Navigating PhD Study in Denmark: A Comprehensive Guide

In our quest for knowledge and academic excellence, pursuing a Ph.D. in Denmark is a commendable choice. The academic landscape of this Scandinavian gem is both enticing and academically enriching. However, the path to realizing this dream is often filled with questions and uncertainties. The pain point? Navigating the complex admission process, understanding the research opportunities, and adjusting to a new cultural and academic environment. It can be overwhelming, to say the least.  In this comprehensive guide, we will walk you through the intricacies of pursuing a PhD in Denmark, providing invaluable insights and actionable information to help you achieve your academic aspirations. From demystifying the application process to helping you find the right research program that aligns with your passion, we’ve got you covered.

Why Choose Denmark for Your PhD

The Danish higher education system has been around for over 500 years and has contributed to many important discoveries and inventions, like quantum theory and Lego. At the present time, the Danish government is investing more in higher education to produce well-qualified PhD researchers. 

Denmark has some great reasons to be considered for your doctorate this year:

  • They have excellent research and development facilities, which are highly ranked worldwide.
  • Most students from the EEA, EU, Switzerland, or those with residence permits don’t have to pay tuition fees.
  • Denmark welcomes international students by offering free Danish language classes.

After your PhD, you have the chance to work in Denmark without a visa, especially if you’re from the EU, EEA, or Switzerland. And there are opportunities for other international students too. So, Denmark is an excellent place to think about for your PhD studies. 

Overview of the Higher Education Landscape in Denmark

Denmark has a famous education system known for being excellent and research-focused. However, not all the 4 types of institutions offer PhD programs, so it’s important to know your options.

  • Business Academies: are for a shorter academic commitment and offer programs that typically span 1.5 to 2.5 years. These programs equip you with practical skills and knowledge that can be applied directly in the professional world.
  • University Colleges: are for medium-cycle programs. These programs, known as academy profession programs, strike a balance between theoretical learning and hands-on experience, preparing students for various careers.
  • Universities: offer long-cycle programs. Here, you can pursue first-cycle Bachelors, second-cycle Masters, and third-cycle PhD programs. For international students looking to pursue a PhD in Denmark, there are at this time eight universities to choose from. 
  • Institutions for Arts Education: provide long-cycle programs in disciplines such as architecture, design, film, fine arts, music, and performing arts. Their purpose is to nurture your creativity and artistic skills.

Denmark PhD Programs Structure

A doctoral degree in Denmark is a third-cycle qualification, aligning with the Bologna Process framework adopted across Europe. However, a Danish PhD possesses distinct characteristics that set it apart from the rest. 

One notable feature is the integration of industrial links, enriching the educational experience and offering students a diverse range of training opportunities.

In addition to coursework, students have to gain teaching experience and disseminate their research findings through presentations and publications. Many universities in Denmark provide teaching courses and guidance to facilitate this requirement. 

Furthermore, students are encouraged to broaden their horizons by conducting research both within and beyond their institution, which may involve collaborations with industry or universities abroad.

Duration: Three Years of Rigorous Study

The Danish academic year operates on a unique schedule, beginning in August/September and concluding in May/June, comprising two semesters. The typical duration for a full-time Danish PhD program is three years, a standard maintained since 1993. This three-year commitment necessitates a prior five-year Master’s program in the same or a closely related discipline or equivalent qualifications.

Integrated Master’s: the Flex Process 

Denmark also provides flexibility through the option of embarking on an integrated Master’s and PhD program, the “Flex Process.” This alternative allows students to start their journey either 12 months into a Master’s program (4+4 scheme) or immediately upon completing a Bachelor’s degree (3+5-scheme). 

Additionally, under special circumstances, part-time PhD studies are feasible through a formal application process, particularly if candidates hold professional qualifications equivalent to PhD studies.

The Danish PhD Process

In Denmark, when pursuing a PhD, you’ll work within the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS), part of the Bologna Process. To earn your PhD, you must accumulate a total of 180 credits. This means you’ll need to complete a few important tasks. 

Firstly, within the initial three months, you’ll create and get approval for your study plan, which outlines the courses you’ll take and your proposed research. 

Secondly, you’ll craft your thesis, demonstrating your skill in applying scientific methods relevant to your subject. It should as well meet the international standards for PhD research in your field. 

The next crucial step is passing the viva, a public defense where you present your work. The viva takes place in front of an evaluation panel comprising two academics from outside your institution and one from abroad. All should be renowned researchers in your field. Your thesis will be made public before this defense. 


Upon enrollment, each student is basically assigned an official academic supervisor. They must be a recognized expert in the field of the student’s research project. These supervisors play a pivotal role in guiding the PhD journey. 

Their main role is to help students develop their study plan, and ensuring their active participation in the requisite courses. Moreover, your supervisor will regularly evaluate your progress to ensure you stay on track, making adjustments as necessary to successfully complete the program.

