I recently applied to a fairly prestigious PhD programme in the UK and a very short time after receiving a confirmation email I was rejected. The requirements were listed as a 2.1 in an undergraduate degree, which I do not have (I got a 2.2) however I am currently studying for a relevant postgraduate masters and expect to get a good grade. I also have a large amount of research experience through internships and work experience.

I know programmes of this sort are very competitive and there could simply have been more qualified applicants but the length of time between my application being received and rejected makes me think that they didn't really look at it, just made a decision based on my undergraduate grade.

My question is, am I being far too ambitious with PhD applications and will my masters degree and relevant experience be overshadowed by my poor undergraduate grade?

3 Answers 3


The requirements were listed as a 2.1 in an undergraduate degree, which I do not have (I got a 2.2)

You'll receive "desk rejects" from institutes that insist on this requirement. However, since

I am currently studying for a relevant postgraduate masters and expect to get a good grade.

Your undergraduate degree might be ignored by some institutes, in favour of your postgraduate degree.

Also, rather than approaching an institute, try approaching potential supervisors. They'll know how to navigate their institution's rules.

You should also consider whether a PhD is for you. You don't have the required grades. Perhaps something went wrong during your undergraduate degree; perhaps you'll achieve better grades during your postgraduate degree. This is perhaps something you've already thought about.

  • In the UK, admissions are done via the admission team. Many supervisors do not know the exact admission rules and will simply redirect a candidate back to the [email protected]. May 14, 2020 at 9:42
  • @DmitrySavostyanov UK supervisors surely know how to navigate problematic aspects of their own institute?
    – user2768
    May 14, 2020 at 9:47
  • 1
    supervisors usually can't challenge the admission decision when a candidate does not meet the minimal requirements, surely supervisor can work around the rules, @DmitrySavostyanov? E.g., a student doesn't meet requirement X, for some exceptional reason, but they meet some other requirement Y, which makes X redundant anyhow. Surely a supervisor, especially a professor, can have some sway with the admissions team. (If they can't, then surely their institute is doing it wrong.)
    – user2768
    May 14, 2020 at 12:01
  • 1
    @DmitrySavostyanov I'm asking you about your reality. Personally, I'm familiar with many who get around bureaucrats.
    – user2768
    May 14, 2020 at 12:55
  • 1
    @user2768 is right. Exceptions can be made. Grades are important, but do not represent the whole picture, and there can be candidates with a particular balance of skills, even if with gaps in some, and supervisors know that. Of course, there may be institutions which do not make exceptions. Those I know, are able to do so. May 14, 2020 at 19:56

I'm not a big fan of minimum requirements, but if any institution has them, then you have to meet them or you get immediately rejected as you see. But perhaps you just need to look around a bit more to see which programs you actually do qualify for. Make application to those and see what happens.

Further education may help you, of course, in getting admitted to a doctoral program, provided that you do well enough to meet the standards.

Many institutions will weight your most recent educational results higher than older ones, so the undergraduate experience means less as you go along, provided that you improve.

But if you have only applied to one program then you haven't really explored the landscape of what might be open to you. I'd suggest you look further along with your current studies. You may be in a better position than you know.

  • @awjlogan, then they aren't minimum requirements, are they? They are just suggestions, perhaps. Or maybe even a way to discriminate. Sorry. Don't suggest that the OP waste time applying where they won't be admitted. Please!
    – Buffy
    May 14, 2020 at 10:20
  • @awjlogan Are you familiar with the UK realities, or are you just describing things as you think they must be? May 14, 2020 at 10:40

An expected 2.1 in an undergraduate degree might be enough for a Masters but not for a direct jump to a PhD. A 2.2 is extremely difficult, in my view, especially under heavy competition with decent Masters holders. Not meeting minimum requirements is a quick and easy way to screen a large amount of applications, so do not be surprised if you cannot make it past admin.

The cases I know that moved from an undergraduate to a PhD relate to very strong candidates with practical/ real world knowledge of the area, that would be able to bring in practical skills and hit the ground running. An example is a candidate who was the creator, assembler and seller of a certain device, at the level where it would justify a patent. This covers more than just work experience - it brings in applied knowledge which does not need to gained via trial-and-error during the PhD, especially if it is industry funded.

If you do not have something very tangible to demonstrate, I would advise you to focus on further education.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .