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Study PHD in USA | Eligibility, Application Process (2021 Guide)

By May 10, 2021June 9th, 2021No Comments

PHD in USA: Are you one of those students who’s passionate about their field and wish to do PHD but you are wondering which country or which part of the world provides the best programs and universities for you to explore and research about your area of interest in-depth with proper resources and facilities.

In this article we will explore in depth everything one needs to know about doing PHD in USA from admissions to stipends to choosing dissertation professors to teaching responsibilities and post PHD job opportunities. Stick till the end to find out everything you need

A short answer for all your questions is this : USA is the best country to pursue your PHD in majority of the fields,

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

1) Why choose the USA for your PhD

1.1) Advantages of doing PHD in the US

Accessibility

 PhD student in USA does not require  to focus immediately on dissertation proposal but will  have the time to first develop a more detailed understanding of your subject as the basis for your own research. That is why PHD in USA are longer as compared to UK.

World-leading universities and research

Rankings aren’t everything, but the upper reaches of global league tables continue to be dominated by US institutions. As there is a substantial investment in research output and expertise.

International community

 Whatever and wherever you study you’ll be welcomed as part of a diverse academic community.

Innovation :

America was the second country (after Germany) to adopt the modern PhD degree and its own structured approach to doctoral training is now influencing PhD study in the UK and Europe.

Breadth of opportunity :

With 50 states, six time zones and thousands of higher education providers you will find a huge opportunity after your PHD

NOTE : The fact that matters is, one needs to look for the quality and the number of research paper’s that are being published in the top journals in the industry country wise. 

In most cases the US is the best place to do your PHD. But do your research and find which country produces the best research work and go there for better learning and growing experience.

1.2) 5 Reasons Why one should pursue a PHD in the USA rather than a Master's/ Bachelors?

why phd is better | Reasons why phd is better than BTech or masters in USA

PHD is free/Cheap:

When it comes to Bachelors and Master’s, there are quite some options for us to get funding from or get scholarships. But the problem is that not a lot of students get full scholarships and they would be forced to pay the remaining tuition fees and alot of other costs that comes along while living in the USA.

We are all aware that education in the US is more on the expensive side and a lot of students find a way to pull it off with as many part time jobs as possible. But this affects their schedule and routine and drains their mental energy and consumes alot of their study time

Whereas PHD in the USA is a different story. The programs are fully funded and you even get paid to study there and there is no need to pay the tuition fee.

Fee waivers, assistantships and stipends are guaranteed in a PHD program and the stipends are quite high for PHD students in the US when compared to any other country. So for doing PHD, US can be considered the best place!

PHD saves us from the worst possible outcome:

When it comes to pursuing a degree abroad, what is the worst possible outcome that could come out of it?

We finish the degree there and yet we get shipped back to our home country with a bunch of huge educational loans and we have to find a job here with a currency that much lower in value and work hard to pay back all the educational loans

Whereas a PHD student wouldn’t have to be too scared about this fact since their educational expenses are usually taken care of via stipends and assistantships and other funding sources. And even if one doesn’t secure a job there, they could always get well paying great jobs back in India or any developing country which has so many universities.

Networking:

“ You are the average of 5 people that you hang around with the most”

Imagine getting enrolled into a good university in the US for PHD. What would be the quality of people there? 

While doing your bachelor’s degree, one would be surrounded by all kinds of people from all around the world with different lifestyles and mindsets and there you could find alot of people who tend to fool around and be less focused or live by ideologies that you might totally disagree with. 

Whereas when it comes to master’s degree, the quality of the crowd increases tremendously and with PHD, only the most motivated, interested and focused people get here. So you could learn and grow as a community while doing your PHD. Another important fact is, everyone doing a PHD is there by their own choice which makes them a group of highly interested and talented people with whom you would be spending most of your time with.

Friendships with Mentors:

“ PHD students are like 10 year projects”

  • University Mentors

In research based universities, most of the professors tend to spend a huge amount of time with the PHD students than the ones in bachelors and master’s degree programs. Bachelors students are more focused on learning the basic concepts and master’s students are usually busy with course work and won’t stay for too long in the campus.

