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5 Key differences between graduate school in the US and everywhere else

So you’re thinking about going to graduate school in the United States, but you don’t know what it’s like. You’ve done some research, heard about graduate school in your country from your friends and siblings and you’ve decided that it’s not the best option for you, so you’re exploring other opportunities abroad. Here are a few differences between American graduate schools and graduate schools in other countries around the world.

1. Cost. Graduate school in the U.S. can cost far more than any other country. Even if you’re able to secure a scholarship or loan to help finance your studies, which is difficult for international students because they are generally reserved for American students, there are other costs that may not be covered, for example living expenses or books needed for class. Make sure you have the finances to cover the cost of studying in the U.S. before you apply because many Universities will ask for a document showing proof that you’re able to finance your studies. Failure to provide this may cost you the opportunity of studying in the U.S. You will also need to show proof that you will be able to finance your studies in order to obtain a visa to study in the United States.

2. Interactivity. Graduate school in the U.S. is far more interactive than many other places. Students will be expected to prepare for class ahead of time and will be called on by the teacher to provide an answer to a question that they should be prepared for. If a student does not know the answer to a question that should have been prepared, it can be reflected in the overall grade of the class for that student. Also, students in the U.S. can respectfully challenge the professor and it will not be looked down upon. In retrospect, the professor may actually be impressed with the student and look highly upon that student because of this (assuming the student did it in a polite manner).

3. Flexibility. In the U.S., choosing a specific topic to study is far more flexible than many other places. In the U.S. you choose to specialize once you are already studying in the university whereas in many other places you may have to chose before. Even once you have chosen the topic of specialization, you may be able to switch programs if you’re not happy with the one you’re in. The same goes with writing your thesis or choosing a specific topic to research. You have flexibility in the topics that you pick and you are able to switch your topic if you find something more interesting (with the professor's permission of course).

4. Connection to professors. In the U.S. the professor is available to you. They open their office to students for questions and help in the class that they teach. Creating a good relationship with a professor is key to a good letter or recommendation that you will probably need in the future for either a job or continued study at another institution. Also the professor might have connections to people in high up places in great companies and may be able to help you secure a job in the future if you do well in their class and have a good relationship with them. It is not uncommon to go out for coffee or lunch with professors to discuss your studies, career opportunities or to show interest in the Professor’s work.

5. Time consuming. Studying in the U.S. may consume a lot more of your time than anywhere else. For example, in the U.K. you may be able to obtain a graduate degree in a year, while in the United States you may have to study for two or more years before obtaining a similar degree. Also the amount of coursework given may be greater in the United States. For example to obtain a PhD degree somewhere else you may only be required to write a doctoral thesis while in the U.S. you may still be asked to take traditional classes and exams and hand in projects on top of writing the thesis, sometimes for as long as 2 years worth of courses. It is generally hard to work while studying in the US - it is an all consuming experience. 

To Sum things up, graduate school in the US is different, but it is exciting and engaging and may lead you to interesting directions for your career in academia or in the private sector. Be aware of these differences so you will adapt quickly and make the most of your study abroad experience.

Photo Credits:

Cap - By Krzysztof Szymański (Polski: Moje dziełoEnglish: Own work) [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0
"Cappuccino Chiang Mai" by Takeaway - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
"A municipal library, Prague - 8471" by © Jorge Royan / Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons



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