While reading your marketing textbooks, did you ever wonder how the theories you read came into existence? Who exactly discovered that under certain circumstances, we will pay more for a product instead of travelling to another nearby location (behavioral pricing)? Or who came up with the thought that Dove shampoo is a good idea but Dove laundry cleaner may not be (brand extensions)? And did you wonder, why some people swear by Apple while others swear by Google (brand loyalty, brand person relationships)? These, and almost all other theoretical concepts in marketing, were developed by professors of marketing working in research universities. And how did they end up becoming professors? Well, they did a PhD in Marketing.

PhD in Marketing

PhD in Marketing After MBA

In this article, I would try to give a brief overview of the admissions process for PhD programs in marketing. Some of the things discussed here may be applicable to PhD in business in general. But, given my limited knowledge, I will stick to marketing. Also this article discusses the PhD programs which are of US-style (4-5 years duration). Other good PhD programs exist such as the British and Australian PhD programs and if you are interested in that, this may be less applicable to you.

Choosing on you PhD program

The first thing that one should understand before deciding on a PhD in marketing is the fact that the opportunities post PhD are mostly limited to academics. There may be some positions available in the industry. But in almost all cases, people start their careers as an assistant professor in a university.

Academics, from what I have heard (and have experienced a bit), is an extremely rewarding career. You are practically your own boss. You can decide what you want to work on, when you want to work and with whom you want to work. The school generally has some publications, teaching and service standards. As long as you meet those standards, nobody will question you. The lifestyle is quite good as well. There is, of course, a very high workload. But, if you love research and teaching, you won’t mind the work load. Also, internationally, business school professors are paid quite well.

Three Broad Areas Under Marketing

Marketing has three broad areas viz. consumer behavior (CB), quantitative modelling and marketing strategy. Then there are sub-areas. For example, in consumer behavior, you can research on consumer culture theory. In quantitative modelling, you have the choice of analytical or empirical modelling. While applying for your PhD, you should have at least good idea of which of the 3 broad areas you want to research on. This is because your decision of where to apply will depend on the ‘track’ you choose.

Deciding on the set of schools to apply to, is in my opinion, the next most important task. Head over to the UTD Top 100 rankings and rank schools by publication output in the top journals of your area. For example, if you are applying to consumer behavior, you should select Journal of Consumer Research and Journal of Marketing Research (maybe Journal of Marketing as well). However, this list is indicative. Once you have the rankings, go to each school’s website and check out the work being done by professors. Some lower ranked schools may have some amazing professors who publish in allied journals (such as psychology journals for CB professors) and therefore, the UTD rankings may not reflect this. If you like the work of the professors in a particular school, the next step is to see the profiles of PhD students and placements of previously graduated students. Once you see a ‘fit’, you can consider applying to that school.

To be eligible to apply, most universities specify a minimum 4 years bachelors degree. However, you will notice that most Indian applicants have a masters degree. Prior work-experience is not a necessary condition but some amount of work-ex is ‘good to have’. Also, if you have prior research experience, that is extremely favorable to your chances of getting an admit.

PhD Admission Package

Your admissions package will consist of the following:

Statement of Purpose (SOP): Your motivation of why you want to leave an industry career and embrace an academic career

Letters of Recommendations(LOR): Most schools require 3 LORs from professors who know about your work. Nowadays, in most schools, the recommenders have to submit the LORs online. Professors are busy people. Approach them well in advance. LOR plays a very important role if the recommender is research active and can actually evaluate your research potential.

GMAT score: There is no cut-off. The average scores of previous cohorts are generally provided in the program websites of most schools. A score of more than 700 will generally put you in the consideration set in many schools.

Academic transcripts: If your degree is from a large Government university, do apply for transcripts well in advance.

Nowadays, many schools accept scanned copies of the application material. If you need to send them by post, keep a buffer for unforeseen events such as postal delays. Most courier companies will take around 5-7 working days to deliver your application package to US/Europe. I had used DHL University Express and found them to be quite reliable. The deadline for application is generally the January of the year, or December of the previous year, the program begins.

Once the school evaluates your application, they will hold a telephonic interview. In some cases, if the school is really sure about you, they may arrange a fly-out for you to visit their campus. The interview for PhD is not stressful. In most schools, PhD students are treated as ‘junior colleagues’. So, the interviewers are more interested in examining your motivation for research and whether you will be a good fit for the department.

The Financials

Let’s move on to financials. You should earmark around Rs. 30,000 for GMAT and TOEFL (test fee and materials). Also, almost all schools have an application fee ranging from US$70 to US$100. Typically, people apply to 10-12 schools. So, in total, you should earmark around Rs. 1 Lakh for the application process.

Now, you must be wondering about how you will survive for 5 years without pay and pay for your tuitions. Well, you don’t have to worry. Almost all business PhD programs waive your tuition requirements for at least 4 years. Additionally, you are given a modest stipend which is comfortable for a single person (but may be a stretch for a couple and may require major lifestyle adjustments). Also, note that in some schools, the stipend may be taxable. Another factor to look at is the city where you will be staying for the next 5 years. If it is a big metropolitan city, you will end up spending more each month. A major cost head is housing. Do find out whether the school provides university housing (and for how long).

This article is in no way meant to be comprehensive. The application stage itself requires a lot of hard work including researching about schools, professors and areas. Typically, one should start preparing the application package (GMAT, TOEFL, SOP, LORs etc.) at least 6-8 months before the application deadline.

The aim of this article was to distill the basic application process to the PhD program. There are numerous useful resources on web. I found these particularly helpful:

  1. UTD Top 100 Rankings
  2. A blog by Prof. Gaurav Sabnis. Old but still very useful.
  3. Urch forum for PhD in Business. Extremely helpful people.
  4. GMAT Club for your GMAT preparations
  5. AMA’s Doctoral Special Interest Group
  6. DocSIG’s Who Went Where survey. A great resource to know about salary levels for starting assistant professors in US universities
  7. Marketing PhD academic job exchange

About the Author


Shankha Basu, is currently pursuing PhD in marketing (consumer behavior) at Nanyang Technological University. He is an alumnus of SPJIMR (Batch of  2010), Mumbai and has previously worked with Axis Bank as a Manager in “Retail Liabilities Strategy and Retail Banking“. He is well known for his knowledge in the domain of marketing. He is an active participant when it comes to helping aspirants, MBA students and MBA professionals in the domain of career guidance.