So, one of the biggest advantages of being a PHD student in the US is that you get to spend 4-6 years researching and further continue the work for years to come and hence the mentors and the professors would be more open to building a good relationship with you and that would make way for so much of learning and growth.

Come out of it matured and better:

One of the things that a PHD student would experience is this : They start earning money a lot later than the general population. Some would even take over 30 years to get their first paycheck and when you spend your 20s learning and researching and focusing while managing the possible financial hardships that come your way, makes you financially mature.

1.3) Is PHD the right choice for you?

Some students might be wondering if pursuing a PHD is a right thing for them.

It depends on the career you are in and if you are interested in research. For instance if you have a master’s in biology or in any of the languages or history, the jobs available for you would be scarce. So doing a PHD in such instances can open up a whole new alot of opportunities.

Now when it comes to research it can be categorized into two things : Discovering phenomenons in nature and inventing new stuff.

If research, discovery and inventions are something you desire, then PHD is the right choice for you.

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Chapter 2

PHD FAQ’s: Eligibility and More

2.1) Intake seasons for PhD programs

Two Teaching Semester’s:

The academic year in the USA consists of two teaching semesters: 

  • August-December 
  •  January-May. 

These will be when your classes and assessments take place. 

Most graduate programmes admit students in the autumn (or ‘fall’) semester because of the following reasons:

  •  The scholarships and financial aids are aimed at this semester.
  • There are not many financial aid opportunities as well as job opportunities available for the Spring semester

2.2) Duration of the PHD Program

The length of a PhD program in the USA is usually 4-6 years (full time). 

Students spend 2 years on the coursework stage of their programme and 2-4 years working on their dissertation.

The minimum and the maximum durations would vary depending on the university and the field of study but traditionally a PHD program is for 5 years and there will be a year limit within which one should potentially finish their research to get their PHD.

There are students who find a way to get their PHD in 3 years as well. So expect anywhere between 4-6 years to get your PHD

Coursework : 

  • Core classes (Essential )
  • Elective classes (Optional )

Dissertation : 

 It’s the research proposal submitted as part of a PhD application.

2.3) AGE A FACTOR FOR PHD?

Is there any age limit for pursuing PHD or is it a good choice to start doing PHD after the age of 30? Would the age be a factor in getting jobs after?

Age is not any issue and there are people who start their PHDs even after the age of 40. So there are no age limits and in the United States they value the background and the profile and will not discriminate based on their age. So go for it if you really want to.

2.4) PHD AFTER BTECH?

Can we do a PHD right after bachelors or B.Tech Degree?

If one has decent research experience in Bachelors level itself and if it’s good quality research and if you have published papers and have some achievements to show, then yes, your chances of getting admissions into PHD would increase.

But it is generally recommended that we spend a little more time exploring the topic of interest in our master’s before jumping into a PHD program. Doing a master’s also strengthens your knowledge on the field which would be needed to be able to successfully complete your PHD.

But yes, it is totally possible to do your PHD right after bachelors. Even if the background of your profile doesn’t match with the PHD course you want to pursue, you can still get admissions if you can impress the professor you want to work with and these scenarios have happened in the past.

2.5) INTERNSHIPS DURING PHD:

Internships during PHD, Recommended or not?

The answer to this question would depend on the field you are in. 

Here’s the logic you need to look for. PHD is a degree where you are trying to become a researcher. Internships are jobs where you “work for the company and find ways to make them money”. Sometimes these two do not add up.

For instance, if you are in the Computer and software field, it’s completely alright to work in google or facebook or in some booming startups because it would help you become better in the particular field which would help with the research.

In most fields it is generally not recommended to do internships while being a PHD student since it would take your focus away from research.

Chapter 3

What are the requirements to do a PhD in the USA?

3.1) PHD in USA - Requirements:

Universities and graduate schools will set their own admissions procedures, but for most of the universities have following requirements :

  • Academic transcripts  
  • SOP
  • LOR
  • Research Statement
  • Writing Samples
  • CV
  • Test Scores: General GRE And GRE Subject.

