How to apply for postgraduate research degrees

You can apply online using our application portal, where you will be able to submit your research proposal, academic CV and other supporting documents.

The full process for applying for a postgraduate research degree is outlined below step-by-step:

Please ensure that you meet the entry criteria for your programme of interest and have read through the information about the application process on this page.

The following guidelines are designed to help you submit a successful PhD research degree application to Exeter.

The information below applies to self-funded PhD, MPhil and Masters by Research applicants, but if you are applying for a funded PhD studentship, please follow the instructions as part of that application. 

Pinpoint your PhD research area

As part of your application you will need to construct a research proposal. This will need to be detailed enough to show that you’ve selected a well-defined research question.

Investigate whether this area is available at Exeter

You will only be able to pursue a research degree with us if we can offer appropriate supervision. Your supervisors will provide the necessary support and guidance and so need to have expertise in your chosen research field. You may join a research team or work with specific members of staff.

You can identify if we offer your PhD research area by:

Browsing or Using our search

Ensure that you meet our English language entry requirements (international students only)

These can be found on the research topics and degrees pages of our postgraduate research website.

Construct and refine your PhD research proposal

In addition to references you will also need to supply a research proposal with your application (see supporting documents required accordion below for further details). The research proposal should demonstrate to your potential supervisors that you have identified a piece of research which is well thought out and achievable. Every research proposal will be different dependent on your chosen topic, subject area and type of research degree, but there are some common guidelines.

The perfect research proposal:

  • follows any guidance on the department’s webpages
  • is refined a number of times before submission
  • contains a strong sense of project direction
  • has clear objectives, rationale and methodology
  • indicates how the anticipated findings will be novel
  • demonstrates planned time scales and project management skills
  • identifies potential challenges and seeks ways to overcome these

Further information on how to write a successful research proposal can be found in our Research Proposal Guidance Brochure.

Approach your potential supervisor(s)

We strongly recommend that you informally approach your potential (s) with your research proposal before submitting a formal application to study. This will enable you to find out if you feel they would be able to supervise you and whether they believe your research proposal needs further refinement.

Business School

All applications for PhD subjects within the Business School must include a letter from a member of faculty stating they are willing to supervise you.

Apply online

The simplest and quickest way to apply for a research degree is to use our online application system. You can also access this from the Apply online links from every research topic page.

If you are applying for a PhD studentship, you need to click on the 'Apply now' button under 'How to apply' in the relevant individual studentship page to access the application for that particular studentship.

PhD studentships pages can be accessed in our Funding lists on Finance tabs under each research topic page, and are also available from the Postgraduate Research search results pages on this site, on the PhD projects tab.

2021/22 academic year

Application deadlines 

Most subject areas do no have specific deadlines for applications, though the majority of students start in September.

Business School

If you are applying for a PhD in the Business School, please note they operate a gathered field approach with applications being considered at three points during a year. The deadlines for Business School PhD applications are:

  • 21 January
  • 6 May
  • 30 September.

Email acknowledgement of receipt of your application

Within two working days of receipt.

Notification of our decision via email

For research programmes all applications are referred to Academic departments for a decision. The Departments aim to make a decision promptly depending on supporting documentation required but during peak/teaching vacation periods this may take longer.

We aim to make a decision within 20 working days from receipt of a complete application with all required supporting documents. The decision will be communicated to you by email.

Requesting supporting documents

Where your application is deemed to be incomplete or additional information is required we will contact you. Please note that if you do not reply, following our third request we will determine that you no longer wish to continue with your application and we will withdraw it. In order to ensure you submit a complete application please see details on supporting documents (accordion below), this will avoid delays in us dealing with your application.

Accommodation application deadline

For information about accommodation and deadlines please visit the Accommodation webpages. If you have any questions regarding accommodation, please contact the Accommodation Office. You must hold a firmly accepted offer before you can apply for accommodation.

Recommended deadline for meeting outstanding offer conditions

We recommend that you meet any outstanding conditions by 31 August 2022 for programmes beginning September 2022 or 4 weeks before the official start date for all other programmes. However we know that this is not always possible. If you cannot meet the conditions by the start of your programme please get in touch with the admissions team, who will advise of your options to either defer your entry, or if permissible, facilitate an adjusted start date.

Research programmes (MbyRes/MPhil/PhD)

1. A research proposal (1,000-2,500 words).

Your research proposal should cover the preliminary ideas of your research area, indicating the general area of study, objectives and hypotheses, methodology, sources of data, etc. For Science and Engineering applications a shorter outline of your topic may be sufficient. You are advised to contact the relevant Department for further guidance on the appropriate format for your proposal.

This information will assist us in considering your application and in determining whether we can offer supervision in the area you wish to study. If you have not identified a single research topic, you should outline several subjects which interest you and which could serve as a basis for further discussion. Your prospective School or Department may ask you to provide a more detailed research proposal before we can make a decision on whether to offer you a place.

2. At least one completed reference:

The following forms can be used but endorsed references will also be accepted (see below):

Reference form (Word doc)

Check whether one or two references are required for the programme for which you are applying.

You should supply at least one reference from an academic referee who is in a position to comment on the standard of your academic work and suitability for postgraduate level study. Where this is not possible, we will accept references from other sources that provide evidence of your ability to undertake postgraduate study and suitability for your chosen programme (for example an employer or colleague). We cannot accept references from family members, partners or spouses.

