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Find out how to apply to study an MPhil/PhD programme at the Faculty of Laws

Applications for admission in 2022/23 are now closed. Applications for 2023/24 will open in September 2022.

Please note that UCL Laws does not offer a long distance or non-resident MPhil/PhD programme.

We welcome applications from outstanding candidates from the UK, EU and other overseas jurisdictions.

EU applicants

We continue to welcome warmly applications from EU candidates. For up-to-date information please consult the UCL and Brexit advice page. Please also see the following statement from our Director of Research Studies, Professor Alex Mills:

“UCL is a university with a global outlook and vision, and a long established champion of inclusivity and openness. This is exemplified in the vibrant international PhD community in the Faculty of Laws. We want to emphasise that we continue to welcome applications from students across the world, including those in the UK, Europe, and elsewhere overseas.”

In line with our strong commitment to diversity, applications from women and candidates from ethnic minority backgrounds are especially welcomed.

Please note that we only have one entry point to the MPhil/PhD every year in September. We do not accept applications for entry at other points during the year. Applications must be received within the admissions period

Click here to apply for the MPhil/PhD programme

Essential steps

These are the essential steps for applying for a PhD at UCL Laws

  1. Research your project proposal
  2. Contact a suitable potential supervisor
  3. Apply to the MPhil/PhD programme during the application window with your supporting documents (see below)
  4. Ensure your two academic referees have submitted your references 
  5. Complete any external scholarship applications by their deadline
Before applying

Before you apply you should research your project proposal. When you have a suitable outline of your research, identify and get in touch with a potential supervisor whose research interests align with what you want to study. You should email the academic you are interested in working with directly. This is an important step and you should consult the guidance on identifying a supervisor further down this page.

You are asked to identify and contact a potential supervisor simply to establish whether that individual would be interested in principle and also in a position to supervise your PhD should you ultimately be successful with your application.  If you contact more than one potential supervisor, please ensure that all potential supervisors are aware of your expressions of interest.

Faculty members may already be supervising their maximum number of PhD students or may be on sabbatical and unable to take on any new students. Members of the Faculty will not provide any additional information to you about your application.  

All decisions on PhD applications are made by a separate UCL Laws PhD Applications Team once all applications have been received.

UCL Applicant Portal

All formal applications to UCL are made online through central admissions. You will be able to track the progress of your application via the UCL Applicant Portal (log in required).

Supporting documents

To complete your application you must also submit the following supporting documents:

Your referees must submit your references within 10 working days of the application deadline.

Use the links to find out more. You must submit all of these before our application deadline or your application will not be considered.

Entry Requirements

The minimum entry requirement for graduate research at UCL Laws is a UK bachelor’s degree in an appropriate subject, awarded with First or good Upper Second-class Honours (2:1). If you have not previously studied in the UK, we will accept overseas qualifications of an equivalent standard from a university or other educational institution of university rank. See here for UCL accepted equivalencies.

It is not strictly essential to have a master’s degree to apply but this is strongly preferred (LLM or MA/MSc relevant to your proposed research) and we would normally expect a distinction overall. Entry to the programme is extremely competitive and the majority of students admitted onto the programme do have a master’s degree. This is because a master’s degree helps to develop your academic ability and foster research skills necessary to undertake the extended research in the PhD.

If you do not have a master’s/LLM, you must be able to demonstrate your research ability, usually through evidence of extended written work, to a first class standard. Note that an undergraduate dissertation would not usually be sufficient proof of this.

We welcome applications from candidates whose previous academic study has been in a relevant discipline other than law. In addition to the above formal academic qualifications, you must demonstrate a sufficiently deep and detailed understanding of the most closely relevant areas of law or legal thought, and explain in your application why your proposed research is best conducted at UCL Laws.

English language requirements

Students who are not a national of a UK Home Office majority English speaking country are required to provide recent evidence regarding their command of spoken and written English. UCL demands that applicants should be able to demonstrate an ‘Advanced’ level of English.

UCL Laws reserves the right, in individual circumstances, to specify an additional language requirement for an applicant.