PS :  Some PhD subjects may use other graduate entry tests in place of (or in addition to) the GRE. The most common tests are:

GMAT – for DBA degrees and other programmes in Business and Management

LSAT – for JD programmes

MCAT – for MD programmes

DAT – for dental programmes

 You won’t necessarily need a Masters to apply for a PhD in the USA. 

This is because American graduate programmes effectively combine Masters and PhD study –some students actually receive a Masters at the end of their coursework stage.

If you do already have a Masters you may be able to receive credit for it and spend less time on the coursework stage of your program. This decision is made by your graduate school, who will decide how relevant your existing degree is.

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3.2) How do I Apply for a PHD and what will be the application Fee?

Application Process :

 The Application process for the USA is easy and these are the following stages for same :

Step 1 : Be accepted for a PhD at an SEVP-approved institution

Step 2 : Pay the SEVIS I-901 fee of $200 

Step 3 : Begin your application online

Step 4 : Schedule a visa interview 

Step 5 : Receive your visa 

Application and Visa Fee details :

  • Typical application fees for PhD study in the USA are between $50 and $100.

You will also need to budget for the cost of any graduate entry tests and for your visa.

  • In most cases you will need to pay fees of at least $360 during your visa application. This is made up of a $200 SEVIS fee and a $160 application fee. Some students may also need to pay an issuance fee.)

3.3) How to shortlist Universities for your PHD in the USA?

Which universities should one apply to for the best learning experience for the particular field and have the most chances of getting admissions into for a particular profile and work experience and research experience?

While it is hard to list out the top universities for every field out there, here’s a procedure one can follow to make sure they are in the right place:

  • Select the field : Decide on which field you want to get PHD in
  • List of universities : Make a list of universities in the US that is offering the particular PHD course.
  • Get your CV Ready : It is very important to create a professional and detailed CV with your Work and research experience 
  • Compare Profiles : In every university page, they would have either attached the profiles of the PHD students there or would have mentioned their names which you can use to get their profiles in LinkedIn
    • Now compare your profile with theirs and get a good idea of what kind of profile one would need to be a PHD student in that particular university and the level of expertise present there

Additional Information

PhD types :

Most universities in the USA simply award the standard PhD (or Ph.D.) as an academic doctorate. However they some different categories are DBA (Doctor of Business Administration), EdD (Doctor of Education) JD (Doctor of Laws) and MD (Doctor of Medicine).

Fees and funding :

Public institutions charge an average of $12,737 per year. Private institutions charge an average of $43,300 per year. 

PS .Figures are based on data published by the US National Center for Education Statistics.

Common types of assistantship include :

  • Graduate teaching assistantships
  • Research assistantships 
  • Administrative assistantships 
  • Fellowships
Chapter 4

PHD EXPERIENCE

Courses:

For the first two years one would be required to take courses and will have to maintain a GPA over 3 -3.3.

Now remember there are various types of PHD programs available and what you experience might be a bit different from what’s described here but one can get a rough picture of what they will be up against.

The courses that you take in the first two years will mould you to become a better researcher and many of these courses would have projects which could potentially turn into a journal publication.

Selecting Dissertation Advisors:

Within the first year or the first two years, the student would have to analyze the professors, their areas of interest and expertise and their character to better select their own dissertation advisors.

In most cases we might have to select and come up with our own projects and research ideas whereas in some cases your dissertation advisor might already be working on the topic of your interest and in such cases you could join the research and contribute

Comprehensive/Qualifier Exam:

After completing the required set of courses in the first two years, the phd students are then required to take a comprehensive exam or a qualifier exam. Now the way in which this exam is conducted varies a lot based on the field and the university that’s conducting it.

In some cases, the students who fail this comprehensive exam would have to quit the PHD program. We do get to attempt this exam more than once and the number of re-attempts would also depend on the university conducting it. So this is an important step.

This exam most probably won’t be like the written 3 hour exams that we are used to writing. This exam would test your ability to be a successful researcher and the students might be given tough time intervals to complete research based tasks and even oral tasks.

