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FAQ

Applying

Should I make contact with my prospective supervisor before applying?

Is it possible to visit POLIS before applying?

I’m not a native English speaker, but my earlier degrees have been in English-speaking countries or taught in English. Do I still need to take an English proficiency test?

Which college should I apply to?

Does the department have mature students? Can my family come with me?

Am I expected to have two academic referees even though I’ve been out of university for 10 years?

Funding

If I don’t receive funding a scholarship from the Gates Trust, the AHRC or ESRC, can the department fund my studies?

Studying and living in Cambridge

How do you appoint a supervisor?

How do I organise my accommodation?

Do I have to stay in Cambridge during the academic year?

 

Should I make contact with my prospective supervisor before applying?

There is no need, and it won’t make a difference to the likely success of the application. Individual supervisors cannot provisionally accept your application or agree to supervise you if you are accepted. The decisions about admission are made by a departmental committee that reviews your academic record, your research proposal and your references, not by individual supervisors.

Is it possible to visit POLIS before applying?

Whilst we welcome applicants to visit the University, we hope to have provided all necessary information on the website. If there are additional questions you have, it’s easier to obtain answers through emailing us on enquiries@polis.cam.ac.uk than by visiting the department office.

I’m not a native English speaker, but my earlier degrees have been in English-speaking countries or taught in English. Do I still need to take an English proficiency test?

The university’s rules on this matter vary by country. It is best to check on this page if you think your proficiency has already been established through your earlier academic work.

Which college should I apply to?

The University of Cambridge is a collegiate university, and each college offers an extra dimension to student life.  All students are required to be members of a college.

Cambridge colleges are not associated with particular academic disciplines.  All teaching for graduate students in POLIS is provided by the department, not by the college. You are therefore free to apply to any college you choose. When you are choosing your college, you may like to think about the following questions:

  • Would I prefer an all-graduate college or an undergraduate college with graduate students?
  • How likely is it that the colleges I am considering will be able to provide me with living accommodation?
  • Do the colleges I am considering have large international communities?
  • Are these colleges able to offer travel or other grants?
  • Do I have sporting or other extra-curricular interests or particular needs that are provided for by specific colleges?
  • (For female applicants) Would I prefer a women-only college or a mixed college?

When completing the application form for admission, you can indicate two college preferences for college membership or you can make an open application which will allocate you to college which hasn’t otherwise received many applications.

The academic decision on whether to recommend you for a place on your chosen course is made by the Department to which you apply, not the college. Your application papers will be sent to the colleges only after a formal academic offer of admission has been made by the University.

Please note that once you have been allocated a college place it is not possible to change colleges.

Does the department have mature students? Can my family come with me?

Yes, many of our PhD students are mature, and have worked for many years in careers such as journalism, the NGO sector, the civil service and diplomacy, the military or business. Many bring partners and children with them to reside in Cambridge for the duration of the PhD. You should however be aware of the implications. There will obviously be financial considerations to consider (see the maintenance calculator on this university page) and accommodation provision from colleges may be harder to obtain. It is worth looking at the webpages of individual colleges to see which are able to provide appropriate accommodation, if this is sought. 

Information for PhD students with young children can be found on the pages of the university's Childcare Office.

Am I expected to have two academic referees even though I’ve been out of university for 10 years?

We recognise that the evaluation of some of our mature PhD applicants is better represented by references from their non-university professional lives. In such cases, we would still like to have at least one reference from someone who knows you principally in an academic capacity, such as a former lecturer. If you have been out of university life for a number of years, a second reference from a professional context is acceptable, although it would be beneficial for this to be from someone who can speak to your intellectual and analytical abilities.

If I don’t receive funding a scholarship from the Gates Trust, the AHRC or ESRC, can the university fund my studies?

Some of our PhD students are funded by the Cambridge Trust, and you will be considered automatically for this if you tick the relevant box on the application and you do not receive funding from an external institution. There are also a variety of other, smaller, sources of money, often for specific nationalities or subjects, and the university lists such sources on its student funding search page.

How do you appoint a supervisor?

If your application is successful we will search for an appropriate supervisor. You may however consider, in your research proposal, who you think would be a possible academic supervisor for your work, and provide a name in the relevant section of the application form. This does not increase the likelihood of the acceptance of your application, but it may be useful in steering us in thinking which speciality pf the supervisor would best complement your academic interests (for example, for those proposing multi-disciplinary or cross-regional research projects).

How do I organise my accommodation?

The colleges are able to house many of their full-time graduate students, either in the colleges themselves or in graduate hostels or purpose-built flats. For many graduate students, this is the principal role of the college in their lives. You may prefer to find your own living accommodation independently of the college, particularly if you are bringing a family with you, or may have to do so if the college cannot house you throughout your PhD. If so, you can get help from the Accommodation Service , which is responsible for letting 360 University-owned properties. These are a mixture of furnished and unfurnished one-, two- and three- bedroom flats and houses located at different sites across the city. Demand for these is high and priority is given to those who are new to Cambridge.

Do I have to stay in Cambridge during the academic year?

The University year consists of three terms, the dates for which are provided here. No full-time student can be a candidate for a Cambridge degree unless he or she has spent at least three terms resident in Cambridge; for a term to be 'kept' a student has to reside in Cambridge for a minimum number of nights (59 for the Michaelmas and Lent Terms and 56 for the Easter Term). Students can apply for Leave to Work Away from Cambridge in order to conduct research following the successful completion of their first year registration exercise, which if granted excuses the need to keep term.