for a student visa, the university will request a copy of your passport, so it can later send you the relevant documents you need to apply for a student visa.

It’s easier if you send this copy together with your PhD application.  This can prevent any delays to your visa application later on in the application process.

13.  Originals or Copies?

You may need to send your original qualification documents by post, in addition to uploading scanned copies online.

If the university asks for your original documents, send an original copy of your transcript.  You can usually request additional copies from the university that issued your transcript.

However, your degree certificate is unique and will be difficult to replace if it’s lost or if the university in the UK is unable to return it to you.  We wouldn’t recommend sending your original certificate until you have received and accepted an unconditional offer from the university.  And then, only send it if the university asks you to provide it for them.

In any case, you could always ask if the university will accept a ‘certified copy’ of your degree certificate. You can get this from the university that awarded you your degree, or from a public notary or solicitor. A certified copy should be acceptable in most situations.

14.  Your Availability for Interview

When considering your PhD application, your potential research supervisor might decide to interview you to find out more about you and your research plans.

Therefore, it’s a good idea to indicate to the university in your application your availability for interview.  For example, if you have travel plans and won’t be available for a specific period – make sure to mention this.

Final Thoughts

The PhD application documents list that we provided in this post may seem long to you.  However, most of the information UK universities ask for is relatively straightforward.

Finding out about academic research interests and making contact with the relevant academic before you send your PhD application is very important. It’s also best to do this before you start working on your application.

The aspects of your PhD application that will take more time and effort to complete are your personal statement and, most of all, your PhD research proposal.

Many academics will read your PhD research proposal first.  If they like what they see, they will read the rest of your application.  Make sure to get this part of your application absolutely right.

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