Graduate Application Differences: UK vs USA

graduate application differences


Graduate Application Differences: USA vs UK

 

Thinking of applying to graduate programs in the US and UK? Excellent idea! A lot of applicants diversify their options across continents, and if you find programs that fit your needs–you should too!
That said, there are some graduate application differences you should be aware of before you start planning out your graduate application timeline.  The majority of expectations will be the same between the US and UK graduate schools: research experience, awards, high GPAs, good letters of recommendation, and a compelling statement of purpose. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of subtle differences.
In this post we’ll outline the most important differences between applying to graduate school in the US versus in the UK. We’re focusing more specifically on the differences between top US programs and Oxbridge (slang for Oxford University and Cambridge University). For specific details it’s always best to check with the school directly.

 

PhD vs. Dphil

In the United States you earn a PhD. In the United Kingdom (and most of Europe) you earn a Dphil. Is there a difference? Yes and no. In objective terms they’re supposed to be the same, just different names for the same degree. In practical terms there are differences in how you obtain each; in subtle terms, there are differences in the way each is perceived. We’ll stick with the aspects that are most pertinent to applicants.
At a school like Oxford University, there are usually three types of graduate degrees (there are of course more, but we’re sticking to generalities here). The Master of Science (MSc) which is usually 1 year, the Master of Philosophy (Mphil) which is 2 years, and the Doctorate of Philosophy (Dphil) which usually takes about 3 years. To apply for a Dphil you must (in most cases) have an Mphil degree already. You can’t go from undergraduate to Dphil without separately jumping through the master’s degree in the middle. The masters degrees are “taught courses” whereas the Dphil is just research.
If you want to get a Dphil from Oxford (or most UK / European universities) and you don’t already have a 2 year masters, you’ll have to apply for the Mphil track first.  The exams at the end of the Mphil usually act as your “qualifying exam” for entry into the Dphil. One issue with this setup is that you have two years of graduate school without conducting research. This can often equate to fewer publications by the time you graduate.
In the US, you’re allowed to apply directly to PhD programs. Your first year or two is spent taking classes and doing research–that is, you usually begin research right away. When you’re finished with your classes (anywhere from 1-3 year in), you can apply for a separate masters degree if you want. At the end of your PhD program you get your doctorate. Regardless of whether you applied for a separate masters degree, implied in that PhD are all the classes and qualifying exams associated with it.
But what if you want to get a masters in the US, not a PhD. This is referred to as a “terminal masters” meaning you have no intention of continuing on. If you get a terminal masters degree somewhere, and down the line decide to apply to PhD programs–you still have to take all the classes and exams associated with the PhD program, even though you already have a masters.
Depending on your situation, one program may work much better for your goals. If you’re interested in academia or just want to begin research immediately, the US is a much better option. If you want to focus exclusively on coursework for two years or you already have a masters degree and don’t want to retake classes, the UK system probably works better.

 

 

Financing

Financing a graduate degree is much different across the pond, which one is better depends on your situation.
In the US, many if not most PhD programs are fully funded. This means your tuition, health insurance, and a yearly stipend ($20,000-$35,000/year) are provided by the university. This may be in exchange for teaching part time or conducting research–or you may just be awarded a flat fellowship with no strings attached. This is true regardless of whether you’re an American or an international student (costs don’t vary based on where you’re from). Some programs/degrees with low funding do not provide this kind of support however. Outside of STEM fields it can be very difficult to get a terminal masters degree funded for example. It’s also worth noting that some fields that don’t create much revenue or grants often don’t provide any funding (for PhDs or masters students), this is true for a lot of the humanities.
In the UK on the other hand, the likelihood of getting a full ride is slim to none. Most students pay tuition and cover their own living expenses. There are exceptions of course: the Clarendon, Rhodes, and Gates-Cambridge Scholarships, etc. But these are very limited. Even if you do get one, the stipend is lower than most US stipends despite the UK being more expensive (real estate in Oxford and Cambridge is an ongoing issue). The upside? Tuition is somewhat cheaper across the board, depending on your field. This image below shows a list of the first few programs at Oxford University with associated tuition fees for 2016/2017. They do not include college fees, which vary by college (you do not have a choice which college you’re assigned to). They’re generally in the £2-3,000 per year range. These costs do not include living expenses, which you’d have to pay for personally. As you can see the cost of attending can vary widely based on whether or not you’re domestic / international or a Masters / Dphil student.

graduate application differences

 

Deadlines

One of the most obvious graduate application differences between UK and US graduate programs is their deadline structure. The UK is fond of a rolling admissions setup. This means that most programs have 3 different deadlines: one in the fall, one in winter (usually late January), and one in spring. The winter deadline is usually the deadline if you wish to be considered for financial aid. The tricky part in the UK is that you won’t find out about funding until after the very last deadline. This means you could be accepted in November, but not find out if you received any financial support until May, long after US program deadlines. This can make decisions tricky.
In the US, rolling admissions is generally restricted to MBA programs. Most PhD and master’s programs have one set deadline (often in December or January). You’re more likely to find rolling admissions deadlines in masters programs though, so be sure and check with each university directly. If you’re offered financial aid, you usually find out within 2 weeks of being accepted, and usually about one month before the ubiquitous April 15th response deadline.

