Comparison of European And US-based PhD Education

What is the difference between getting a PhD Education in the US versus a European? What are the pros and cons of each? This blog article will help you answer these questions by providing helpful insights.

The Differences between US and European PhD Education.

The continents and countries that offer the best value may depend on several factors as well as your personal preferences. Which is one is best is a difficult question to answer, as each country has different tuition fees, research opportunities, and job prospects.  I highlight the differences using the following key areas. You decide as you read through.

  • Application process
  • Tuition and funding
  • Structure of education
  • Course work requirements
  • Teaching requirement
  • Comprehensive exam
  • Publication requirements
  • Time to complete
  • Location

The application process for US-based vs. Europe PhD education  

Master’s Requirement:

In the US, depending on the area of focus (i.e., engineering, business), there may not be a requirement for a master’s degree before applying for a Ph.D. program. For example, Engineering Ph.D. programs do not require a master’s degree. However, some universities may bundle the Master’s degree requirements into the Ph.D. program. Most business schools in the US require a master’s degree before applying for a Ph.D. program. In Europe, there is a requirement for a Master’s degree.

Research Proposal:

In Europe, as part of the application process, prospective students must submit a research proposal with their application. This means that students are required to already know what they want to research for the Ph.D.

In the US, however, there isn’t a requirement to submit a research proposal.  Phew. This requirement would have disqualified me because I sure did not have a clear idea of what I wanted to study before I applied. I just knew the general area and wanted to learn all there was to know about that area. However, I could not have been able to articulate it in a research proposal at the time. I didn’t even know what a research proposal looked like.

Funding and tuition for US-based vs. Europe Ph.D. education 

Many European universities offer financial assistance for PhD education of students. Many have detailed information on how they fund, where the funding comes from, and the cost-of-living expenses. For example, on the University of Manchester’s website, you will not have to spend too much time searching to find information about their funding and commitment to funding.

In the US, the equivalent is also the case. However, it is more difficult to find information about their funding. When I was looking for a PhD Education program, I thought I was going to fund myself because this information was not clear to me. Some universities do better at marketing and explaining their funding opportunities than others. I think they should do more to make this information readily available and clear to prospective students.

By and large, I find that schools in the UK are more upfront about informing prospective students of their funding opportunities than schools in the US.

The average cost of obtaining a Ph.D. in the US is $120,000 (for four years), while in Europe, it is £38,600. This means that the US university system is more expensive than in Europe. But remember that most of this cost is funded by the university.

Structure of education for US-based vs. Europe Ph.D. education 

In the US, the 2-year period reserved for coursework does three main things. (1) It gives the student plenty of time to understand how the program works. (2) It also allows students to build relationships with potential advisors and understand their strengths and weaknesses, (3) It gives the student time to figure out a topic of interest to research. At the end of the 2 years is when students are supposed to write their Research Proposal.

In most European-based schools, the Research Proposal is required up front as an application requirement. Also, if an advisor with similar interests and capacity is available, the student is attached to an advisor. The advisor starts to work with the student to fine-tune the student’s research proposal and build upon it. This usually means that a student is only admitted to the program if there is an advisor available to supervise the student.

Course work requirement for US-based vs. Europe Ph.D. education 

US-based PhD Education programs have a 2-year coursework requirement. This means that when you start your program, you take classroom-based courses for 2 years so you learn how to do research and more especially how to quantitatively analyze data. In most European schools, coursework is not a requirement. They often do not have formal classroom-based coursework that makes it into a transcript.

This could potentially be a problem for European-trained PhDs seeking to move to the US. This is especially the case for early-career Ph.Ds., who do not yet have a history of publications. You see, these publications are evidence showing that one knows how to do research. Without the publication evidence or the transcripts that show that one took coursework, how are prospective schools assured that you can do good research?  

Publication requirement for US-based vs. Europe PhD education 

In the US, most universities expect doctoral candidates to publish at least one article in a peer-reviewed journal during their tenure as graduate students. This requirement can be a challenge for those unwilling to spend countless hours working on projects. However, it also allows students to develop strong research skills. European PhDs tend to have fewer research and publication expectations, and many programs do not require students to publish papers during their time as graduate students.

Time to complete a Ph.D. in a US-based vs. Europe PhD Education program 

The duration for completing a PhD education is similar in both locations. In the US, the average is 4 years for a full-time program. In the UK, it is also an average of 4 years for full-time programs. Students can do it in longer or shorter times. I completed mine in 4 years, and I know a few colleagues who did theirs in 3-years. Doing it in 3 years requires not just a lot more dedication; it also requires the full support of one’s advisor. If the advisor is not in support or not capable of pushing one through, it becomes a lot more improbable. 

Your current location

If your current location is in the US or Europe, then sometimes, where you pursue your PhD education boils down to your current location. The question of choice between the US and Europe could be something that only international students make.

I am based in Texas, US, and my choices were limited to the universities in a 50 – 100 mile radius. That’s it. I had family obligations that made it so, and I am happy that were constraints. Otherwise, the limitless choices would have even complicated my decision to pursue it in the first place.

By and large, figure out what’s important to you and stay within that framework.   


Regarding doctoral education, there are a few key differences between European and US-based programs. I hope this article provides an overview of the two systems, highlighting some of their differences. It is important to remember that no two places are alike, so if you’re looking for a specific type of doctoral program or environment, you’ll likely succeed more by identifying what’s important to you as you compare.

Comparison of European And US-based PhD Education

Post navigation

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *