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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 a higher degree by research at 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. Funding your HDR study
  4. Gather required documentation and submit online

*The steps listed on this page are a guide, and applicable to most courses. Please also check the requirements with your faculty.

1. Determine eligibility and suitable course

The most important criteria to asses your eligibility to pursue HDR study is your previous research experience. 

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. As a guide:

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

English language requirements depends 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, and which includes a substantial component of research
  • an equivalent qualification that demonstrates research experience, excellence and capability.

These are the minimum requirements for eligibility but they do not guarantee admission. That remains at the discretion of the Associate Dean (Higher Degree by Research) for the faculty.

Please refer to the University's HDR Policy for full policy details.

To apply for a Joint PhD, you need to follow the same steps that apply to a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). In addition, you will need to search for and identify a suitable supervisor at the partner institution.

If your application for a Joint PhD is accepted, you will also be required to sign an individual student agreement.

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

Download our Joint PhD programs factsheet (pdf, 101KB) to learn more.

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.

Professional Doctorates are offered in certain faculties at the University of Sydney. In most cases, to be eligible for admission to a Professional Doctorate you must have either:

  • completed a master's degree or a bachelor’s degree with first or upper second class honours, or
  • passed a qualifying examination at a standard equivalent to the bachelor’s degree, with first or upper second class honours.

You must demonstrate recent, full-time employment or professional experience in a relevant field. Finally, you need to provide evidence to show that:

  • your planned research is appropriate and acceptable
  • you have the necessary training and ability to pursue your preferred course of study and research
  • you have secured a suitable supervisor for your project, and have access to appropriate resources and facilities to be able to complete your proposed research.

2. Develop your research proposal and find 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, rather than presenting a generic or vague proposal. The proposal must actively seek to show why your research is noteworthy and how it aligns with your proposed supervisor’s own work.

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

To help you in your search, our faculty and research centre websites are good places to start. You can also explore our Research and Innovation website where you can search for supervisors and projects by discipline, keywords, and research themes.

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 should also include your resume/CV, academic transcripts for all degrees and your initial research proposal (see step 4 above).

Please check your HDR course page on Sydney Courses for specific faculty requirements.

3. Funding your HDR study

For domestic students, you do not pay tuition fees as this is covered by the government Research Training Program fee off-set. For international students, tuition fees are applicable. 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.

We have one of the largest research scholarships 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.

4. Submit official application online with required documentation

HDR applications are open all year round, with most research intakes starting in Research Period 2 (March) and Research Period 3 (July). Please check your course page on Sydney Courses for the research periods your faculty offers. Only Science offers all four research intakes. 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.

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.
  • English language qualifications if English is not your first language.
  • Curriculum Vitae 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.
  • Domestic students will need a passport or birth certificate or citizenship certificate.
  • Part-time statement if applying for part-time study (domestic). 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:

  • A student visa
  • To pay an initial tuition fee before you accept your offer
  • 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 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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