I am looking at doing a PhD in UK with a recent taught master degree (just graduated last year with distinction, all courses with A grades). However, my first bachelor degree was only in third class (which was over 15 years ago). Will it be possible for me to get a PhD offer in UK? Since normally I think they ask for 2:1 for undergraduate degree minimum. Both my bachelor and master degrees were in relevant subject (media studies) and both schools are top universities (top 50 in QS). Is it safer to look at those not-so-top schools? Or it's simply impossible anyway? Thanks!
All I can say is that no, it is not impossible. Its not impossible even at a top 50 university, it will mostly come down to the supervisor in question. Admissions offices can usually be persuaded to waive the requirement for 2:1 at undergrad if there is a particularly convincing performance at masters. But it will be harder and if you had a 2:1 at undergrad.
I work at a UK university as a lecturer (though different discipline), while we have minimum entry requirements, it is usually down to the person advertising the position who interviews the candidates if they want to go ahead with them. I am not aware of any case where the admin team has blocked an application. What I find more important than your marks / distinctions / cv formatting is if you are fit for the position. That's what the interview is for. If you can demonstrate to me that you have the skills I'm looking for in a phd candidate and more importantly that you have a track record of showing how you can cope with challenging situations (learn new concepts quickly, finish work before deadlines, etc.), that would stand out much more to me than someone fresh out of university, top of the class but no experience that is relevant for the position. My point is, a transcript only tells you so much about a person and you can swing things around in your favour with a strong cv / cover letter / impression at an interview. Furthermore, if you can self-fund your studies, you will find people more willing to take you on board, especially young and new academics who don't have multi million pound grants to manage (any income they generate will be viewed favourable by the university and that is a quick thing they can do).
My suggestion is to approach a selected group of people by email with your cv and see if they are interest but do make sure to make each email relevant to each person. Whenever I am getting an email starting with "Dear Sir" or "Dear Professor", I don't even bother to reply anymore (I used to in the past). I'm neither a sir nor professor and the lack of research into me and no name does indicate a spamming approach. Think about it this way, a phd will be full of small little problems and attention to detail, if you can't even look up my name and title then how will you be a student with attention to detail?
It's better to select perhaps 2-3 academics you would want to work with and send them a relevant email (I.e. State why you want to work with them (maybe one of their paper is relevant to your work, or you share common interest that they state on their university profile)). It's surprising how few people do actually make an effort when applying so if you follow this you will already stand out.
I think it is possible. You just have to persuade them that your recent master's degree grade supersedes your bachelor's degree grade. This should be possible as it is more recent and it is a higher level.
I don't think you need to rule out "top" universities. But getting in to the very top three or four is hard, so you should also consider ones that are not at the very top.