Anyways reach out to the students in the university you are planning to take to get accurate details about what you would be facing in this comprehensive/Qualifier exam

Committee of professors and Proposal Defense:

In a proposal defense, the students have to be ready with the complete dissertation plans stating the papers and the projects that one has planned to work on. What kind of data one needs to collect, the kinds of analysis that one needs to do.

We also need to select a committee of professors and one of the professors in the committee should be outside your own department or university and schedule a meeting where you propose to them your project details

Decision:

After the proposal defence, the professors would have to analyse if the research project is worthy for a PHD degree and if it is realistic and achievable

Once your proposal defence is approved, you would be working full time on your dissertation and would be expected to complete the research project proposed.

Teaching:

In many universities the PHD students are required and expected to teach subjects to B.Tech and Master’s students for a few semesters.

NOTE: Even within the same industry, different universities would have very different PHD programs where some universities would completely focus on quantitative research and some would focus more on a case study approach. So to get a clear idea, reach out to the PHD students in the university you are hoping to get admissions into.

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PHD Experience FAQs

How many papers should we publish in our dissertation and is there a minimum requirement of any sort?

The number of papers that one can publish completely depends on the area of study and research since in certain areas one can publish over 10 papers easily whereas in other areas publishing 2 or 3 would be a great achievement.

There are students who just publish one paper in their dissertation and there are other who publish over 10. So it depends on your field of study and your dissertation advisors expectations and your capabilities.

How much stipend can one expect during their PHD in USA?

The stipends could vary from $10,000 or lower to over $50,000 depending on the university, the city and the cost of living in that area, the university and the area of study. Again to know exactly what to expect, reach out to PHD students in the university that you want to get into.

What kind of research assistantships and teaching assistantships can we expect to get during PHD for funding?

Research and teaching assistantships are for masters programs and by default traditional PHD programs in the US are fully funded. 

The point to note here is that in many universities, the PHD student has to teach and if one doesn’t do so, their stipend would not be given. So the fact is you are already working and researching for a stipend which should be enough to live through your PHD days in the US.

Chapter 5

LIFE AFTER PHD:

EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES AFTER PHD IN USA

Here’s what could potentially happen after you finish your PHD:

Note : This is a generic question and the answer’s vary vastly based on the area of study, area of specialization and the country you live in. Anyways here’s all the possibilities that one could face after a PHD.

POST DOC POSITION :

Post doc basically means that after getting the doctorate degree one would continue do their research potentially in a university or research setting

Basically once you go from being a PHD student to a PHD graduate, you would still get to continue the journey you started during your PHD days and having a post doc position would mean it would be fully research oriented.

Usually you could get the Post doc position in the same university that you got your PHD from. There are three types of people who use a research center in an university

  1. Professors 
  2. PHD students
  3. Post Docs

RESEARCH ORIENTED WORK IN THE INDUSTRY IN THE SAME AREA:

This is the dream job for any PHD student who has a love for research and publishing papers. In this job you would be researching and innovating full time publishing papers and journals and will have the funds and the space to explore and work on deeper research for the company.

JOB IN A ACADEMIC RESEARCH SETTING IN THE SAME FIELD:

With an impressive profile and a recognizable PHD from the US, there is a good chance that one could land a job in the same field that they did their PHD in. This way the work they do is directly aligned with their training 

PROFESSOR JOB IN A TEACHING FOCUSED UNIVERSITY:

Becoming a professor who could also be a researcher is a hard position to get and so many PHD graduates do take professor jobs that primarily or entirely focuses on teaching

PROFESSOR JOB IN A RESEARCH UNIVERSITY:

Only 5% of PHD graduates become assistant professors in research based universities right after graduation.

The research expectations in these colleges are way higher than the smaller universities or community colleges that are focused on teaching. Here in these universities there will be less number of classes to teach so the professor could have enough time for research.

CONTRACT BASED TEACHING POSITIONS IN UNIVERSITIES:

These are positions where you would be called a visiting professor/asst.professor. These would mostly consist of teaching work and there won’t be too much expectations or needs for research.

