How Hard Is It to Get Into a Ph.D. Program? 11 Tips

If you are wondering how hard is it to get into a Ph.D. program, this blog is for you. For most students, including smart cookies, applying for Ph.D. programs is time-consuming and downright terrifying. It is necessary to send out as many applications as possible. This is because you are not guaranteed to receive good news from your top-choice university.

Most universities post complex guidelines that dictate the criteria for applying for a Ph.D. program. Getting the position you want can be tricky. Remember that the admission staff receives hundreds of well-crafted applications for only a handful of Ph.D. program positions. Fortunately, some tips could help you save time and increase the success chances of your applications.

  • Introduction
  • 11 Things You Should Know When Applying For A PhD. Position
  • A Guide to Prepare You for Your Ph.D. Interview
  • Conclusion

11 Things You Should Know When Applying For A Ph.D. Position

Numerous elements come to play when applying for grad school. Schools, programs, and countries differ in their requirements. This makes it hard to identify one solid “right way” to handle the application process.

Even if you apply this year and you’re turned down, addressing the highlighted concern next year doesn’t guarantee your application will be approved. While the process of presenting a solid grad school application is not a mystery, faculty members often disagree on what constitutes a strong application. The key to increasing your odds of being selected is preparing for the process, compiling and submitting a winning application.

Here are 11 tips that may make applying for a Ph.D. position more exciting and less overwhelming:

Start Early!

Most universities give you a whole season to submit your Ph.D. program application. While this is the case, it is necessary not to wait until the last minute to apply. Remember that it is crucial to research different doctorate programs before making your final choice. Additionally, you need plenty of time to send out a decent number of applications to multiple universities.

Have A Plan B For Your Plan B

If you are like most Ph.D. applicants, you will have a specific grad school that tickles your fancy. The chances are you have researched the university, visited it. Generally, you have established that it is the perfect place for you to pursue a Ph.D. The town is fantastic, and the academics are top-tier. You can only imagine how excited and stimulated you will be throughout the program. It can be a little tempting to send out just one application, cross your fingers, and hope for the best.

Sometimes, wishes come true. However, if you have researched how hard is it to get into a Ph.D. program, you know you have a 50/50 chance of securing a position. Resist the temptation of having your eyes set on one program and send out as many applications as possible. The idea is to have a decent number of backup choices in case your first-choice program turns down your application. Just ensure that you only apply to grad schools whose offers you can gladly accept.

Think Carefully About Your Preferred Area Of Specialty

The majority of fields of study are broad. You must take the time to zero in and pinpoint your exact preferred area of specialty. While you may be passionate about a whole subject and committed to becoming an agent of change, a Ph.D. program may only allow you to specialize in one area.

Think about the theoretical and practical aspects of various subjects before making your choice. Make sure you choose a topic you can remain passionate about for the next half a decade or so —the length of a Ph.D. program).

Research Potential Supervisors

The right supervisor can increase the chances of your project succeeding. On the other hand, the wrong one may turn your Ph.D. program into a nightmare. You owe yourself the favor of looking up the professors who may be supervising you. Get to know more about their academic achievements and publication record. You also want to know what the current and past students think about a specific supervisor.

Most importantly, find out whether you can meet a potential supervisor in advance and talk about your project. Get to know his/her availability and the kind of support you can expect.

Know What You’re Applying For

Grad schools offer a range of Ph.D. options. It is not foreign to find that even related programs have entirely different subject areas.

For instance, an Arts program may involve re-evaluating famous pieces or doing archival work. It may also include taking up formal teaching or optional development opportunities. While some universities are flexible in how students work with supervisors to meet specified goals, others have strict guidelines and requirements. It is imperative to have a clear understanding of what you’re getting into.

Reevaluate Your Level of Preparedness

As you evaluate how hard is it to get into a Ph.D. program, you must also embrace the challenges that tag along with pursuing a doctoral program. Such programs involve more specialized training. You may end up overwhelmed if you lack the experience expected of candidates in your chosen research area.

