Starting a Doctoral Degree: What to Do Before you Apply

17 MAY 2023 By Unicaf
Starting a Doctoral Degree: What to Do Before you Apply

Are you considering starting a doctoral degree with Unicaf University and aren’t sure where to begin? Well look no further. This article will lay down a plan for you to follow before embarking on your doctoral degree journey.

Before putting your application together, you need to consider the practicalities involved in pursuing a doctoral degree: funding, time management and family or work commitments. A PhD or a professional doctorate (DBA, EduD) is a major commitment and takes on average 4.5 years to complete.

If you think you can manage that commitment then your next step is to think of the topic you want to research and come up with a research proposal. To do this you will need to read widely in the field you are interested in researching.


Unicaf operates a generous scholarship programme for prospective students.

Everyone who applies to study with Unicaf is eligible for one of the generous scholarships that we offer. These scholarships are awarded on the basis of economic need, rather than on the basis of academic merit. When you apply for a scholarship through our main website, a scholarship based on economic need is what you will be applying for.

Once you’ve applied, a Student Adviser will contact you and discuss scholarship options with you.

The scholarships that we offer are in addition to significantly lower tuition fees than most other ordinary brick-and-mortar universities.

Unicaf also offers a limited number of full scholarships every year. Full scholarships are awarded on the basis of academic merit, through locally advertised competitions. For example, the winner of the Malawi-based Young Innovators Competition gets a full scholarship.

If you are convinced that a Unicaf doctoral degree is your best next step then we will do our best to help you finance that reality!

Time management

A PhD or a professional doctorate (DBA, EduD) takes time. You will need to dedicate 24 hours per week for over 4.5 years to complete your doctoral degree.

Consider your life circumstances and whether you have the time to complete a doctoral degree successfully. It is good practice to draw up a weekly schedule where you allocate specific time slots during the week to your doctoral degree. Also, include the other necessary activities you need to carry out during the week. Be sure to schedule some time for family commitments, such as outings and shared meals.

Download the Unicaf app to your phone and tablet so that you can easily access your email and student profile at any time. Develop a workflow to ensure you use your time productively.

Family and work commitments

Before you begin your doctoral degree, it is a good idea to sit down with your wife, husband, or partner and tell them what will be involved. You need their agreement before commencing a course of study which will take up a great deal of your time and attention for over 4.5 years, on average. Ideally, you want them to be supportive of both your decision and your process once you do begin. It helps to secure this if you let them know what you are getting into before you do so.

Providing a plan with specific time slots that you need to devote on your study will assist in developing a simple schedule for the whole family. In this way you will be able to have a lovely meal with your family on Sunday but at the same time have enough time to study.

Similarly, talk over your doctoral degree plans with your employer. Explain to them the time commitment involved and, if necessary, come to an arrangement on your working hours. It helps if you make it clear for them how earning this doctoral degree enhances your value to them and their business.

Read widely in the field of your research interest

To pursue a doctoral degree you will need to become an expert in your field. The first step towards achieving this is to read a wide variety of material from that field; beyond the scope of your Master’s degree.

This enables you to identify and define your own research project. At the doctoral level this needs to be original. A fundamental component of all doctoral degrees is the contribution to knowledge through innovation. Hence, you need to read widely, not only to be inspired, but also to ascertain that nobody else has covered your research question before you in the same way as you.

A research project can be original because you are collecting or examining the data in a different way, or because your analysis yields different conclusions.

It is likely that the actual topic of your research will have been addressed in some way before, just in a different way to how you intend to approach it. Testing a different theoretical and conceptual framework or employing a different methodology or even tools to test the same research question could contribute to providing new knowledge; hence innovation.

Begin to think about your research proposal

The research proposal will be the heart of your application to study a PhD. Whether you are accepted, or not, depends more than anything else on the quality of your research proposal.

A strong research proposal is original, makes a clear contribution to existing knowledge and connects to established research in the field, which it furthers in a productive manner.

At Unicaf we offer a lot of guidance on writing a strong research proposal, including a FREE Professional Development Course on how to do so.

Writing a doctoral research proposal is a challenging task and requires adherence to academic practices. The free Professional Development Course offered gives you the opportunity to acquaint yourselves with the Unicaf University guidelines for writing a research proposal involving topics such as plagiarism, a well-written and a poorly-written proposal, discipline-specific templates which can be used when writing your own research proposal as well as access to Turnitin similarity reports.

You will be given access to the free Professional Development Course once you receive your provisional approval following the completion of your application.

Click here to begin your application.

Sebastian Heller, Doctoral Studies Liaison, Unicaf.