JOB IN A NON-ACADEMIC RESEARCH SETTING IN A DIFFERENT FIELD:

It has been seen that people who have PHD’s in mathematics, statistics and so on get jobs as data scientist and similar roles where they partly use the skills they have learnt in PHD

OPPORTUNITY IN AN UNRELATED FIELD:

There are cases where people get PHD in a certain field and yet work in a completely unrelated field where there are more job opportunities

UNEMPLOYED:

It would not be true if anyone said that after PHD there is no chance of being unemployed. This does happen in some cases.

ENTREPRENEUR:

The last and yet the best option for anyone is entrepreneurship. PHD students in general are smart and work on innovation and research and invention and sometimes they start a company based on the research work they started during the PHD journey. 

For instance, the tech giant google itself is a company that was started by a PHD student who dropped out of a university to eventually become a billionaire.

So, the outcome that one could expect from a PHD in US could vary vastly from being unemployed to becoming a professor, researcher and an entrepreneur 

OTHER FAQs ON LIFE AFTER PHD IN USA

What is the difference between a PHD career and a MBA career?

The main difference is that PHD is a research based degree and MBA is a management degree. But oftentimes PHD students do take management roles in companies for their sound experience and knowledge about the subject involved.

What is the main difference between being a professor in a university and being a researcher in a lab?

Being a professor in a university means there will be alot of teaching responsibilities whereas a researcher wouldn’t have to teach. But professors do have this added advantage of having the freedom to pick the topic of interest and work on it

FAQs:

What should students do in their master’s to get better chances of getting into a PHD program and prepare for the transition as well?

The first thing the master’s student should do is to start making friends who are currently doing PHD and try and be a part of their research. This way one can understand if they are interested in the deep level of research that a PHD student would be doing.

Is it better to have an older dissertation professor or a younger one?

First things first, your whole PHD experience relies a lot on your dissertation professor and hence it is an important factor to consider. 

Now generally students would prefer an older dissertation professor since they would have more seniority in the particular field and more experience in publishing. But if there are younger professors who are more energetic, enthusiastic and with many interesting ideas, then go with them.

Just look at that professor’s passion for research and if his personality matches with yours because having a good relationship with your advisor is the most important factor because there are cases where students even quit their university because of the bad relationships they develop with their advisors.

So it is advised that we first take courses and check if you like your professor and if you think you could potentially get along well with them and if they publish quality work.

How to deal with leaving family and mental health during your PHD in USA?

One just cannot afford to be home sick if they have big ambitions and dreams. Right? Not just about studying abroad but just about anything in life has it’s good and bad sides. We cannot avoid the bad aspect of the things in our lives

So what’s the answer? Learn to deal with it. Adapt. Shift your focus towards the mission. Grow. 

Mental Health is becoming a huge issue in today’s world and the best way to deal with it is to be open and honest about everything in your life to yourself. Maintaining a journal, meditation and self help books do come in handy.

Is it okay to take our family with us during our PHD program and will the stipend be enough to get by?

In most cases the students are either already married or they get married during the course of the PHD. The stipend itself can be enough to run a family but it is recommended that you stay in an affordable neighborhood with your partner working as well so there will be less financial burden on you.

Getting admissions for MS and PHD. What are the differences in the admissions process?

When it comes to PHD, the student would have to explain why they are interested in research and where they wish to work on and for what reason and with which professor. In addition to that the aspiring student would have to sit for either multiple interviews with the professors from the particular university or a panel interview.

Whereas getting admissions for a master’s degree generally won’t require any interviews and would be as simple as stating why you wish to pursue a MS course offered by the university.

This is because master’s programs take 1-2 years whereas when it comes to PHD the professors would have to invest a lot of time in you (Around 10 years) and hence they would access what kind of person you are and if your interests and personalities match.

How do we approach professors? And is it necessary to approach professors even before getting admissions and how do we find the professors?

Any student can find the profiles of the faculty of a university on their website and they can examine their profiles for their current topics of interests and research. It is recommended that we approach professors even before admissions to look for guidance and form a bond with them if possible and the best way to approach is to reach them via email.

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