PhD Studies in the United States of America

Doing your PhD studies in the USA is a completely different experience compared to Europe. When it comes to postgraduate studies, the USA is a very popular destination for international students. The popularity of American universities may be due to the high level of academic studies and the wide range of subjects available to study.


PhD Teaching Methodology in the United States of America

There are a number of key differences between PhD programs in the UK or Europe in general and the USA. Unlike in the UK, a student in America would normally be in direct contact with their professor. PhD’s supervisors may also be less flexible in the UK when it comes to changes in the field of study and research.

You’ll notice that there is a difference in culture between PhD students in the USA and those in Europe. Usually, in America, you’d be expected as a PhD student are to do as much lecturing and correcting as you possibly can, whereas in the UK they aren’t required to do as much work. This means that if you decide on a PhD studies in the USA, you may have less free time for off-campus activities. In other words, it’ll be more difficult to balance between studying and socializing.

Structure of PhD programs in USA

As already mentioned earlier, PhD programs in the USA consist of two phases: a coursework stage and a dissertation stage. 

The coursework phase requires the students to attend a complete series of classes. Therefore, there are core classes which are mandatory and elective classes which are optional, that you need to complete to earn the required credit for your program. To find which class to choose, you need to refer to the design of your program as well as the amount of technical knowledge for your research subject. 

After you finish this phase, you will sit an examination that will determine your readiness for the next phase. This is the “field exam” or “dissertation qualifying exam”, which tests if you have mastered enough knowledge in your study field to conduct your own research. 

The dissertation stage, on the other hand, consists of the pure research part of your PhD. After you decide upon a research topic, you have to write a dissertation prospectus. This is like the research proposal that PhD candidates in other countries submit as part of their application. 

In some programs, you might need to present and defend your prospectus in front of a committee before you can proceed to your research. And the last test for your PhD will be the presentation and defense of your doctoral dissertation.

Learn also how to earn a master in the USA.

How to apply for PhD in USA?

In Europe and the UK, students will decide on the subject of their PhD dissertation before applying to register at university. However, potential PhD students in America could take up to two years of their postgraduate studies in order to decide on the topic of their dissertation.

On average, you can apply to as much as six establishments to get your PhD in the USA. However, you’ll have to apply to each one separately due to there being no central organization. In the UK, you would be expected to apply only after fully understanding your subject of interest. You also would be expected to have already completed your Master’s thesis and are fully prepared to study on a doctoral level.

However, in the USA, you will not be expected to have extensive knowledge on your topic of interest. You’ll usually only need a university degree when applying for a PhD program.

Check the article about Medicine Studies in the USA if you are interested in this kind of studies.

PhD requirements in USA for international students

Deadlines for applying for PhD studies in the United States tend to be between December and February. Universities will notify you by April. Most universities advise that you apply as early as possible to give both yourself and them enough time to make the necessary arrangements.

Most universities in the USA will require international students to score an average TOEFL test score of 90. (This may vary according to the university)

Moreover, in the USA, you don’t necessarily need a master to apply for a PhD. Graduate programs in USA usually combine masters and PhD’s, so students earn a master’s at the end of their coursework phase. Those who already have a master can then add their credit to spend less time on the coursework stage of the PhD. 

Admission exams

Other requirements include a good GPA (Grade Point Average), of at least 3.0. Lastly, most universities will require applicants to sit admission tests to assess if they are academically capable of advanced graduate-level work. These tests, then, evaluate applicants’ skills in literacy, numeracy, critical thinking and other types of reasoning. 

The most common exams include: 

  • GRE (Graduate Records Examination) which can either be a General GRE or a GRE Subject. The general type measures the student’s abilities in general and analytical reasoning, while the GRE Subject assesses their knowledge in a specific subject
  • GMAT for those who apply for a Doctor of Business Administration
  • MCAT for those who apply to an MD program
  • DAT for those applying for dentistry graduate studies. 
  • LSAT for Juris Doctor programs, those who are in law schools.

Other documents to provide for your PhD application include: 

  • Filled application form
  • Resume
  • Transcripts of your school records
  • Statement of purpose
  • Recommendation letters
  • Application fee

Cost of PhD in USA

In most cases, you can apply for a PhD by applying for a scholarship. A PhD program can cost you around $28,000 to $55,000. However, most students find that they can get full or partial scholarships.

The deadlines for scholarship applications may be earlier than December and before your fall semester.

What is the duration of PhD programs in USA?

It could take you 8 to 10 years to complete your PhD in the USA, especially if you enroll in a part-time PhD studies. However, students who study full-time can decrease that duration to 5 or 6 years instead. Additionally, if you already have a Master’s degree in a relevant subject, it may take you up to 4 or 5 years.

Check also our article on how to prepare for a student life in USA

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