We accept the following English language proficiency tests:

  • IELTS: overall grade of 7.5 with a minimum of 6.5 in each of the subtests
  • Pearson Test of English (PTE): 75 overall, with a minimum of 62 in each component
  • TOEFL: Score of 109 overall 24/30 in reading and writing and 20/30 in speaking and listening
  • UCL Pre-Sessional English Course: 75% overall, with a minimum of 65% in each of the subtests
  • UCL Diploma in English for Academic Purposes (DEAP): 75% overall, with a minimum of 65% in each of the subtests
  • Cambridge Proficiency in English (CPE): CPE Grade B, an overall minimum score of 56, and at least a ‘good’ pass in each skill
  • Cambridge Advanced English (CAE): CAE pass of 74 points, with a minimum of 58 point in each subject
  • Duolingo: Overall score of 135 with a minimum score of 125 in Comprehension, Literacy and Conversation and 130 in Production

In accordance with UK Visas and Immigration requirements, students who require a Tier 4 (General) Student Visa to enter the UK must meet these English language requirements. The language qualification must have been taken within two years of any issuance of a Confirmation of Acceptance of Studies (CAS) from UCL.

UCL Laws may also accept evidence of recent substantial education (minimum 12 months) or work experience (minimum 18 months) in the UK or a majority English speaking country undertaken no more than two years prior to the proposed date of enrolment (or the summer two years prior to enrolment if starting in September).

UCL pre-sessional English courses

We would urge you to take a language test in your own country in order to meet the English language condition. If it is not possible for you to complete a language test in your country, you may be able to take a pre-sessional English course at the UCL Language Centre. These courses are very popular, so please check availability and your eligibility for the programmes in advance.

We do not normally accept results from any language centre other than UCL. If you do take a pre-sessional English language course elsewhere, you will need to sit/resit IELTS/PTE in order to meet the English language requirement for the MPhil/PhD programme.

Visit the UCL Centre for Languages and International Education website for further details of courses, tuition fees, and how to apply.

Identifying a supervisor

Choosing to undertake graduate research is a big decision and it is extremely important that you identify a research project that really excites you. Identifying the right supervisor is critical as this relationship provides you with invaluable support and guidance from a leading academic in your field.

Before you apply to the MPhil/PhD programme, you should ensure that UCL Laws offers the subject area expertise in which you propose to conduct your research.

Every applicant will be asked whether they have contacted any prospective supervisors in the Faculty in advance of submitting their application, and will also be asked to indicate whether their research falls within any of the UCL Laws Research Centres or Institutes.

It is important to note that finding a prospective supervisor who is in principle willing to supervise your thesis does not guarantee acceptance. Admission to the PhD programme at UCL Laws is very competitive, and final decisions are ultimately made by a committee rather than by individual supervisors. The purpose of contacting a prospective supervisor before submitting your application is to make sure that there is someone in the Faculty who is available to supervise your project.

If you are offered a place on our programme, your offer letter will indicate the prospective primary supervisor for your project. This will be an academic with expertise in your area, though it may not necessarily be the person whom you have contacted and/or who interviewed you. 

How to identify a suitable supervisor at UCL
  • Thoroughly research your options on the UCL Laws website. For example, you may want to look through our Academic Staff Directory, have a look at our Centres and Institutes, and look through our 'Windows on our work' which highlights academic interests and specialisms.  
  • Read research papers written by UCL Laws academics in UCL’s research repository: discovery.ucl.ac.uk
  • Make contact with either the specific academic you are interested in working with, a Research Centre or Institute or the Director of Research Studies, to explore research opportunities in more depth.

This process helps define your interests and aspirations, contributes to making your application successful, and also serves to ensure the identification of the best possible supervisor for your needs.

How to make a research enquiry

Academic members of staff are extremely busy people and receive a lot of research enquiries. In a recent survey 67% of UCL staff said they receive research enquiries that do not relate to their interests. It is extremely important for you to research potential supervisor’s interests thoroughly before you contact them.

Find UCL Laws academic staff profiles

If they do not think your enquiry is related to their research they may not have time to respond to you.

