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The University of Southampton
Economic, Social and Political SciencesPostgraduate study

How to apply

Applications for our postgraduate programmes are made using our online application form.

Application process

To apply, please complete the online application form.


Applications can be submitted at any time although we would encourage applicants to apply before the end of May.

Overseas applicants are advised that some funding schemes close one year prior to study begin, and are therefore encouraged to apply early.

PhD proposals

A research proposal is a project outline of around 2,500 words, which you write as part of the application process. We use it to assess the quality and originality of your ideas, whether you are able to think critically and whether you have a grasp of the relevant literature. It also gives us important information about the perspectives you intend to take on your research area, and how you fit into the discipline area's research profile overall. This will helps us assign a suitable supervisor for your project. We encourage you to identify and contact a prospective supervisor within our Division. However, please note that if your application is accepted we cannot guarantee that we will be able to allocate you to the supervisor you initially contacted.

It is normal for students to refine their original proposal in light of detailed literature reviews, further consideration of research approaches and comments received from the supervisors (and other academic staff). At the application stage, what we are looking for is clear evidence of potential for successful PhD study and a proposal which reflects that.

The proposal can be structured as follows:

  1. A working title: This should be phrased to give a clear indication of the intent of the project, directing the attention explicitly to the central problem.
  2. Overview of the research: In this section you should provide a short overview of your research. You should also state how your research fits into the research priorities of the discipline area. Here you can refer to the research areas and priorities of a particular research grouping or supervisor. You must also state precisely why you have chosen to apply to the discipline area and how your research links into our overall profile.
  3. Positioning of the research (overview of the literature): It may not be possible to review all the relevant literature at this stage, but you should be able to reflect some major differences of viewpoint or approach by showing familiarity with some of the main works that have touched on the problem/research question that you are proposing. This part of the proposal should reference the most important texts related to the research, demonstrate your understanding of the research issues, and identify existing gaps (both theoretical and practical) that the research is intended to address. In this section you should develop your proposal to demonstrate that you are aware of the debates and issues raised in relevant bodies of literature. References to key articles and texts should be made to show that you appreciate their relevance to your research area.
  4. Research design, methodology and timescale: This section should identify the information that you will need in order to address the central issue of your research, where this information is available and the possible research techniques that could deliver the information. Evidence of reflection on potential problems that may be encountered in the research process (access to interviews, primary material etc) should also be included here.
  5. Indicative list of references: List the principal sources that will be used to guide your research (with reference to the theoretical framework and the substance of the research), as well as raw material and data.

General advice

The keys to writing a strong research proposal are to:

The following books are widely available from bookshops and libraries and may help in preparing your research proposal (as well as in completing your research degree):


For all applications, two academic references are required. Unfortunately we cannot consider applications until we have received both references.

Further information

For further information please contact us.

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