You are here

How to Find a PhD That’s Right for You

How to Find a PhD That’s Right for You main image

A professor told me once that enrolling in a PhD is a way to prolong one’s childhood. As I got to know this kind of life better I began to understand where that statement was coming from. In my academic journey I realized that the PhD life is indeed a process of constant search and discovery leading to sheer joy but also disappointment… just like when you are a kid. The difference is, however, that you can’t really shape your childhood to be as happy as you would want, but your PhD “extension childhood” is completely under your control. So, to help you find a PhD that really works for you, here are a few PhD search tips I would like to share:

1. Start your PhD search early

Even though most universities advertise the fact that they have more than one round of PhD applications, they do have limited spots – and limited funding. So it’s best to start your PhD search as soon as possible, and start applying from the November-December before you intend to enroll. This will also help you prepare PhD applications for other external scholarships that might be available, as most are conditional on already having received an offer from a university.

2. Identify what you’re really interested in

By now, you should’ve already completed an MSc or an MRes, so you should have a pretty good idea about most subjects in your field of study. It might not be so clear from the beginning of your PhD search what you want to focus on. However, if there’s a particular topic that keeps you most active in class and provides intriguing discussion topics with friends in your free time, it’s a sign that this is the right subject for you to find a PhD in. In my opinion, in order to be successful in pursuing a PhD you need to make your research part of your lifestyle; it shouldn’t represent something you simply stop thinking about when you get out of work. New ideas can arise in the most unusual situations and places.

3. Study university rankings in your preferred field

The first thing to do when starting your search for institutions is to look at university rankings filtered by your subject of interest (see, for example, the QS World University Rankings by Subject). If it is a niche subject, you might not easily find dedicated university rankings, but you should look at those based on the university department that will accommodate your interests. The lists are long, but don’t get discouraged. Take your time, analyze the university rankings well and make your own list based on your preferences. You should refrain from discarding top options just because you think your chances of being accepted are slim. If you follow this short guide, I’m positive you’ll fulfill all the necessary requirements!

4. Talk to professors and current PhD students

Your current or past professors should have a good knowledge of how things actually work inside the department of a specific university, and they are the first people you should contact to help you find a PhD. Most importantly, they can suggest other professors that could be your PhD supervisors, and provide advice to help you find a PhD which is a good match for your character and interests. The next thing you should do is contact PhD students at the universities you’re most interested in and ask for inside information about their PhD life, including what it’s like to work with specific professors.

5. Think about the social aspects of PhD life, but don’t make it a priority

It is important to think about the social side of your life as well during your PhD search. You need to ensure that it will be possible to have some kind of extra-curricular activity – doing sports, going out from time to time, going to the theater or cinema. Big cities with warm, pleasant weather can be quite enticing when it comes to this aspect. However, you shouldn’t let this be a decisive factor in your choice… chances are you’ll spend most of your time in the library or a study room anyway. Also remember that too many enticing activities can sometimes mean too many distractions from academic work.

Now that we’ve got these things covered, you should be ready to start writing those PhD  applications. I wish you the best of luck in this new adventure!

Originally from Romania, Valeria is preparing to start a PhD in behavioral economics at the UK’s University of Nottingham. After receiving the 2012 QS Scholarship for Central and Eastern European Women, she completed an MSc in economics at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. She’s also written about the benefits of joining a study group, advice on how to write a master’s thesis, and her favorite things to do while studying in Amsterdam.





Get personal advice about graduate study

Join the QS World Grad School Tour - coming soon to a city near you - for personal advice about graduate degrees, admissions, international study and funding. You'll have the opportunity to speak with admissions directors from grad schools around the world, attend free seminars, pick up a copy of the QS Top Grad School Guide, and apply to exclusive scholarships.

Raxmatillo K, Asmamaw A & 10 others saved this
Iulia600's profile image
Written by Valeria Burdea

Want to leave a comment?

Please login or register to post
comment above our articles


Hi, I want to apply in PhD, preferably research based. The research area which I want to choose is Islamic banking and finance. I have MSc in Economics with 3.5. Addionally I have completed MPhil in Economics that is 48 credit hours degree (24 course work and 24 thesis). I have co-authored a book as well which was published by an international publisher. I am professional in banking and having 15 years plus experience. Please advise which universities are good for me to apply for addimission in PhD. I want a university where GRE is not a requirement. Please advise. You may write in email to me on [email protected]

Hi Abdullah, You can find out all you need to know about finding and funding a PhD in our guide here. If you're looking to compare the top universities for postgraduate study, you can do so here. You can find some more tips about finding and applying for PhDs here

Hello! I am a post graduate in commerce and a Chartered Accountant and I want to pursue PhD from Canada. Please help me in choosing the respective/relevant
field with 100% scholarship assistance

Hy. I am Farhad.I have completed the coursework of my Master of Philosophy(Development Studies) and doing my research on a tourism. I want to know about PhD scholarship in Tourism or any opportunity with low tuition fee. Kindly guide me accordingly. Thanks

Hi im Jaya .. I have completed Mtech ..in Embedded systems i want to do phd in canada. I want to know how to get scholarship for phd in canada..

Thanks in advance


Hi Jaya, please take a look at our list of scholarships to study in Canada, which includes options to study a PhD.

Hi. I am a Mauritian resident. I have a MBA with specialization in International Business and a PPGD in Marketing from the Chartered Institute of Marketing. I have more than 3 years of Managerial experience and now I would like to pursue my PHD program. Please advise. Am I eligible for any scholarships.

what is the procedures to apply at any universities to Bachelors

Hello, application procedures vary depending on the university and country you study at - if you'd like to study abroad, our guide on how to apply to university abroad should help to get you started. :)

Hi I am highly interested about Master degree or PhD degree in any U.S.A. University of Veterinary Medicine (companion animal internal medicine). Please any recomendation and about scholarship on twition and the procedure or aproach method to the right University.
Best regards.
Aris from Greece D.V.M.

my name is sana i want scholarship for mphil in European countries plz help me

Hi Sana. We have some information about sources of research funding in Europe here: https://www.topuniversities.com/student-info/student-finance/research-funding-european-universities

And some general information about PhD funding here: https://www.topuniversities.com/blog/phd-funding-around-world

Hope this is helpful!