Chances of getting a PhD place? - English Literature


I feel a bit silly coming on here, and essentially asking for reassurance or validation, but I’m very worried. I’ve done my MLitt this year at St Andrews (in the Scottish system, an MLitt is an MA!). I did the MLitt in a course which was always going to be harder for me, but it was a challenge I wanted. It’s very theory based, something I’ve always struggled with, but I have really enjoyed it! My module marks, however, really concern me. I’ve ended up with the equivalent of a low 2:1, two mid 2:1s, a high 2:1 and a high 1st, with the diss still to go. My average is about 15/20, so like a fairly high merit. I’m not planning on doing the PhD for several years, and I have a good graduate job lined up so I can self fund, so funding isn’t an issue (or at least I hope it won’t be)! However, I’m scared that with marks like these I might not get a place at the universities I was hoping for. I was wanting to work with staff/departments from Kings College London, Cambridge, or UCL, and while they all say that they take people with merits, I’ve heard people say that they don’t actually do that, especially Cambridge - that anyone who doesn’t have a distinction isn’t looked at. I also wanted these unis as they’re the only ones closest to me which I can attend. I do have a first class undergrad degree - could someone please give me some advice or reassurance? I’m so sorry if I look whiny or silly, I’m just so sad about my marks, and I’m scared I’ve thrown the PhD dream away 😭

Avatar for Mark_B


My PhD was in Lit. If you were applying for funding (AHRC and so on) then the reality is that a merit might be something of an Achilles heel (the margins being so fine). I wouldn't have thought it would prevent you being admitted as a self-funded student though. A high merit is a perfectly good grade that shows you can handle advanced postgraduate work.

The potential of your topic and its suitability for the institution / dept you're applying to will be far more crucial. Which is to say that your research proposal is the thing. The MLitt should only matter in so far as it relates to that topic. A good dissertation mark will also help - especially if it relates to your proposed PhD.

My advice would be to focus on getting as much out of your MLitt as possible (especially the diss / thesis) and to work hard on your research proposal. There's also nothing wrong with getting in touch with prospective supervisors nearer the time and asking for their take. I imagine most would be far more interested in your proposal, enthusiasm and knowledge of the field than they will in which of two very good grade bands your MLitt fell in.

Stay positive!




Thank you so much for your comment, it’s very very reassuring. I’m aware about the issue with finding, honestly my actual lecturers at St. Andrews said they got distinctions and still got rejected for funding on several occasions, having to re-apply the following year, so my plan was always to work and save and hopefully get myself into a part time position which would enable me to also work on and fund the PhD!

This is really reassuring, as I said. I was super worried about my transcript, because I’ve had 8 assignments, 4 of which have been a 14/20 (so a lower 2:1), three of which have been high 2;1s and 1 of which has been a first, which has averaged out into the module results I mentioned before and my overall mark of about 15/20. I’m a little concerned they’ll see my spread of 14s and write me off, but if the research proposal etc. Is as or more important, that does make me feel a lot better - my first and highest 2;1 were in modules directly related to what I want to work on for my PhD, and I also got a good mid 2:1 in my Theories and contexts module, so I’m hoping that’ll help me out as well.

Thank you so much for taking the time to reach out to me, I do feel a lot better now, I really appreciate it!