Apply for postgraduate research

How to apply for a research degree
A degree in research is called a ‘higher degree by research’ (HDR) and includes the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), a Joint PhD and Master's by research/Master of Philosophy (MPhil).

Follow the below steps to apply* for a research degree as a domestic or international research student.

These steps apply unless you are interested in the Sydney Law School or the Business School, in which case you apply for your course first and if successful are allocated a supervisor.

  1. Determine eligibility and suitable course
  2. Develop your research proposal and find a research supervisor
  3. Applying for scholarships to support your research degree
  4. Gather required documentation and submit your application online

*The steps listed on this page are a guide and applicable to most courses. Please also check if there are any faculty-specific requirements.

1. Determine eligibility and suitable course

To be eligible to pursue postgraduate research study you will need previous research experience and a high academic record. You need to have undertaken a significant research project or thesis in your previous university-level studies.

This could be the equivalent of:

  • an Australian honours degree
  • a master’s by research degree
  • a master’s by coursework with a thesis component (dissertation)

We also consider your undergraduate performance. You will need a bachelor's degree with first or upper second-class honours. Below is a guide based on the University of Sydney grading system, equivalent requirements will be determined for other institutions:

  • WAM of 75 over degree
  • Honours class I WAM greater than 80
  • Honours class II WAM between 75 and 80

English language requirements depend on the course, your country of origin and educational background. Find out if you need to prove English language proficiency.

To apply for a PhD, you need to demonstrate sufficient prior research experience and capability. In most cases, you will have either:

  • a bachelor's degree with first or upper second-class honours, or
  • a master's degree performed at a high academic standard, which includes a substantial component of research, or
  • an equivalent qualification that demonstrates research experience, excellence and capability.

In most cases, to apply for a master’s by research or a Master of Philosophy, you need to have one of the following:

  • a bachelor’s degree with first or second-class honours from the University of Sydney or another approved institution
  • an equivalent qualification that demonstrates sufficient research experience and capability.

If you’re interested in a Joint PhD program, you need to follow the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) application steps 1-3. In addition, your proposed supervisor will need to complete a proposal to negotiate a student agreement form. If accepted, you will also be required to sign an individual student agreement. After your student agreement is finalised, you will then be sent an application form for the Joint PhD program.

Please refer to the University's Dual and Joint Degree Policy for full policy details.

Download our Joint PhD programs factsheet (pdf, 116KB) to learn more.

2. Develop your research proposal and find a supervisor

Before you submit your application, you must first secure a supervisor. Carefully consider the subject of your research project and start to develop a research proposal to provide to potential academic supervisors. Your initial proposal will likely evolve, however, it is important to clearly explain your ideas about your research, show why your research is noteworthy and how it aligns with your proposed supervisor’s own research.

Check out these guidelines on how to write a research proposal for a strong PhD application.

You can search for supervisors’ contact details via their academic profile, or you can search for supervisors and projects by discipline, keywords, and research themes. Our faculty and research centre websites are also good places to start.

To support your enquiry, send an email describing your academic background and research experience, the topic you'd like to research and how your research project aligns with the work of your proposed supervisor. You must include your resume/CV, academic transcripts for all degrees and your initial research proposal. Please check your HDR course page on Sydney Courses for specific faculty requirements.

3. Applying for scholarships to support your research degree

We have one of the largest research scholarship schemes in Australia. Scholarships can be a big help in funding your research or helping you with living costs while you do your research. Some scholarships are specific to a research project or discipline, and many are assessed on academic merit and research potential. Search for a scholarship.

When you submit your course application, you can elect to be automatically considered for the Research Training Program stipend. The stipend is competitively awarded and is based on academic merit and research potential.

For domestic students, you do not pay tuition fees as this is covered by the government Research Training Program fee offset. For international students, tuition fees are applicable. If you are an international student and are awarded RTP, this will cover your tuition fees and provide a stipend. Please note: there are limited places available in the Research Training Program for international students, and these are highly competitive.

Please refer to your course page on Sydney Courses for information about the fees you will need to pay, and also read our general information on fees and financial support.

Depending on your research project, many PhD students also work part-time to fund their study, similar to undergraduate and postgraduate coursework students.

4. Submit official application online with required documentation

Postgraduate research degree applications are open all year round, with most research intakes starting in Research Period 2 (March) and Research Period 3 (July). However, to be considered for the RTP stipend you will need to submit your application by these dates. You can still submit your course application past the RTP deadline but you will not receive a stipend outcome until the next round of RTP rankings.

Please check your course page on Sydney Courses for the research periods your faculty offers. We recommend applying as early as possible prior to your intended start date, and you will also need to discuss your start date with your supervisor.

International students are recommended to factor in the Department of Home Affairs visa processing times when considering a likely start date for their HDR course.

Documentation to include in your application form

When you have secured a supervisor, you will discuss and refine the project together. Once your research proposal is finalised, gather all the essential documents that you will need to submit with your application:

  • Final research proposal. In conjunction with your supervisor, you’ll finalise your research proposal of up to 2000 words, covering the objectives and significance of your research. Refer to our Research Proposal Guidelines.
  • Official academic transcripts in the original language and English translation.
  • Proof of English language proficiency if English is not your first language.
  • Curriculum Vitae (CV) or resume.
  • Evidence that a primary supervisor has agreed to supervise you. This could be a copy of the email correspondence showing the staff member’s agreement to supervise you. Sydney College of the Arts doesn’t require evidence of supervision, however, you must submit a portfolio with your application. The Sydney Conservatorium of Music may require you to attend an interview.
  • Proof of identity: a valid passport (biodata page), an Australian birth certificate or an Australian or New Zealand citizenship certificate for domestic students.
  • Part-time statement if applying for part-time study (part-time study is not available to international student visa holders). This needs to show that:
    • you’ll have sufficient time available to carry out the research under the supervision of the University and complete the course within the maximum period allowed for a part-time PhD enrolment
    • a declaration from your employer (if relevant) confirming that you will be permitted to take the time required to effectively pursue your studies.
  • Two referee reports (pdf, 113.7KB)
  • Any other documents, such as a portfolio of work or audition, specified in the course listing for your degree.

International students  

If you are an international student, you will also need:

  • To apply for your student visa, after you have received an offer of admission or an electronic Confirmation of Enrolment (eCoE) for an HDR course at the University.
  • To pay a non-refundable application processing fee. This fee is waived if you’re a sponsored student, or if you are granted an exemption by a University staff member during an office interview or recruitment event.
  • If you would like to apply through an authorised University of Sydney agent, we have partnered with a range of authorised agents who can apply to the University and make arrangements on your behalf.

Further information

Our frequently asked questions provide further information on our HDR courses and the application process.

You will need to pass health and security checks if your research involves fieldwork in the New South Wales hospital and education systems. The course page details explain what admission criteria you need to satisfy to get into the course. 

You may also need to apply for approval from the Animal Ethics and/or Human Research Ethics Committee.

Additional course requirements

*Please also refer to your faculty for additional admission requirements, or variations in the application process, which may apply.

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