I am asking this question out of curiosity. Is it possible that an average university in the Western European countries in a specific field doesn’t accept a very good student for a PhD student because they guess he or she will be accepted in a better university and will probably reject their offers? Also I am curious about their deadlines. Do you think for PhD positions in Europe they usually don’t like to wait so much and they prefer to fill their PhD positions with good students rather than excellent ones, if they have to wait for the excellent students? I am asking especially about Europe because I guess there is not a uniform standard for deadlines in Europe. In the states my experience is that the PhD applications are somehow synchronized and they come out around the same time. Thank you so much!

  • 1
    I think you are asking for speculation and opinion. Or maybe just anecdotes.
    – Buffy
    Mar 11, 2021 at 23:47
  • @Buffy Yeah, also I’m asking on experience if anyone has.
    – mathvc_
    Mar 12, 2021 at 0:01
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    As most questions of the type "How does this work in Europe?", this is essentially unanswerable: Europe - or Western Europe, in this case - is not a single country, but consists of many different countries with different academic systems and cultures. For instance, in Germany (well, I'm not sure whether this counts as Western Europe, though), the question is not well-posed since PhD students are typically not admitted by universities or departments or admission committees, but are mainly chosen by their advisors (who may follow very individual policies in doing so). Mar 12, 2021 at 0:03
  • @Jochen Gluech Thanks. I’m not familiar with the differences that you mentioned and I agree that I put all the details of several countries into a single word ‘Europe’. if you had more speculations I’d be happy to read your comments/answer.
    – mathvc_
    Mar 12, 2021 at 0:17
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    One remark about the word "average": the quality differences between individual universities in Europe are smaller than in the US. So any university you apply to is probably a pretty good one, and people are less concerned that the student might be "admitted into Harvard", which we don't really have. Mar 12, 2021 at 8:31

1 Answer 1


Universities are so different.

Completely based on anecdotal evidence though, universities in Netherlands, UK and Switzerland are both bureaucratic and oversubscribed. They have strict deadlines and aim to fill few available positions with the most suitable people who applied.

You are dealing with large multi-layered institutions rather than just your potential supervisor so they are unikely to reschedule a whole cohort for one student, though they are reasonably flexible with small adjustments.

Also, several places admit students quarterly, not annually, so there may be multiple suitable start dates in an academic year.

Programs put more weight on how likely a candidate is to succeed with the work and in the group rather than be pre-occupied with how "brilliant" someone is. It's often about suitabiility, not excellence.

But maybe exceptions are made if the supervisor knows a candidate personally and is happy to work something out.

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    Could you please specifiy which countri(es) your answer refers to? For instance, the sentence "You are dealing with large multi-layered institutions rather than just your potential supervisor" is definitely not applicable to all European countries. Mar 12, 2021 at 0:21
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    Netherlands, UK and Switzerland
    – dubious
    Mar 12, 2021 at 0:23
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    Thanks for your response! I'd suggest to include this information in your answer. Mar 12, 2021 at 0:24
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    I don't expect this to be uniform at all. Not even within institutions themselves. But they were asking for anecdotes.
    – dubious
    Mar 12, 2021 at 0:25
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    This answer contradicts my own experience from four universities in Netherlands, Sweden, and Germany. In my experience, PhD hiring is completely in the hands of the hiring PI, and timelines can be adjusted quite flexibly. This applies to the typical case of hiring an individual PhD student, which is still much more common in Europe than structured programs with admission timelines. Mar 12, 2021 at 8:23

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