A quick guide to the doctoral application process

1. Identify your area of interest

There are two main types of PhD project – those that are predesigned by an academic (more common in science and engineering subjects), and those you design yourself.  

  • A predesigned project will often form part of a wider research initiative being undertaken by an academic or research group. The project will usually have a defined title, fixed aims and objectives, and be supervised by the academic who designed it. Swansea advertises several of these opportunities throughout the year. You can find projects with funding attached on our research scholarships web page and projects for self-funded students on our PhD projects page.
  • Your own research idea will take a little more work to get off the ground. After coming up with a project, you need to identify a potential research supervisor. A good starting point is to find the University department with the areas of strength that are most relevant to your research. You can also search Swansea’s directory of expertise to find an academic with research interests close to your own. 

2. Contact your prospective supervisor

If you have identified a predesigned project you would like to apply for, simply follow the application instructions on the advert. This will often involve submitting an academic CV with a covering letter.

If you have identified a prospective supervisor for your own research idea, you need to contact them prior to submitting a formal application. Academics welcome informal approaches from prospective students – include in your email a brief description of your research idea and details of your academic background.

3. Submit a formal application, including your research proposal

Once you are in touch with your prospective supervisor, they will be able to help you with your research proposal. You can then submit a formal application for postgraduate study. This is usually just a formality, as your supervisor will already have decided whether or not they are able to supervise your project.

Special Notice:

Application procedures for funded places may vary. You can view details of all current research funding on our research scholarships page.


You will be required to submit two references along with your formal application and research proposal. If you graduated within the last five years, these should be lecturers or tutors from a previous course.

If there's been a long gap since you last studied, admissions tutors will sometimes accept references from an employer or another appropriate individual who can comment on your academic ability. References from relatives or friends will not be accepted.

If you are using a previous employer as a reference, think carefully about who you ask. An employer's reference is only valuable if you're looking to research an area in which your employment is relevant.

How should references be submitted?

References should be submitted EITHER:

  • On the relevant PG Reference Form OR
  • On headed paper OR
  • Be emailed from an academic email account.

When should I apply?

For individual research proposals, there are usually several possible start-dates:

  • 1st October
  • 1st January
  • 1st April
  • 1st July

These are subject to approval by the appropriate academic school. You should be contacting prospective supervisors well in advance of possible start dates. In particular, you should apply for your course well before any deadlines for funding that you intend to pursue, as funding applications can often be time-consuming to put together. Most funding bodies have spring deadlines.

Predesigned projects and funded studentships will usually have an application deadline – apply as soon as you have identified a project you are interested in.