Interested in how to get a PhD? Pursuing a doctorate degree is an exciting step in your educational journey, but learning how to get into grad school, how to apply to PhD programs and what to expect once you’re accepted can be intimidating, and you’ll have many questions. In this blog, we aim to answer all your questions about how to get a PhD, from whether a PhD is the right choice for you, how to choose and apply to a program, what your PhD timeline will look like and what resources out there can help you achieve your goal.

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11 min read

How to Get a PhD: Decide if a PhD is Right For You How to Get a PhD: Find and Apply to PhD Programs How to Get a PhD: A Guide to PhD Program Timelines Resources for PhD Applicants and Candidates Conclusion & FAQs

How to Get a PhD: Decide if a PhD is Right For You

Before we jump into the nuts and bolts of exactly how to get a PhD, you first need to ask yourself “why do you want to do a PhD?” and be sure that it’s the right path for you. If you’re still in the early stages of researching what it takes to get a PhD and whether you have the time, drive and commitment to go on this journey, first ask yourself this question. For those of you who are already sure of your course and need a step-by-step guide of how to get a PhD, feel free to skip to the next section on how to apply and what your PhD program options are!

If you’re still wondering whether a PhD is the right program for you, here’s a few reasons why you might choose to pursue a PhD:

  • You have a Master’s degree and you’re interested in furthering your education
  • Your chosen career path requires a PhD or advanced degree
  • You’ve completed a Master’s degree but a PhD will allow you to find new job opportunities, increase your salary potential or expand your network
  • You’re interested in a research or educational role in your field, or in how to find a job in academia
  • You’re interested in changing careers or your field of interest

Note that if you’re an undergrad or haven’t completed a master’s program, the question of whether you should pursue a master’s or PhD program depends on your goals. For example, if you want to change your career field, you’ll most likely need to complete a Master’s degree first before applying to a PhD. But it is possible to get a PhD without a Master’s degree in some circumstances if you’re interested in jumping straight to a PhD program.

Also note the differences between doctoral degrees. No matter which path you choose, you will be considered an expert in your field, but the type of work you’ll be qualified for will depend on your program and career goals. There are two general “types” of doctorate degrees: the PhD and the professional doctorate.


A PhD, or Doctor of Philosophy degree, is an umbrella term for a research-focused program that invites you to contribute meaningful advancements and new knowledge to your chosen field. Individuals usually pursue a PhD to become researchers, professors, consultants and sometimes even enter industry jobs after a PhD. These types of programs cover a wide range of careers, from psychology to public health, from economics to the arts.

Professional Doctorate Degree

A professional doctorate degree prepares you for professional jobs in important industries. For instance, if you want to know how to get into law school or how to get into medical school, you would actually graduate with a JD or MD, both a type of doctorate degree. Professional doctorate degrees also include a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD), advanced Nursing degrees (DN) and even Doctor of Business Administration (DBA), to give you a few examples.

For those of you pursuing a PhD in your field, you may be drawn to a research or teaching role and want to get a tenure track position at a university, or maybe you want to transition from academia to industry once you’ve completed your studies.

Whatever your career goals are, you should think carefully about whether a PhD is either necessary or a worthy goal for you. Earning a PhD is a huge commitment not only of your time and money, but of your passions and efforts. If your answer is yes, a PhD is right for you, the next step is to figure out how to get a PhD.

First, we’ll look at how to find the right PhD program for you and how to apply to PhD programs.

How to Get a PhD: Find and Apply to PhD Programs

How do you find PhD programs? The same way you likely searched for the best undergraduate or master’s program. University websites typically have a separate section or even a separate website for graduate admissions, and you can find information on what PhD and advanced programs they offer. You can easily search for the options in your field—or the field you’re interested in switching to—and find everything from the most competitive PhD programs to the easiest PhD programs to get into.

You can also find dual degree programs which combine a master’s and a PhD, like MD-PhD programs for those of you who want to become medical researchers. There are tons of options out there, so it’s worth checking out different universities and the many types of programs to see what the right fit for you might be.

If you’re thinking about how long it takes to get a PhD and you want to speed things up a bit, there are a few different kinds of PhD programs out there:

  • Full-time PhD programs (typically 4-7 years)
  • Part-time PhD programs (6-8 years)
  • Direct entry PhD programs (4-5 years)
  • Online and Accelerated PhD programs (1-3 years)

The right kind of PhD program may depend on a variety of factors, including your schedule, personal and professional commitments, budget and desired career path. For example, an online program is usually much faster and you can do a PhD without a dissertation, but it’s available only for a few disciplines. You can’t complete say, a PhD in Engineering in such a short time period. Direct entry PhD programs might appeal to you so you can skip the master’s degree, but they are also naturally more competitive and have more rigorous admission requirements.