 

Interviews

Ahh, the graduate interview. In the US, these are usually pretty painless. A lot of programs don’t do interviews, and the ones that do usually use them to assess “fit” (do your research interests match, etc) rather than evaluate your core knowledge base. A lot of programs have interviews after acceptances are sent out, essentially giving students a way to interview faculty and departments to help them decide which program to attend.
In the UK, interviews are a whole other thing entirely. They’re designed to weed out students, much like the qualifying exam once you’re in graduate school. You’ll be asked specific questions about your field. In a math department you may be asked to derive a theorem from memory. In a history program you could be asked about your thoughts on how a certain political leader influenced a particular period. Everything is on the table. In fact, the interviews are so uniquely difficult they’ve actually gained a fair amount of international recognition. Even if you have no intention of applying, definitely read through these lists of sample questions and BBC responses  if only just for entertainment value. While many UK programs don’t interview (it’s a flat accepted/rejected after submission), the ones that do tend to take them much more seriously when it comes to admissions.

 

 

GRE

The GRE started as a distinctly US phenomenon, so you’ll be hard pressed to find any traditional programs that don’t require them here. In the UK, the GRE isn’t required nearly as often. Some programs, such as economics, will require you to take and submit general GRE scores–but most won’t. There is a slight trend toward requiring it, but not at a rate that will matter to most applicants. If you’re hell bent on going to graduate school and for some reason just cannot stand the idea of taking the GRE, UK (and European) graduate programs might be a viable option for you!

 

 

Have any personal advice on graduate application differences between the UK and US that you’d like to share? Help out your fellow applicants and leave us a comment!
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Graduate Application Differences: UK vs USA

graduate application differences May 3rd, 2016


Graduate Application Differences: USA vs UK

 

Thinking of applying to graduate programs in the US and UK? Excellent idea! A lot of applicants diversify their options across continents, and if you find programs that fit your needs–you should too!
That said, there are some graduate application differences you should be aware of before you start planning out your graduate application timeline.  The majority of expectations will be the same between the US and UK graduate schools: research experience, awards, high GPAs, good letters of recommendation, and a compelling statement of purpose. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of subtle differences.
In this post we’ll outline the most important differences between applying to graduate school in the US versus in the UK. We’re focusing more specifically on the differences between top US programs and Oxbridge (slang for Oxford University and Cambridge University). For specific details it’s always best to check with the school directly.

 

PhD vs. Dphil

In the United States you earn a PhD. In the United Kingdom (and most of Europe) you earn a Dphil. Is there a difference? Yes and no. In objective terms they’re supposed to be the same, just different names for the same degree. In practical terms there are differences in how you obtain each; in subtle terms, there are differences in the way each is perceived. We’ll stick with the aspects that are most pertinent to applicants.
At a school like Oxford University, there are usually three types of graduate degrees (there are of course more, but we’re sticking to generalities here). The Master of Science (MSc) which is usually 1 year, the Master of Philosophy (Mphil) which is 2 years, and the Doctorate of Philosophy (Dphil) which usually takes about 3 years. To apply for a Dphil you must (in most cases) have an Mphil degree already. You can’t go from undergraduate to Dphil without separately jumping through the master’s degree in the middle. The masters degrees are “taught courses” whereas the Dphil is just research.
If you want to get a Dphil from Oxford (or most UK / European universities) and you don’t already have a 2 year masters, you’ll have to apply for the Mphil track first.  The exams at the end of the Mphil usually act as your “qualifying exam” for entry into the Dphil. One issue with this setup is that you have two years of graduate school without conducting research. This can often equate to fewer publications by the time you graduate.
In the US, you’re allowed to apply directly to PhD programs. Your first year or two is spent taking classes and doing research–that is, you usually begin research right away. When you’re finished with your classes (anywhere from 1-3 year in), you can apply for a separate masters degree if you want. At the end of your PhD program you get your doctorate. Regardless of whether you applied for a separate masters degree, implied in that PhD are all the classes and qualifying exams associated with it.
But what if you want to get a masters in the US, not a PhD. This is referred to as a “terminal masters” meaning you have no intention of continuing on. If you get a terminal masters degree somewhere, and down the line decide to apply to PhD programs–you still have to take all the classes and exams associated with the PhD program, even though you already have a masters.
Depending on your situation, one program may work much better for your goals. If you’re interested in academia or just want to begin research immediately, the US is a much better option. If you want to focus exclusively on coursework for two years or you already have a masters degree and don’t want to retake classes, the UK system probably works better.

