Please note:  A major constraint on our ability to accept additional students is the availability of someone willing and able to supervise a student's research. Sometimes a good student applies, with sensible proposals, but we are unable to find an appropriate supervisor and therefore cannot accept the student. The Department will only admit a new Doctoral student if that person has met the academic requirements AND there is an appropriate supervisor within the Department who is both qualified, available and willing to provide the necessary supervision.

Applying for admission as a doctoral student in Sociology may seem quite a daunting process. These notes are offered as practical guidelines for prospective students. They do not replace the official rules and regulations (as laid out in UCT’s official handbooks on General Rules and Policies and the Humanities Faculty’s Postgraduate Studies Handbook).

 As a first step, please read the following document on applying for a PhD in the Sociology Department. Please also see links and downloads in the right-hand column of this page.

Minimum Admission Requirements 

You need to be academically very well prepared to be admitted as a PhD student. This usually means having at least a good Master’s degree in Sociology (or an acceptable alternative social science discipline) and proven competence as an independent social researcher. A good research Master’s degree (i.e. a degree completed by dissertation only, without coursework) usually fulfils these requirements. Alternatively, a Master’s by coursework and dissertation may be acceptable if both the overall mark and the dissertation mark are very good, that is at least 70%. These minimum requirements do not guarantee admission.

These entrance requirements are sometimes relaxed for "mature" students, i.e. students who are older and have been out of the university world for some time. In such cases, we look for other evidence that the applicant is motivated and capable of completing a doctorate.

Students are sometimes admitted to study for a research Master’s degree with the possibility of a later change of registration to a PhD. A change of registration to PhD will only be approved if the student has demonstrated clearly that they are capable of completing successfully the PhD.

The application and admission procedure

The admission of students to study for a PhD entails three stages:

1. A preliminary stage to ascertain whether there is a fit between the student’s interests and the department.
2. The formal application.
3. Transfer from provisional to full registration.

First stage: Preliminary inquiries

At this stage you should communicate with the Administrator in the Sociology Department, You may also communicate directly with academic members of staff who are possible supervisors. However, it is advised that you CC the administrator in all correspondence during this preliminary stage.

Please send: 

  • Your CV (which includes the University contact details of two academic referees) 
  • A short proposal: this should be 6 to 8 pages or 2-3000 words in length; it should indicate clearly and succinctly (1) what you propose to research, (2) how you propose to research it, and (3) why this will be a significant contribution to one or other branch of sociology, including with respect to the existing literature. This is not a binding commitment on your part: if you are admitted, then we expect that the design of your thesis will evolve. But you must demonstrate the basic coherence of your proposed thesis topic.
  • All past academic transcripts (undergraduate and postgraduate) 
  • A writing sample. This should provide evidence of your academic – preferably sociological – writing ability and your command of research methods; your Master’s dissertation would best serve this purpose.
  • A motivation letter

If you have identified one or more possible supervisors in the Department, you should also indicate this. You might then be referred to a potential supervisor for further discussion. This step is important because the Department of Sociology will only take on a new doctoral student if that person has met the academic requirements and there is an appropriate supervisor within the Department who is both qualified, available and willing to provide the necessary supervision. Even if there is a qualified supervisor in the student’s proposed field of research, he or she might not be available or willing to supervise.

If none of the professors or lecturers in the department is qualified, available and willing to serve as supervisor, then the Department will not admit the student. It is at this point, therefore, that the administrator, on behalf of the Department’s Postgraduate Committee, will advise you whether or not to proceed with your application.

All requested documents must be provided in order for a proper assessment to be made. If there is definite interest expressed in your potential candidature, you will still be required to complete the full application process (see section below) before a formal response is given.   

Second stage: Formal application

Once you have established that the Department of Sociology will consider your formal application, you should proceed with applying formally for admission. Formal applications are done online, on:

Dates - application and registration


PhD applicants may apply at any time, but keep the various registration deadlines in mind (see section below).  Allow for enough time (at least 2 months) for the assessment process to be completed in order to make the registration deadlines.  Please ensure that all required documentation is provided - both for the preliminary assessment and, should it be recommended to apply formally, for the online application.  Bear in mind that university holidays may impact on assessments.  Mid-June to mid-July, as well as mid-December to end-January, are not advisable times to submit applications or expect a prompt response.


First-time registrations


New PhD students may register throughout the academic year but it must be before 1 May if it is to count as the first academic year of study (towards the minimum period of registration).  This is pertinent for those candidates who would like to graduate within the minimum time of 2 years, and may also impact scholarship funding.  

  • A new PhD student registering before 30 June is charged the FULL annual fee.
  • A new PhD student registering after 30 June is granted a 50% rebate of the annual course fee.

Returning candidates: must register by no later than February each year

Transfer from provisional to full registration 

Students will be required to register provisionally for a PhD, and will transfer to full registration only when the Department is satisfied with the student’s progress, and once their research proposal has been approved by the University's Doctoral Degrees Board.  

Students who are registered provisionally for a PhD are expected to spend their first six months developing, under supervision, their research proposal. To assist new students with provisional registration, the Department endeavours to hold an 'induction' session for new PhD students to discuss the requirements of a full proposal. New students are required to attend.  Students are sometimes required or advised to take appropriate Masters- or even Honours-level courses to help their preparations.

After six months, or earlier if you and your supervisor agree that the proposal is ready, you will be required to submit a full proposal and present it at a Departmental seminar. This full proposal should be approximately 20 pages (6-8000 words) in length. 

For more information on the research proposal, and the presentation thereof, see the Department's PhD Application guidelines.

Fees and Funding 

**Please note that the Department is unable to respond to fee-related queries**

Fees information can be obtained from the fees office:
It is also imperative that you consult the UCT Fees Handbook  

International Students 

**See Section 5 of the Fees Handbook for particulars**

An annual International Fee (not applicable to local, SADC or PhD students) is levied every year of registration.
SADC students are levied an annual Administrative Service Fee.


Scholarships and bursaries are administered by the Postgraduate Funding Office. 

For information on funding, see the Postgraduate Funding Office web pages and the Financial Assistance for Postgraduate Study and Postdoctoral Research handbook. The Postgraduate Funding notice board is another useful source for funding opportunities. 

You can  contact the Funding Office at

The deadlines for the UCT- administered awards vary from July to the end of October and usually pre-date the deadline for application submissions, so please submit your financial applications in on time if you are considering applying for a degree. 

**Note that the closing date for the International Students' Scholarship is 31 July of the preceding year of study**