How to Apply to PhD Programs

Once you’ve found and chosen a PhD program or created a list of programs you want to apply to, the next step in how to get a PhD is to tackle the application. As you can imagine, the grad school application is an involved process. Fortunately the admission requirements for a PhD are similar to other graduate school programs and undergraduate programs.

Here’s the shortlist of what you’ll need for your application to a PhD:

This is the general list of requirements for a PhD program, but some may have additional requirements, such as asking you to submit a research interest statement along with your research proposal, or to take one of the GRE subject tests. Always double check what the admission requirements are when applying, since they can vary between programs.

Here’s a brief overview of how you can meet all of the PhD admission requirements listed above:

Funding for Your PhD

A crucial part of how to get a PhD is finding funding for your degree. Unlike a bachelor’s degree or a master’s, funding a doctorate degree is a little more complicated and a little harder to do. Some PhD programs are fully funded, meaning as a PhD student, your research, student fees and expenses are covered while you’re completing your program. Other programs are partially funded or self-funded, meaning you as the PhD student have to find the money to complete your degree. Most PhD programs offer research assistantships or teaching assistantships that help you pay for your education in exchange for participation in research or teaching responsibilities at the university.

This is also where PhD scholarships, grants, bursaries and other forms of funding come in. As a PhD student, you may also be eligible to apply for financial aid at some programs. It’s up to you to figure out how you will fund your doctorate degree and your research. Fortunately, this is a common requirement for PhD students and there are many options out there, from PhD loans to scholarships to assistantships and studentships to government funding.

If you like, you can also apply exclusively to fully funded PhD programs, but this might limit your choices. Some students also work during their PhD in a part-time program, but of course it’s better not to rely only on your earnings to fund your degree.

How to Get a PhD: A Guide to PhD Program Timelines

Once you’ve submitted your application or been accepted to a PhD program, what next? Here’s a look at the PhD application timeline and curriculum you can expect, from the first meeting with your program supervisor to your graduation and beyond.

1. Initial Meeting with Your Academic Advisor

One of the first things you’ll do as a PhD student is meet with your academic advisor or supervisor. This is the university faculty member who will act as your mentor and guide throughout your PhD program. You may have a faculty member assigned to you or you may be able to choose your own advisor. Choose your advisor carefully, since they’ll be a significant resource for you in the years to come!

2. Research Proposal

Writing your research proposal is usually part of the application stage of getting a PhD, but it is essentially the first step in this journey. Once you’ve chosen a topic, you’ll write a research proposal to submit to a PhD admissions committee. It’s basically your offer of what you’ll be researching during your time as a PhD student and what you plan to contribute to the program and the field of interest. It’s important that your proposal is unique and presents fresh ideas or will bring new knowledge to your field of study. If the topic you want to research has been done before and isn’t “new”, your proposal may be rejected, and you’ll be denied admission.

Some programs may ask you to submit your research proposal later in the program or submit an updated version of your research proposal once you’ve completed required coursework or your literature review. Be ready to answer research proposal questions from your advisor and make any necessary changes. From there, your PhD committee or academic advisor will need to approve your proposal and give you the green light to start conducting research.

3. Coursework, Electives and Exams

For the first year or two of a PhD program, you’ll be completing the preliminary work of your thesis or dissertation. You may also use this time to complete required advanced coursework in your degree or take electives that interest you.

Once you’ve completed the coursework required for your PhD, you’ll take a written examination (sometimes called the ‘preliminary’ or comprehensive exam). This exam will determine whether you’ve successfully completed the coursework requirements and have the necessary skills to continue your PhD program. Once you’ve passed it, you’ll be able to move on to the next phase of your program, which is conducting your own research and preparing to submit your thesis.

4. Extracurriculars

During your time as a PhD student, you’ll be expected to participate in a number of activities and extracurriculars, in addition to your coursework and independent research.

Teaching Responsibilities

Many PhDs will have teaching responsibilities, including hosting undergraduate seminars or acting as a teaching assistant providing feedback and grading assignments. If you’re a PhD in a science department, you might work as a lab supervisor for undergraduate students. PhDs might take on these roles as part of their program or they may fulfill them through an assistantship program.

Attending Academic Conferences

PhD students also attend academic conferences and events in their field, which allows them to expand their professional network, socialize with their colleagues and discover the latest innovations and developments in their field. You may have the chance to present during these events, which is not only an excellent addition to your resume but another way to network, improve your presentation skills and introduce your own work to your peers.

Grad Student Publishing

PhD students publish during their program to increase their academic profile and gain some experience with the academic publishing and peer review process. It’s not always a stated requirement to graduate, but publishing is a vital part of academic, as demonstrated by the saying “publish or perish” in academic circles. Whether or not you’ve published during your time as a PhD student will also certainly come up during postdoc interview questions, and you’ll be expected to talk about your experiences.

