Applying for a PhD

The key feature of the PhD is that it is yours: the topic, planning, motivation, and thinking come from you.

Computer studying

Thinking about PhD study? Hear from our PGR Director and the PGR Admissions Tutor

This video is from our PhD study virtual event in 2022. It will answer a range of questions such as:

  • What is a PhD?

  • What does a PhD involve?

  • How do I apply?

  • What funding is available and how do I apply for it?

The event was led by the PGR Director, Dr Kate Weiner, and the PGR Admissions Tutor, Dr Laura Connelly. Laura and Kate are joined by two current PhD students, Danica and Yingzi.

Our next PhD virtual event will be Monday 13th November 2023 4-5pm. Please email for more information.

We offer PhD study on a full and part-time basis. The full-time PhD programme runs over three years and part-time runs over six years.

A PhD is an independent piece of research and writing that presents an original contribution to existing knowledge within a given discipline. The thesis is usually around 80,000 words. You will usually be allocated two supervisors who will facilitate your progress throughout the PhD. The PhD will be the most challenging type of academic work you have ever done but it should also be the most rewarding.

Entry requirements

Candidates applying for a PhD place must:

  • Hold a 2:1 or first class honours degree in Sociology, Social Policy, Social Work or a related Social Science discipline. 
  • AND hold or expect to obtain a Masters degree (Merit or Distinction) in  Sociology, Social Policy, Social Work or a related Social Science discipline. 

Candidates applying for a 1+3.5 scholarship, may apply for a PhD place without a Masters degree but their PhD place will be conditional upon completion of the Masters. 

Overseas candidates

For those candidates for whom English is not their first language or who do not possess a degree from an educational institution using the English language for instruction, there are minimum English language requirements of an IELTS average of 6.5 or above (with not less than 6.0 in any component).

The University's English Language Teaching Centre runs courses in July and August in each year. You may be made an offer of a place on condition that you meet the University's English language requirement.

Our New PGR Bridge Programme for International Applicants

We now also offer a bridge programme at the English Language Teaching Centre (ELTC) which aims to help selected applicants to gain the required academic skills to produce a successful application proposal and familiarise themselves with what it means to do a doctorate in the UK Higher Education system.

How does it work?

  • You apply for a doctoral  place in the Department of your choice as you normally would. Please check each department’s entry criteria and what is expected in terms of a research proposal.  If there is a potential supervision team that is interested in your idea but thinks that your proposal does not show the quality needed yet they can recommend you to the English Language Teaching Centre (ELTC) Bridge Programme.
  • You need to be recommended by your potential supervision team to join the Bridge programme but you cannot apply to the ELTC directly. 
  • You need to have satisfied all other entry requirements for the doctoral programme you are applying for (e.g. previous qualifications, references). The only exception is English Language: we will accept candidates who are within 0.5 of the required IELTS band to the Bridge Programme. Any offer would be conditional on passing both components of the Bridge Programme’s assessment. 

What is the ELTC Bridge Programme?

  • It is a 6-week online course organised by the ELTC . You will receive skills training every day and also look at and work on sample proposals. You can then, of course, apply the skills to your own proposal. In parallel you will be working on your proposal with your potential supervisors. They will give you feedback to improve it and look at drafts.
  • At the end of the course you will have to undertake two assessments: 1) an assessment set by the ELTC to assess the academic skills you have learned. If you pass you will get a certificate of successful completion; 2) an assessment of your revised proposal to decide whether it now meets the standard required to undertake a doctoral degree at the University of Sheffield. If it does, you will be offered a place (provided all other entry requirements are fulfilled as well) to do your research project with the chosen supervisor team. If the proposal does not pass you will not be offered a place but you can of course take the much improved proposal to apply to any other university of your choice.

 How much does it cost?

  • The 6 week course costs £425/week and takes place online.

Am I guaranteed a place of study if I do the Bridge Programme? 

  • No, this is not a pre-sessional course. Your offer will be conditional on you passing both assessments described here above.

Guide to submitting your PhD application

The Department of Sociological Studies receives a large number of PhD applications every year. The following guidelines have been written in order to help you submit a high quality application that is targeted to the research strengths of staff within the Department.

In order to consider your application for a PhD we require you to submit two documents: a supporting statement and a research proposal.

Supporting statement

Your supporting statement will help us to reach a decision on your application. You should address the following questions (around 1,000 words):

  • Why did you choose to apply to the Department of Sociological Studies, University of Sheffield?
  • How you will support yourself financially whilst completing the PhD?
  • How does your proposal fit the broad research interests and expertise of staff within the Department. Often a proposal will need minor adaptation to fall within an area of staff expertise. In order to improve your chances of success it is worthwhile reviewing the academic profile of the various staff in the Department before you submit an application. Details of the research interests of our academic staff can be found here or and on their individual staff web pages, or explore our research pages.

Research proposal

Applications for admission to a research degree cannot be dealt with unless they contain a proposal.  Please add your research proposal within the 'Supporting Documents' section of the Postgraduate Applications Online System. See our guidance on developing your research proposal.

Application process

Taking up a place as a research student is a two stage process. The first stage is to seek admission to the department of your choice; the second stage is to obtain financial support for your graduate programme.

All applicants are given every assistance in seeking financial support and the possibilities will be discussed with you as part of the admissions process.

Initial enquiries

You need not worry about this stage of the process if you feel you have sufficient information about the department. Enquiries are welcome at any time of year. You may if you wish contact a potential supervisor directly but if that member of staff is away from Sheffield at the time of your enquiry a reply can be considerably delayed. You can get in touch with our Recruitment and Admissions Assistant at, who will be able to give you personal help and advice and pass your enquiry to an appropriate supervisor or supervisors. If you wish to undertake your research with a specific member of staff please make this clear to the admissions tutor.

Application form

Application forms are available from the University web pages for prospective postgraduates. The online application form requires you to provide standard information about yourself and your past academic performance. Please ensure that you complete this information thoroughly and accurately and that you provide evidence of your qualifications (both those already gained and those that you plan to take in the near future).

You are also asked for the names of two referees, preferably academic referees. At least one of these should be from your most recent place of study. Your referees should be able to comment on your academic record and your research potential and will ideally have seen a copy of your proposal.

Postgraduate Online Application Form

We will usually arrange to meet with you to discuss your application, either in person, by telephone or online.

Should you have any queries regarding your application please contact Our aim is to deal with your application promptly, although most applications are considered by at least two members of staff and the process can take up to three weeks in total. Again, you can contact us at any time if you want to know the progress of your application.

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