Application process

Applying for a PhD


Known as a research degree, the PhD is usually a four year (full-time) or five to seven year (part-time) course of independent and original research which is supervised by an academic specialist in the subject area. 

You will contribute new research in the form of a thesis suitable for publication which is usually around 100,000 words. It is examined by two examiners, one internal and one external who read your work and then ask you to defend it in an oral exam, the viva voce. 

PhDs are traditionally research based, although the integrated PhDs, also known as New Route PhDs, combine research with more vocational training. Increasingly taught courses are compulsory in the first year. 

Professional doctorates are useful for students interested in careers outside academia and consist of a taught core and incorporate both professional practice and academic knowledge. They are available in education (EdD), engineering (EngD or DEng) and business (DBA). 

Why do a PhD?

People complete PhDs for a variety of reasons: 

  • love of a particular part of their subject

  • springboard into a new career

  • access to excellent resources/training useful for non-academic careers

  • as a pre-requisite for academic careers.

As well as planning then conducting research and writing the thesis, PhD students will often teach undergraduate or master’s students, support more senior academics in their research work, publish articles, attend and present at conferences, work with business or other organisations to explore the value of their research in other fields outside academia (impact), collaborate with organisations or individuals (knowledge exchange) and contribute to their field in voluntary capacity (for example, as a reviewer, event organiser, network co-ordinator). 

When can I do a PhD?

You can do a PhD if you have at least an Upper Second relevant first degree or a relevant master’s. You must have in-depth knowledge of your subject area and be able to present a comprehensive research proposal. Some people start the PhD straight after completing a master’s, other people work outside academia for a few years and then apply for the PhD. 

Before starting a PhD you could apply for a job as a graduate research assistant where you would support the research of an academic in your department, teach, take part in laboratory work and complete your own research. You could also consider completing a PhD part-time whilst in a job. 

Researching into PhDs

Choosing the right programme takes time and research. It is important to apply to departments that specialise in your topic. Check the research quality assessed in the Research Excellence Framework (REF 2014) and also the quality of the teaching in the department via the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) ratings. 

Talk to people who know the field about where they recommend is a good place to study. 

You can apply in one of two ways. You create the topic yourself, pitch it at your preferred institution in a Research Proposal and hope to gain funding via the institution. Alternatively, you can apply to work on a topic which has been agreed between a funding council and an institution and then advertised as a PhD position. If you are accepted funding will be assured. 

We recommend you take time to: 

Making an application

  • Read the LSE guidance on applying for a PhD.  

  • You will need to write a research proposal, personal statement and have a CV. 

  • The referees you choose are important as they will write about your academic achievements and potential. Get in touch with them early and ask for their advice too. 

  • Search programmes with spaces at LSE

Useful publications in the LSE Careers physical library

  • Your PhD Companion, Stephen Marshall and Nick Green, 2004.

  • The PhD Application Handbook, Peter Bentley, 2006.

  • How To Get a PhD: third edition, Estelle Phillips and Derek Pugh, 2001.

Useful online information

Related pages

Application forms

Application forms


Cover letters