 

 

Financing

Financing a graduate degree is much different across the pond, which one is better depends on your situation.
In the US, many if not most PhD programs are fully funded. This means your tuition, health insurance, and a yearly stipend ($20,000-$35,000/year) are provided by the university. This may be in exchange for teaching part time or conducting research–or you may just be awarded a flat fellowship with no strings attached. This is true regardless of whether you’re an American or an international student (costs don’t vary based on where you’re from). Some programs/degrees with low funding do not provide this kind of support however. Outside of STEM fields it can be very difficult to get a terminal masters degree funded for example. It’s also worth noting that some fields that don’t create much revenue or grants often don’t provide any funding (for PhDs or masters students), this is true for a lot of the humanities.
In the UK on the other hand, the likelihood of getting a full ride is slim to none. Most students pay tuition and cover their own living expenses. There are exceptions of course: the Clarendon, Rhodes, and Gates-Cambridge Scholarships, etc. But these are very limited. Even if you do get one, the stipend is lower than most US stipends despite the UK being more expensive (real estate in Oxford and Cambridge is an ongoing issue). The upside? Tuition is somewhat cheaper across the board, depending on your field. This image below shows a list of the first few programs at Oxford University with associated tuition fees for 2016/2017. They do not include college fees, which vary by college (you do not have a choice which college you’re assigned to). They’re generally in the £2-3,000 per year range. These costs do not include living expenses, which you’d have to pay for personally. As you can see the cost of attending can vary widely based on whether or not you’re domestic / international or a Masters / Dphil student.

graduate application differences

 

Deadlines

One of the most obvious graduate application differences between UK and US graduate programs is their deadline structure. The UK is fond of a rolling admissions setup. This means that most programs have 3 different deadlines: one in the fall, one in winter (usually late January), and one in spring. The winter deadline is usually the deadline if you wish to be considered for financial aid. The tricky part in the UK is that you won’t find out about funding until after the very last deadline. This means you could be accepted in November, but not find out if you received any financial support until May, long after US program deadlines. This can make decisions tricky.
In the US, rolling admissions is generally restricted to MBA programs. Most PhD and master’s programs have one set deadline (often in December or January). You’re more likely to find rolling admissions deadlines in masters programs though, so be sure and check with each university directly. If you’re offered financial aid, you usually find out within 2 weeks of being accepted, and usually about one month before the ubiquitous April 15th response deadline.

 

Interviews

Ahh, the graduate interview. In the US, these are usually pretty painless. A lot of programs don’t do interviews, and the ones that do usually use them to assess “fit” (do your research interests match, etc) rather than evaluate your core knowledge base. A lot of programs have interviews after acceptances are sent out, essentially giving students a way to interview faculty and departments to help them decide which program to attend.
In the UK, interviews are a whole other thing entirely. They’re designed to weed out students, much like the qualifying exam once you’re in graduate school. You’ll be asked specific questions about your field. In a math department you may be asked to derive a theorem from memory. In a history program you could be asked about your thoughts on how a certain political leader influenced a particular period. Everything is on the table. In fact, the interviews are so uniquely difficult they’ve actually gained a fair amount of international recognition. Even if you have no intention of applying, definitely read through these lists of sample questions and BBC responses  if only just for entertainment value. While many UK programs don’t interview (it’s a flat accepted/rejected after submission), the ones that do tend to take them much more seriously when it comes to admissions.

 

 

GRE

The GRE started as a distinctly US phenomenon, so you’ll be hard pressed to find any traditional programs that don’t require them here. In the UK, the GRE isn’t required nearly as often. Some programs, such as economics, will require you to take and submit general GRE scores–but most won’t. There is a slight trend toward requiring it, but not at a rate that will matter to most applicants. If you’re hell bent on going to graduate school and for some reason just cannot stand the idea of taking the GRE, UK (and European) graduate programs might be a viable option for you!

 

 

Have any personal advice on graduate application differences between the UK and US that you’d like to share? Help out your fellow applicants and leave us a comment!
By
@
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