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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:

  •  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.


In addition:

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 

  • If you wish to be considered for Gates funding the deadline is 12 October 2022 for US citizens
  • For all other funding, the deadline is 1 December 2022
  • Applications close on 1 December 2022

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 16th - 20th January 2023, please ensure that you are available. 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

"I approached my PhD with a specific next step in mind: returning home to the United States for law school. As an aspiring law professor, my research crosses disciplinary boundaries between international relations, history, and law. POLIS has more than accommodated these varied interests. I’ve been encouraged at every step to embrace a creative and expansive approach to IR scholarship, such that my research has been more historically informed and theoretically driven while remaining relevant to my future studies and career"

Jack Brake, PhD Student POLIS