Getting a PhD in the UK vs Getting a PhD in the USA

Getting a PhD in the UK vs Getting a PhD in the USA both follow similar procedures, students are expected to undergo extensive research, a series of examinations or vivas, and then submit a dissertation to obtain it. The structure of these three components differ in both countries while the purpose of obtaining it remains the same.

Each step involved in planning, preparing and obtaining a PhD is crucial. It is worth considering that efforts made at each stage will result in building a strong foundation for research students. Although there are significant differences between the systems of higher education in the UK and the USA, ‘successful time management skills’, ‘communication skills – verbally, written and published’, ‘the ability to perform under perpetual pressure’ and a positive attitude towards your research are some of the essential components that when possessed by students will enable them to acquire their PhDs in an efficacious and productive manner.

The demand for doctoral students has been rising as a result of increased scientific research and the need for college-level teachers and researchers in industries, “On average, which country has better compensation for PhD students?” A PhD program is generally five to six years. 35% of the UK’s population possesses at least a bachelor’s degree; (In the world, this is a high percentage.). The USA’s high demand for faculty (and teachers) is partially responsible for its high number of PhD graduates.

Importance of a PhD

A PhD is a globally recognized postgraduate academic degree which is awarded by universities and is evidence of the bearer’s commitment to the profession. While it is not a mandatory requirement in every field, it is essential in various career paths. Some fields and careers will directly require a doctorate or specialized degree at some point.

On the other hand, in some parts of the world such as the USA, there’s actually a ‘PhD Degree’ which is obtained after a master’s degree alongside a formal structure of a doctoral process and specific doctoral elements.

Decision-Making Factors

Personal preferences and the desired outcomes after three to five years are decisive. In this respect, three major points are quite important: well-paid positions in the industry, becoming a principal investigator at a university, or even a future as a solopreneur or entrepreneur. In each regard, some diplomats and similarities are evident, which will be examined in the next section.

Factors to Consider When Deciding Between Getting a PhD in the UK vs Getting a PhD in the USA

  1. Duration of Program

For students who want a new academic adventure, a PhD from the USA will have them study some classes relevant to their subject, pass lengthy written exams, and write a dissertation to get their degree. Getting a PhD program in the UK, meanwhile, will be much less troublesome and shorter, with but a few classes and tests and an ‘80,000-word requirement. This will surely be a relief to individuals already weary from spending an entire year in a Master’s course, and, who are longing to fulfill that fancy doctorate in less time.

  1. Personal Preferences

In addition to finances, personal life is another factor that may influence your decision on where to study. Do you want to experience living in a different country? Are certain living conditions important, such as the availability of certain dietary requirements, or the climate? Are there any family or personal commitments to consider, that would make studying in either country easier or more difficult for you?

What can you see studying abroad doing for your personal growth? The answers to these questions will only be answered by you. If you are fortunate to know more than one person who has done a PhD in the country you plan to do this in, their insight will provide valuable information for you.

However, as everyone will have different opinions and experiences, make sure your friends only give you advice rather than dictate what YOU should do, as only your experiences as a PhD student will be unique to you.

  1. Career Goals

It is very common for students to apply to PhD programmes, especially in the USA, because they are interested in doing high-level research in academia. In the UK, graduate students apply for a PhD simply to advance their career, not necessarily to do full-time research in the long term. This is why US graduate students in the sciences often have a balls-to-the-walls approach to their studies and invest several years before getting their degree—you know, really buckling down and collecting data for the next ‘big paper.’

In many PhD programs in the US, there is little emphasis on continuing schooling. There are a few foundation classes and exams that students need to undergo. Then you go straight into doing a collaborative research project for about 5-7 years, this is not including time off for personal events (weddings of friends, fathers dying, etc.). English programs in the US are increasing at a much faster speed.

  1. Long-term Implications

Living and working in the USA or the UK could become a hassle as well, especially considering the recent advancements in global culture and technology. While a British or American PhD will make it a little less complicated to live and work in the EU or US, respectively, Antonio Horta-Osorio‘s story shows that that can change abruptly due to arbitrary reasons.

