I am interested in some PhD courses which require a 1st class undergraduate degree, which I do not have.

I am in my 30s, and originally took a combined 4 year Master's degree, in a related field to the PhDs. The reason I feel I could be capable of undertaking such a PhD is that during my final (Master's) year I got a good 1st class grade. I did poorly in my second year and very badly in my third year for various reasons which are my own responsibility. I learned from this which is why my 4th year was better, but my grades were too bad to recover completely. I achieved a 2:1 overall. The taught subjects in the final year were generally more advanced versions of the ones in the third year. I got a 1st class grade in my first year.

Is there any possible way to enter these PhDs? Or are they now closed to me permanently? I don't mind a long-term path such as another Master's degree. I would probably not re-take my undergraduate degree at this stage. My career has been reasonably successful. I believe I will be able to publish high-quality peer-reviewed research in a different field (related to my career) if that would help.

  • Given the terminology that you are using, it sounds like you are in the UK. Is that accurate? Sep 4, 2021 at 14:35
  • 1
    Yes that is correct.
    – user82912
    Sep 4, 2021 at 14:35

1 Answer 1


Here we need to distinguish between getting admission and getting funding. If a scholarship is advertised requiring a first, then awarding it to someone with a 2.1 would be unfair and possibly illegal. I wouldn't count on this at all.

When it comes to admissions there isn't a clear competition between applicants. As such, making exceptions is much more feasible. I would expect that if a prospective PhD advisor makes a strong case to a PGR admissions tutor that an applicant is highly suitable despite not meeting a grade threshold, this will have a decent chance of getting that person in at most British universities.

Your argument, however, does not seem particular strong to me. I would assume that a department asking for a 1st for PhD admission will believe they get enough applicants who actually have a first. So "If I hadn't done something stupid in Year 3, I could have earned 1st, too." isn't going to get you far. If there is a way how your career since then has increased your qualifications for a PhD, that might be a better point to focus on.

If you do need to gain more qualifications, going for a 1-year research master course (Eg MRes, MSc by Research) would be the natural choice. A good result there is probably be the best possible argument that you are indeed suitable for a PhD.

(I'm a PGR Admissions Tutor at a UK university.)

  • Thank you very much.
    – user82912
    Sep 5, 2021 at 7:32

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