MPhil/PhD Application Process

A research degree is an independent programme of work involving the thorough study of a research topic. The first step in applying to do a research degree at the RCA is to put together a research proposal and portfolio of practice (for project-based degrees).  

If you would like to speak with someone about applying, we recommend attending one of our Open Days.  If you are unable to attend an Open Day, but would like to speak with a member of academic staff, then please email the relevant School Administrator.

Timetable for Applications 2019/20

Applications open: 17 September 2019

Deadline for AHRC Studentships: Applicants wishing to be considered for LAHP studentships must apply by 1 December 2018. New applicants will also need to apply directly to LAHP by 28 January 2019. More information on the eligibility criteria and application process for these studentships can be found here.

Deadline for Burberry Material Futures Research Group Studentships: Applicants wishing to be considered for the studentship must apply by 1 April 2019. More information on the eligibility criteria and application process for this studentship can be found here.

There is no formal deadline for making an application, but we advise early applications as we cannot guarantee supervisory support will be available for the coming year.

Application Process

1. Check you are eligible

Applicants must normally have obtained a good relevant undergraduate degree or an equivalent qualification. Exceptionally, other qualifications may be approved, providing that the Academic Board for Concessions and Discipline (ABCD) is satisfied that the applicant has the ability to pursue the programme of research successfully.

2. Check you meet the English language requirements

You will be expected to demonstrate that you have a good knowledge of the English language.  For more information, please see English Language Requirements

3. Visa Requirements

In addition to the RCA’s minimum requirements, students who need a Tier 4 visa for their studies at the RCA will need to show that they have met Home Office’s minimum requirements for entry clearance. Further information can be found here.

4. Identify the School or Centre most appropriate to your proposed area of study

In order for us to be able to fully review your application, please look at the Schools' research areas and the Centres' research areas before selecting which you are applying to.  When making your application, in the first line of the ‘Research Proposal’ section, please indicate clearly which of the School's research area(s) your research proposal fits within.

5. Decide which degree is most appropriate for you, as well as the exact focus of your studies

Applications can be made for MPhil or PhD study. All PhD students will need to undertake and pass Annual Progress Reviews and a Confirmation Examination (midway through their registration period) in order to progress to the subsequent year of study. We currently offer two modes of study: part-time and full-time. Participation in the Doctoral Training Programme is an essential part of progression requirements; this includes three one-week intensives in each year of study (or equivalent for part-time students) and a short Methods & Methodologies Course (Year 1, term 1 only)

Please note, we do not currently offer a distance-learning mode or any of our programmes of study; students are expected to attend College-wide and School-based Research Training. All annual exams are to be taken in person in one of our London campuses.

6. Consider registration periods


  • Full-time minimum registration period is two academic years
  • Full-time maximum registration period is three academic years
  • Part-time minimum registration period is four academic years
  • Part-time maximum registration period is six academic years


  • Full-time minimum registration period is three academic years, of which at least one year should be post-Confirmation
  • Full-time maximum registration period is four academic years, of which at least two years should be post-Confirmation
  • Part-time minimum registration period is six academic years of which at least two years should be post-Confirmation
  • Part-time maximum registration period is seven academic years of which at least three years should be post-Confirmation

This includes time taken by the student in Continuation Status (also known as writing-up, up to a maximum of one year for both full-time and parti-time students). Where a candidate is prevented because of ill-health or other circumstances from making progress with the programme of research, the registration may be suspended with the agreement of the Academic Board for Concessions and Discipline but not usually for more than a total of one year across the period of study.

7. Complete and submit your application

All applications are made through the College online application portal.  You will need to register, but you will be able to save your application and retrieve it later, so you do not have to complete it all in one go. The application process will guide you through all required elements; please remember to upload both your research proposal and portfolio of practice (for 'by project' route).

You will be given an Application Reference Number. This number should be quoted in all further correspondence.  Please do not submit any paperwork other than through the application portal as this may not be shared with the selection panels.

a) Research Proposal

The research proposal is central to your application to undertake a research degree. As a description of your proposed topic, it should enable the selection panel to evaluate the scope and importance of your project. You should read the following guidelines carefully to ensure that your proposal includes the information we need to assess your application. The proposal should be up to 1,000 words in length, including a short bibliography.