For instance, a Ph.D. program in life sciences requires candidates to have completed 3 or more months of lab experience. If you lack this experience, it may be necessary to get it or risk the admissions staff not perceiving you as a strong candidate for a program. Once you identify the field of study that genuinely interests you, it may be wise to postpone your Ph.D. application at least until you meet all the stipulated requirements.

Ask For Help When Necessary

You will bump into numerous people in the course of applying for a Ph.D. program. This includes your current lecturers and advisors, prospective supervisors, the head of grad school, admissions staff, and even other academics. Most of these people will be glad to lend a hand to ensure your Ph.D. application is successful. They will also be happy to offer advice about critical decisions, such as postponing your application or accepting an offer.

Do Some Scouting

Some universities are great, but their location may not be ideal for you. The hard truth is that your personal and professional life may have to mix once you begin your Ph.D. program. You may need to move closer to your grad school and hopefully find a new job within the area. It makes sense to do some scouting and check out both the university campus and your prospective home city. Make sure you like what you see before you apply for a Ph.D. program.

Don’t Forget Your Non-Academic Life.

Pursuing a Ph.D. in any field of study is time-consuming and often nerve-wracking. To safeguard your sanity and remain motivated, you must find a healthy balance between your academic and non-academic life. Your time in grad school also offers you a fantastic opportunity to make new friends from around the world and get to know more about their cultures.

Outside your lab, you can meet other like-minded people and enjoy cheap beer and moments of hearty laughter during the weekends. If you have to move to a new town to pursue your Ph.D., don’t underestimate the impact of your move on your routines and social life. Your journey to achieving a doctoral degree is likely to be easier and more enjoyable if you find time to step out of your academic life.

Take Time To Spruce Up Your Applications

This may seem like an obvious tip, but you must not take it lightly. Don’t just check out all requirements for a program and apply. It is essential to do some additional research and prep work. Compare different projects and Ph.D. programs. Also, take your time to re-read your statement of purpose and research proposals on various applications. Be sure also to ask a friend to read your application too and give you an honest opinion.

Don’t be afraid to make some last-minute changes if you deem them necessary. Also, I hope for the best and prepare for the Ph.D. interview in advance.


 If you are still wondering how hard is it to get into a Ph.D. program, well, the process can be stressful, expensive, time-consuming, and intense even for the strong-hearted. Breaking your back to meet the application requirements for various prospective positions may be necessary but don’t forget to take care of yourself. Take a breather from time to time and enjoy coffee with a friend or relative.

As a brilliant young mind, the world depends on you to think straight and renew your hope for the future. If you put in all the hard work and your applications are rejected, don’t lose hope; apply again next year.

A Guide to Prepare You for Your Ph.D. Interview

If you have received an offer for a Ph.D. program; Congratulations! This means you sent out a strong application, and the admission staff thinks you are qualified and intellectually capable of pursuing their Ph.D. program. The next step is to attend a Ph.D. interview. This is where the admission committee will determine whether you have the passion and motivation needed to complete your Ph.D. program.

The Ph.D. interview allows you to shine, show the admission staff who you are and what you are capable of achieving. Whether the interview takes place over Skype or face to face with a prospective supervisor, there are a few tips that could help you ace it!

Here are basic ways to prepare for your Ph.D. interview:

  •  Read through your statement of purpose and research proposal
  •  Prepare yourself to discuss your research interests in more detail
  •  Practice how to express your drive for pursuing a specific doctoral program
  •  Acquaint yourself with the work of your prospective supervisor
  •  Find out more about the available scholarships and funding sources of a Ph.D. program
  • Prepare a list of questions for the interviewers

Remain Positive And Motivated!

So, how hard is it to get into a Ph.D. program? Well, the process can be intense and daunting, with numerous steps you must follow diligently and with patience. Each step is essential in ensuring you submit a strong application. Applying our tips may not make the application process a lot easier. However, it could see to it that the time and effort you put into the process yields the desired results.

Good Luck!


Subscribe Newsletter

Subscribe to our newsletter to receive regular updates on opportunities for students, teachers and administrators to the fast-paced world of higher educaiton.