For Phd application in Europe, we often directly apply to the interested group, a little bit like application to a job. I would like to know in general, will they send you a email if they reject you? or only the successful candidate will receive email? (Just like job application) How long does it take for their consideration? I would like to hear some of the experience or general cases because I cannot find enough information on this. (No reply from HR etc)

  • Can you be more specific which country do you apply? For instance, in Germany, you need to directly contact professors. If they are interested they will give you replies. If not maybe they are busy, not interested, etc. You know, professors are always busy.
    – azer89
    May 20, 2014 at 3:19
  • For my case, they are Norway, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands.
    – bingung
    May 20, 2014 at 4:58
  • I only have experience in applying PhD position in North America, I sent bunch of emails to several professors, some sent me lukewarm replies, others didn't. Send your applications to several prospective professors, but don't expect fast response. After a while you don't get reply (1-2 months), the worst case can be the professors aren't interested by our application/rejected. The chance can be quite slim, so In my opinion, send a LOT of applications
    – azer89
    May 20, 2014 at 6:16
  • I think this question is impossible to answer. Some professors will silently ignore your application, others will send an answer. Some professors will answer immediately, others will let it tangle for months.
    – xLeitix
    May 20, 2014 at 7:32
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    In the Netherlands, you can find vacancies for PhD position on the websites of the universities. Contacting the professors directly is generally not appreciated. If there is no vacancy, they can't help you anyway. In the Netherlands a PhD position is considered a fulltime job (with salary, benefits, pension, etc.) rather than a studentship. Therefore the procedure is pretty much identical to a job application.
    – Mythio
    May 20, 2014 at 7:41

1 Answer 1


I have some issues with the formulation of this question; first of there is a contradiction between the question title and the first sentence. The OP first asks for the application procedure in the question title, then goes on to describe it in the first sentence as if to answer his/her own question...

Then there is the issue of seeing Europe as one big consistent body. Anyone who has dealt with academic bureaucracy in Europe would likely laugh at the notion. I would personally give the ECTS system as a beautiful example of how little collaboration and consistency there is in higher education system in Europe.

According to the Swedish "Law of Higher Education" (Högskoleförordningen) Ch. 12 par 2 employment on a PhD position can not be appealed by other applicants. Text in "[]" is a attempt to translate the Swedish text.

12 kap. Överklagande [Appeal]


2 § Till Överklagandenämnden för högskolan får följande beslut av en högskola överklagas: [The following decisions made at a University/College may be appealed to the appeals board]

  1. beslut om anställning vid en högskola, med undantag av anställning som doktorand, [Decisions on employment ata university/college, with the exception of PhD positions]

Since this is the law that dictates higher education in Sweden it matters not whether the University(/College) is state or private.

I have a couple of additions and clarifications:

  • there are two schools that are not state-owned, Chalmers University and Jönköping Business School. These schools have their own regulations which I suspect is very similar to all the other universities but slight differences might exist.

  • the statement that you apply directly to research groups (i.e. group leaders) is simply not true. It is praxis (and actually good manners) to get in contact with the group leader prior to application but it is in no way compulsory, neither does it have any formal meaning.

  • Like all other state-owned organisations, the universities in Sweden have to have a transparent recruitment process that is open for general public. Universities have HR departments and centralised recruitment applications (typically on the university homepage) where positions (for instance PhD or post-doc positions) are posted.

  • At Lund University (and I am pretty confident this applies to other major universities in Sweden) applications are then collected and directed to the person responsible for recruitment of that particular position in question (often the group leader) who then does an assessment of the applicants based on the job description and qualifications. If necessary one or more steps of filtering is done, and top N candidates are typically invited to some sort of interview (in person or via skype).

  • Once a single candidate is chosen out of all applicants the group leader then needs to write a formal letter where the decision is motivated; i.e. why was the chosen applicant better than the other ones.

  • The applicants are then informed whether they are accepted or not.

  • I cannot swear for all Danish universities, but I know that DTU has a similar procedure to the one described possibly differing in, if anything, being even more formal and controlled.

  • 1
    I hope the edits are ok, you may need to make additional ones. Note that I edited the title of the question as well. May 20, 2014 at 16:07
  • 1
    @PeterJansson looks good, seeing as the OP has accepted the answer I don't think additional edits are immediately necessary. Thanks for the collaboration :)
    – posdef
    May 21, 2014 at 8:56
  • Hi. Maybe you can add any details about Netherlands as OP requested. I too am interested in Netherlands. How long does it take to send a formal offer letter after they interview you and make up their mind to take you?
    – MycrofD
    Nov 16, 2016 at 15:36
  • @MycrofD I don't know much about the Netherlands as I have not worked there myself. I have left that bit to our Dutch academics here. Note that Mythio has left a comment to the OP, briefly explaining the situation in Netherlands
    – posdef
    Nov 17, 2016 at 8:56

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