The aim of the research proposal is to demonstrate that you have a project worth doing and that this is manageable within the timescale of the degree for which you are applying. To be worth doing, your project must be well-founded, and must also make a significant contribution to understanding in its field. To make clear that your project is manageable within the relevant period, you need to show that you understand the scale of the issues and problems you are addressing.

Your proposal should include:

Title: A title summarising the proposed research. (This will be provisional at this point, and can change).

Introduction: identify the field of study in broad terms and indicate how you expect your research to contribute to the field. Use this section to introduce the questions and issues central to your research.

Research background and questions: use this section to expand your introduction. What are the key texts and approaches in the field, and how does your proposal differ from existing lines of argument?

  • What does your project contribute to existing work in the field?
  • How does it extend our understanding of particular questions or topics?
You need to set out your research questions as clearly as possible, explain problems that you want to explore and say why it is important to do so. In other words, think about how to situate your project in the context of your discipline.

Research methods: this section should set out how you will achieve what you propose. This will depend very much on your research topic.

  • What resources will you use or need? 
  • Is your study interdisciplinary? 
  • What theoretical resources do you intend to use and why? 
  • What forms of textual, historical or visual analysis are relevant to your topic/field? 
  • What forms of practice will you use and why?
  • How will you set about answering your research questions?

Schedule of work: use this section to show that you have a realistic plan for completion of the study within three to four years (full time).

You might want to think here about dividing the proposal into sections (not necessarily chapters at this stage) and giving an indication of how you plan to research and write up each section.

Bibliography: include a bibliography, in a standard format such as Harvard, listing the books and articles to which you refer in the proposal.  

Some of these sections will be easier to write than others at this very preliminary stage. The selectors who read your proposal know that it is a provisional statement and that your ideas, questions and approaches will change during the course of your research. You should treat the proposal as an opportunity to show that you have begun to explore an important area of study and that you have a question, or questions, that challenge and develop that area. It is also necessary to demonstrate that you can express your ideas in clear and precise English, accessible to a non-specialist.

(b) Referees

When you make an online application, you will need to name a suitable referee who is able to support your proposal.  They should be someone who can reasonably affirm that you have the ability and skills to undertake a degree at this level.  A request for a reference will be automatically emailed to your referee. Please make sure that you provide your referee’s full contact details when you make your application. Applicants who wish to be considered for AHRC funding require two references.

8. Submit your digital portfolio

If you are submitting a proposal for a PhD by project, then you will need to upload a portfolio of practice to support your application.  

Portfolios should be uploaded to the online applications portal. Portfolio submissions will be accepted if they are in the following formats:

  • JPG format no larger than 2MB and at least 1024 x 768 pixels (maximum of 10)
  • URLs: links to videos hosted on sites such as Vimeo or Youtube may be uploaded, but please make sure that they are publicly viewable
  • The ten items of your work should include, if possible, a few examples of earlier as well as recent works

Each item should be provided with relevant information (i.e. date, size, medium, title).

9. Reviewing applications

All applications are reviewed by a team of academics with experience of supervising research degrees within the School. Your application will be reviewed as follows:

  1. Review of the application and portfolio of work (where appropriate). Selection panels assess applications in terms of quality of proposal, readiness for study at this level, the feasibility of the project and supervisory capacity.

  2. Candidates are notified that they will be called for interview or that their application has been unsuccessful (please be aware that we do not usually offer feedback at this stage)

  3. Interview: we usually prefer to interview candidates at the College as this offers the best opportunity to assure all parties that this is the best route to pursue at this stage. However, where necessary we can arrange live online interviews by arrangement with the School Administrators.

  4. Outcome: successful candidates will be proposed to our internal Admissions Board and a formal letter of an offer will be sent. You may be informally offered a place, but you should wait for a formal offer that has been fully ratified.

  5. Acceptance: we encourage all successful applicants to secure their place and supervisors by returning their acceptance and deposit as soon as possible.   

Any queries about the application process should be addressed to:

Royal College of Art
Kensington Gore
London SW7 2EU

+44 (0)20 7590 4444


+44 (0)20 7590 4444

School of Architecture:

School of Arts and Humanities:

School of Communication:

School of Design:

The Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design:

Intelligent Mobility Design Centre:

Materials Science Research Centre:

Student Support
+44 (0)20 7590 4140