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Academic Requirements:

The POLIS PhD programme has high academic requirements and a large number of applicants who meet them.

If you do not meet the criteria listed below, it is unlikely you will be offered a place.

Those requirements are both:

  •  an undergraduate degree with a first class from a UK university, or a GPA of at least 3.85 from a non-UK university (or equivalent)
  • a masters degree in a subject relevant to your PhD application, with a distinction-level result or GPA of at least 3.85, either completed or expected (for those still on the course)


The following must be submitted with your application*:

  • A detailed research proposal. This should be no more than 2,500 words (including footnotes and titles, but not including a bibliography). It should outline the subject of the intended research and thesis. It can indicate the methodology to be adopted and the sources to be used, and give a sense of how it is intended to make a contribution to existing knowledge. It should include a working title.
  • Full transcripts of your academic record at university.
  • Two referees should submit references on your behalf. These referees would normally be university academics, who would have known you for at least six months.
  • Evidence of competence in English:  If English is not your native language, and you have not previously been a student at the University of Cambridge, you will need to submit evidence of competence in English.
    The language tests accepted are IELTS (at least 7.5, with 7.0 or higher in each component) and TOEFL (a minimum score of 110, with at least 25 in each component).

*Please note: if any of these are absent, the application cannot be successful.

The application portal will close at 23:59pm (midnight) UK time on the  advertised deadline date.


In addition:

Please identify 2-3 potential supervisors on your application form. A list of academic staff and their area of interest can be seen here

We strongly encourage you to include information about your ranking within your academic year for both your undergraduate and masters degree.

This is provided by most universities upon your request if it is not already contained within the university transcript, and additional documents with this information can be uploaded with the transcript.

We anticipate that successful applicants will be in the top 20% of their academic years, although we recognise that in programmes with highly competitive entry standards, this condition may be relaxed. 

Applicants who are unable to provide any information about their ranking in their academic year will be at a disadvantage in the application process compared with those who do. If no formal ranking is obtainable, the onus is on the applicant to ensure that their referees provide as much detailed relevant information about completed assessments to enable an estimate to be made of their ranking. Simply stating ‘1/100’ without providing data to support this claim will not be considered a meaningful ranking.

In addition to the documents listed above, you are entitled to upload a CV and a sample of written work, and to arrange for a personal referee to submit a reference on your behalf (if you are applying for a Gates scholarship).

Key deadlines 

  • Funding and application deadlines for 2024-25 have now passed.
  • Funding and application deadlines for 2025-265 will open in September 2024.

Please be advised that it can take up to 12 weeks for the department to consider applications 

Shortlisted applicants are often invited to participate in an interview, usually with a prospective supervisor, and we may be in touch individually via your nominated email address if we seek an interview. Interviews will be held between 15th - 19th January 2024. Alternative dates outside of this week will not be offered.  

Please note that only applicants with a start date of October can be accepted onto the PhD program. Start dates cannot be deferred or changed.

Next steps

"The structure of the PhD course, amazing staff, the events and workshops organised by the different centres at POLIS all provide a fertile ground for one to thrive. The diversity of research topics means you are always learning something different from your colleagues. I am grateful to be part of the POLIS family."   

Edward Murambwa, PhD Student POLIS