Once you have your reference you can either upload via the online application system (if you have not yet submitted your application or the reference can be posted to us or sent via email to the Admissions Office directly. If your referee emails your reference to us we can only accept this if it is sent from a university or company email address. Paper reference forms should be endorsed by an appropriate institution/company official stamp. Alternatively we can accept a letter of reference on official institution/company letterhead.

3. A transcript (in English or a certified translation) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained.

Please send scanned or certified copies of transcripts and not the originals*; however, in order to apply for a UK student visa and register at the start of your programme, you will need to produce your original certificates and transcripts.

*The University cannot guarantee the return of original documents. We therefore request that you do not send original documentation during the admissions process and should you choose to send originals you do so at your own risk.

4. English language proficiency results

If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your proficiency in English to the UKVI and University's required standards.

Can I send my supporting documentation in after my application?

We recommend uploading all supporting documents with your application as this makes the process much quicker and enables us to make a faster decision on your application.

You can apply before completing all of your academic qualifications but you will need to provide any interim transcripts that you have to support your application.

International students

If you are an international student and you have not yet completed your academic or English language qualifications we will normally be able to make you an offer on condition of completing these and supplying any required references. You will need to provide documentary evidence that you have met these conditions before your offer can be considered unconditional.

We do not require original copies at the application stage and would not recommend that you send these during the application process. Please note that ALL international students will need to show original or certified copies of academic qualification/s and (if applicable) an English language qualification at registration along with your current passport and (if appropriate) student visa.

For all research degrees you will normally be required to have obtained or expect to obtain a first degree equivalent to at least a UK 2:1 Honours degree. You will need at least a 2:1 or its equivalent in order to be considered by any of the main funding bodies. For some programmes we also consider evidence of relevant personal, professional and educational experience.

Where an applicant has taken or is taking, more than one academic qualification that meets our entry requirements, the University reserves the right to make an offer on the most recent academic qualification.

Specific requirements for programmes

Entry requirements for research programmes vary and are dependent on your previous academic qualifications, experience and personal qualities.  Please see individual research topic pages and also contact your College of interest to discuss your suitability.

International qualification equivalencies

For information on the equivalence of international qualifications, please see the International Students website.

You can also download a pdf of EU PGT Qualifications Equivalency Guide

Receipt of application

We will acknowledge receipt of your application via email within 24 hours. If you do not receive this email within the stated timeframe please contact us at We would strongly recommend that you check your email settings before applying to ensure email addresses are not blocked or sent to your spam or junk mail folders.

If you have not sent all the required supporting documents (See accordion above) we need to make a decision, we will email you to provide you with information on the documentation we require. Please send this information to us as soon as possible so we can make a decision on whether to offer you a place. Please see supporting documents (accordion above) for information on the minimum documentation we need to make an initial decision. You should ensure you quote your Exeter Reference Number in all correspondence with us.

If you have not yet completed your academic or English language qualifications, if your academic profile meets our requirements, we will normally be able to make you an offer which is conditional on completing these qualifications and supplying any required references. You will need to provide evidence that you have met these conditions before your offer can be considered unconditional. For further information see once you have an offer.

Our decision

Research programme applications

For postgraduate research applications, we aim to make a decision within 20 working days, as your application will need to be reviewed by potential supervisors, depending on the additional information we require (for example, further details of your research proposal).

You will receive either a conditional or unconditional offer from us, or we will inform you that we are unable to offer you a place. We will notify you of our decision by email (or by letter if you have not provided an email address).

If we are able to make you an offer, your offer letter will be sent via email.

Can I appeal a decision?

If your application has been unsuccessful you can appeal the decision by emailing the Admissions team. This must be done within a maximum of three months of receiving your decision. You need to include details of the programme for which you applied, your Exeter Reference Number, and your grounds for appeal. You can only appeal against a decision once.

The majority of programmes do not require an interview as part of the selection process. If an interview is required, the purpose and format will be communicated to you clearly in advance so you know what to expect and what role this plays in the overall selection process.

Where programmes include interviews or tests as part of their selection criteria we will make this explicit to you, provide details on how the interviews will be conducted as well as the criteria used to select successful candidates. Find out more about our interview policy.

We do not normally require additional written work to supplement an application, although in individual cases we may request this and will explain the reasons for such a request.

If you are unable to apply online, you can complete a paper application form (pdf). You will also need to complete an equal opportunities monitoring form (pdf) and enclose a cover sheet with your supporting documents.

It is possible to change programmes. If the programme you wish to change to is within the same College you will need to provide a new personal statement clearly outlining your reasons. If the programme is not within the same College you will be required to reapply, via the normal route. Please note if you are a Tier 4 Visa holder there may be other implications. If you have any queries, please email

You must check with the College if they will allow you to change. If they are happy with this they will contact the Admissions Office, and a new offer letter will be sent to you. Please be aware that if you are an International student, due to visa regulations, you will not be permitted to study part-time.

It is possible to apply for more than one programme, however, we would ask you to consider your choices carefully and ensure your personal statement is relevant to your choice(s). You can hold more than one offer, but you can only accept one.