Understanding the PhD Application Process in Denmark

The application process in Denmark is much like the process in the UK. Just like in the UK, you will need to apply for PhD programs via advertised projects and scholarships. This offers you the choice of either applying for an opportunity with a pre-defined research topic or proposing your research ideas. This second option allows you to tailor your PhD journey to your interests and ambitions.

PhD in Denmark Requirements

In Denmark, each institution has its unique admissions criteria. However, generally, a recognized Master’s degree in a relevant subject is a common requirement for enrolling as a PhD student. There are exceptions for those without a Master’s, where the PhD typically spans 4 years, as you must complete a Master’s program during your PhD period.

Qualifications Equivalence and Recognition 

To pursue a PhD in Denmark, your previous qualifications must have rcognition as comparable to Danish entrance qualifications. Usually, you can determine the equivalence of your qualifications in Denmark, using an official assessment service. This will ensure a smooth transition into the Danish academic landscape.

Language Proficiency

Denmark’s higher education system is highly internationalized, with numerous degree programs taught in English. For non-native English speakers, demonstrating proficiency in English is crucial. You can therefore prove your language skills through standardized tests like IELTS, Cambridge Advanced English (CAE), or TOEFL. 

Native English speakers usually don’t need these requirements. However, for those pursuing Danish programs, proficiency in Danish is essential. This can be verified through specific language tests.

The Application Process 

The application process for a PhD in Denmark can vary depending on the institution. It is advisable to contact the specific institution for exact details and deadlines. 

However, in most cases, you will be required to submit certain documents. This includes academic transcripts, a statement of purpose, a research proposal (if applying to a program without a predefined project), and references from academic mentors who have worked with you. 

Some universities may also require that the issuing institution send directly your academic documents. This process that can take several months.


In some instances, universities in Denmark may require interviews for admission to PhD programs. In that case, these interviews are typically conducted via Skype and involve 2 to 3 professors. The questions may revolve around your project proposal or other academic topics. Preparing for a PhD interview is essential to showcase your readiness and suitability for the program.

PhD Fees and Funding in Denmark

The cost of tuition for a PhD in Denmark is contingent on your nationality. For EU/EEA/Swiss students, higher education in Denmark is entirely tuition-free. However, international students may also qualify for free tuition under specific circumstances, which include:

  • Holding a permanent residence permit 
  • Possessing a temporary residence permit that can be upgraded to a permanent one
  • Holding a residence permit as the accompanying child of a non-EU/EEA individual with a residence permit based on employment.

For students who do not meet these criteria, tuition fees will apply. The exact fee structure can vary, and it’s advisable to contact your institution for precise details. In general, non-EU/EEA students can expect to pay an annual tuition fee ranging from €6,000 to €16,000.

Read here our overview of the cost of studying and living in Denmark.

PhD Scholarships 

Denmark offers numerous funding avenues for international students pursuing a PhD. These opportunities encompass a range of scholarships and programs tailored to support students throughout their academic journey:

  • Studentships: Universities, research institutions, and businesses often advertise studentships that extend over a three-year period.
  • Danish Government Scholarships Under the Cultural Agreement: These long-term scholarships are available to students from Brazil, China, Egypt, Japan, South Korea, as well as summer Danish language courses for the previously mentioned countries and 35 European countries.
  • Danish Government Scholarships for Highly Qualified Non-EU/EEA Students: The Danish government allocates a limited number of scholarships each year to fund exceptionally qualified students from non-EU/EEA countries and Switzerland. You can apply for these scholarships directly at your chosen institution.
  • Nordplus: Funding opportunities under Nordplus enable students at Nordic or Baltic institutions to pursue their studies in another Nordic or Baltic country as part of their degree program.
  • Fulbright Commission: US citizens can benefit from funding opportunities that support an entire academic year of study and research in Denmark.

Furthermore, individual universities in Denmark may offer their own funding and support mechanisms tailored to international students. To understand the available assistance and the eligibility criteria, we recommend you check with your specific institution. Read also our review of the best scholarships in Denmark

PhD Salary in Denmark 

In some instances, universities in Denmark provide scholarships to PhD students in the form of a monthly salary. This employment arrangement implies that you will be under contract until the completion of your thesis. For example, a PhD student working at the University of Copenhagen typically earns 32,567 Danish Krone (around 4,370 EUR) per month on average.

It is advisable to consult with your department to check whether this applies to your specific situation. This salary-based support can significantly alleviate the financial burden of pursuing a PhD in Denmark. 


In this comprehensive guide, we have unveiled the remarkable opportunities that await you as a Ph.D. student in Denmark. The country’s esteemed universities, research culture, quality of life, and inclusive policies create the ideal environment for academic growth.

Embarking on this academic journey in Denmark is a choice that promises not only academic excellence but also a rich and fulfilling life experience. So, take the first step towards your PhD study in Denmark, and let the enchanting world of Danish academia unfold before you.

About Herilalao

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