Guidance for contacting potential supervisor
  • Take time over your email and make sure you highlight your strengths clearly
  • Do not use the same email template to contact different academics. Enquiries should be tailored to the academic’s area of interest and refer to their current work
  • Include information such as your funding status (secured funding, self-funded, will apply for a scholarship); whether you are a UK, overseas or EU student; whether you want to conduct your research full time or part time.
  • Potential supervisors will usually expect to see a well thought-through Proposal for the research that you want to conduct. This research will often be closely related to research recently conducted by the supervisor.
  • As the development of the Proposal is part of the admissions criteria for the PhD programme, potential supervisors may be unwilling to give feedback on a draft.
  • Remember that a prospective supervisor cannot agree to admit you to UCL, and is unlikely to be able to evaluate the strength of your application or its chances of success without comparing it to the broader field of applicants. The purpose of contacting a prospective supervisor before submitting your application is to make sure that there is someone in the Faculty who is available to supervise your project.
  • If you are offered a place on our programme, your offer letter will indicate the prospective primary supervisor for your project. This will be an academic with expertise in your area, though it may not necessarily be the person whom you have contacted and/or who interviewed you. 

Drafting your Research Proposal

Your research proposal should provide a detailed account of what you propose to research. You should write the research proposal separately, and not in the Supplementary Personal Statement section of the application form.

All good proposals must be both informative and persuasive. You need to clearly describe the topic, its aims and objectives, and its methodology. This should be done as concisely as possible. Your proposal should be approximately 3,000 words and include a preliminary bibliography.The bibliography and footnotes are not included in the 3,000 word guidance. 

Suggested structure

A good proposal should have the following basic elements, though their order and weighting can of course vary:

A working title: make this clear and descriptive.

Some background and rationale: explain the background and issues of your research.

  • What are your aims and objectives?
  • What are the parameters?
  • Why have you chosen them?

Clear and defined research question that is answerable within a set timeframe.

A description of your theoretical framework and methodological approach: why is this best suited to your topic?

  • What are the theoretical and research issues related to your research question?
  • What sources/data will you use?
  • What are the activities necessary for the completion of your project?
  • Are there ethical considerations?
  • How realistic is your project in practical terms?

A brief analytical discussion of the scholarly research to date on your topic: what is the current state of your field?

  • Who are the main contributors in this field?
  • In what ways will your research create valuable and useful knowledge?

A brief statement on your particular qualifications: have your previous degrees given you the necessary knowledge of the field, discipline, and methodologies you require?

  • What research training will you need to undertake?

Your proposal will allow us to consider whether your topic is suitable and whether it is capable of generating a doctoral level thesis. It is important to realise that your application may be refused admission on the ground that it is of insufficient depth, and in particular, that it does not disclose what advance in human knowledge might arise from the research.

We are aware that after admission and initial talks with the supervisor or after some months of work you might well modify your original account.

Visiting research students

Please note the Faculty of Laws will not be hosting any visiting students during the academic year 2020/21, due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

We welcome applications from research students registered at other universities who would like to spend 3-12 months at UCL to undertake research. Our academics can give you informal guidance or supervision during your time here, and as a visiting research student you can also take advantage of all facilities and resources available to UCL students.

To undertake doctoral level research under the supervision of a UCL academic, you can take part in an established programme such as Erasmus or come independently. Before you submit an application, you must first ensure that there is an academic who works in your field and is in principle willing to supervise your research.

To explore this, please see our academic staff page and research centres and groups page. Before making a formal application, please email the academic to enquire whether they are potentially available to support you as a visiting research student. You should specify which academic you wish to supervise you when you make the application.

It is important to note that finding an academic who is in principle willing to support your visit does not guarantee acceptance. Acceptance as a visiting research student at UCL Laws is very competitive. The purpose of contacting a prospective supervisor before submitting your application is to make sure that there is someone in the Faculty who is available to supervise your project.

Please note the Faculty of Laws will not be hosting any visiting students during the academic year 2020/21, due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. 

Please see the admissions website page on applying as an independent visiting research student, which gives more information on making a formal application.