5. Research and Data Collection

Around the third year, you’ll go through the process of getting your research proposal approved and start conducting your own original research. As you work, you’ll take detailed notes and begin drafting your thesis. This is where the research-intensive work of a PhD is centered. You’ll also be doing a great deal of reading in your proposed area of research for the literature review. The review gives you a solid understanding of your research area and background information that will inform your original research.

6. Writing Your Thesis

Your research will take place over several semesters, and as you work, you’ll start working on your thesis or doctoral dissertation. This period of research and writing will also include regular reviews with your advisor or PhD committee to update them on your progress and working on other projects. For instance, you may be expected to publish as a graduate student in academic journals or continue with extracurricular work in your department.

7. Thesis Submission and Thesis Defense

The final step of completing your PhD is submitting your thesis for edits and knowing how to prepare for thesis defense. Your advisor will be helping you with these steps, but you’ll also need to get ready for the formal, oral defense of your thesis in front of your PhD committee. They will ask you common thesis defense questions and you’ll need to take them through the entirety of your research project from start to finish. The committee will then ask you questions and make a decision on whether to approve your research or make suggestions for changes.

Once you’ve completed your defense and you’re approved, congratulations! You’re on your way to the last step of getting your PhD.

8. Graduation!

The last step of your PhD journey is graduation! Once your thesis is approved, you can apply for graduation and attend the formal ceremony if you choose to receive your degree.

From here, you’ll look at how to find a job after grad school, start preparing for job interviews and enter the workforce.

How to Get a PhD: Resources for PhD Applicants and Candidates

No matter which field you’re in, getting accepted to a PhD program is extremely competitive. The level of competition of course will vary by university, discipline and the type of program, but any way you look at it, getting into grad school is not super easy.

Once you’ve been accepted to a program, you’re in for many years of hard work as you complete your studies and conduct your research. This educational journey will be well worth it for you in the end, but there’s no denying it’s a tough process to go through alone. Of course, you’ll have an academic advisor supporting your throughout your PhD, but there are more resources that can help you on every step of this journey, which we’ll cover briefly next.


The journey to get a PhD is a long and complex road, but it can be well worth all the time, effort and hard work for those individuals who want to advance their education, pursue a specialized career or deepen their knowledge of their field. To learn how to get a PhD, start with choosing the right program for you and navigating the PhD application process. From there, it’s all about learning what to expect from your PhD program and the steps you’ll need to take to graduate. Explore the options open to you, find out what resources are out there to help you succeed, and plan out your pursuit of a PhD from start to finish.


1. How to get a PhD?

To get a PhD, you’ll first need to research PhD programs in your field, check the admission requirements and decide which one is the right fit for you. From there, you’ll need to submit a PhD application, write your research proposal and attend PhD interviews. Once you’re accepted, you’ll meet with your PhD supervisor or academic advisor and get started on completing your program. This includes taking any required coursework, conducting your own research and compiling data, participating in extracurriculars, writing your thesis or dissertation, studying for exams and preparing for your thesis defense. 

2. What are the requirements for a PhD?

The admission requirements for a PhD are similar to the requirements for any graduate program. They usually include your transcripts and GRE scores, a grad school statement of purpose, a PhD motivation letter, letters of recommendation, a resume or research interest statement, and an interview. You’ll also need to submit a research proposal.

3. What is the timeline for a PhD?

The general timeline for how to get a PhD is to start by deciding whether a doctorate degree is right for you, research potential programs, start applying, attend interviews, meet with your academic advisor and start diving into your research and coursework. After you’ve completed your program, it’s time to think about how to find a postdoc position and what you want to do with your new degree.

4. How long does it take to get a PhD?

It usually takes between 4 and 7 years to complete a PhD, though there are some programs which are shorter and some that may take up to 8 years.

5. Can you do a PhD without a master’s degree?

Yes, there are ways to complete a PhD without a master’s degree, including direct entry PhD programs. Note that these types of programs tend to be more competitive than average, and may have additional requirements.

6. Is it hard to get into PhD?

Getting into a PhD program is quite competitive, depending on the university, the field of study and the type of program. However, you can increase your chances of getting into a PhD program by being well prepared, doing your research and creating an excellent application package.

7. Is it too late for me to get a PhD?

It’s never too late to further your education. Some students may go straight from their bachelor’s to their master’s and on to a PhD, or some might even skip the master’s altogether. But there are plenty of PhD students who choose to go back to school after working in their field for many years, and there is no age limit on when you can go back and earn your PhD.

8. Should I apply for a PhD?

Applying to a PhD is a huge step and an important personal choice. Whether you pursue a master’s or a PhD might depend on what your career goals are, whether you have the drive, money and time to complete a PhD, and what you hope to accomplish with a doctorate degree.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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