Having only one nation to comfortably work in the world is nowhere near as good as having two. It is also important to realize that the ratified nature of those regulations only protects those who already reside in Britain and the United States.

Getting a PhD in the UK vs Getting a PhD in the USAComparing Getting a PhD in the UK  vs Getting a PhD in the USA

One should know that there is a difference when it comes to moving to the UK from the US or vice versa. The two countries are similar in terms of culture but there are so many different laws, rules and regulations between the two countries that can make a difference.

In America, students are taught to learn on the safe side and not on the reckless side while in the UK they are taught the opposite. Moreover, there are minor cultural differences that one should be aware of before considering getting a PhD in the UK vs getting a PhD in the USA.

If you would like to learn more about the different aspects of getting a PhD in the UK vs the US, then draw your seat closer let us look at various factors that differentiate getting a doctorate in the United Kingdom and the United States.

  1. Admission Process

The documents that make up the application for both the US and the UK are similar, but not identical. Often, PhD candidates in both countries will need a research proposal, examples of work, transcripts, and proof of English proficiency.

In the UK, students can apply to a specific program and the research proposal can be flexible within the discipline of the department. In the US, students apply to the program and work with a supervisor to refine their research proposal. Since the PhD in the UK is only three years and in the US more often five or six, students applying to the US typically need to show that they have a master’s degree or a lot of equivalent experience.

In both cases, strong academic backgrounds, clear research goals, and research experience are prioritized. However, UK universities are often more focused on finding PhD candidates who can be ambitious and self-sufficient, whereas US universities are perhaps more focused on finding PhD candidates who fit the most obvious gap that has been identified in the department.

  1. Cost of Tuition

The UK may seem to be more expensive because the average tuition fee for international PhD students is about £22,000 yearly, while USA tuition averages about $35,000. However, UK fees include healthcare coverage, while only private universities in the US offer student healthcare plans.

  1. Application Requirements

In the UK, the main requirements are an undergraduate degree along with a Master’s degree and the possibility of a college entrance exam. Commonly, these entrance exams are standardized tests, which one can get, in certain specialized centers like the British Council. For most programs, a part of the application is also the submission of a research proposal. In the case of specific universities, it’s the standard process for getting onto a doctorate program. The students who go to the UK to do a PhD have one advantage in that they are likely to have English as their first language.

In the case of the US, it depends, normally, on the institution and the department that one is applying to. Moreover, for international students, they must prove English proficiency by taking TOEFL iBT or IELTS.

  1. Selection Criteria

Academic background is one of the most important selection criteria in the US. Students are also required to take the GRE test and have a high grade point average (GPA) from their master’s degree. Finally, some universities require students to have relevant work experience in the area of their PhD interest before applying.

In the UK, universities usually demand a minimum of a 2:1 mark on the undergraduate degree, as well as a distinction on the master’s degree. Some universities ask applicants to take the GRE test and submit their scores if they are not native speakers, others only need students to provide proof of their English language proficiency.

Many universities require students to submit detailed research proposals and find a supervisor willing to support their research before they can submit their applications.

  1. Funding Opportunities/Cost of Tuition

In the UK, PhD students might be eligible for a student stipend, which is often called PhD Funding or PhD Support. This is similar to a bursary, but is specifically aimed at PhD students. The stipend can be awarded for 3 years, with potential for an additional 3-4 years. The typical minimum stipend awarded can range from £15,000 to £22,000 per year, which is tax-free.

On the contrary, PhD students in the USA have opportunities to receive funding from the university through teaching and research assistantships. Commonly, PhD students in the USA gain the opportunity to become Teaching Assistants (TA) or Research Assistants (RA), which usually requires around 20 hours per week. This work typically involves leading discussion seminars, marking exam papers, undertaking laboratory preparation and experiments, and general lecturing. This support provides students with a monthly stipend, which typically ranges from $2,000 to $3,000 per month in addition to a tuition waiver for a certain number of credits per semester.

  1. Program Structure and Duration

One of the distinguishing factors between UK and US programs is the level of coursework required. The UK requires students to take more formal academic coursework and may require students to take more of it towards the beginning of the program than is required in the United States. In the United Kingdom, a student may not start their dissertation or research work until they have passed some of these required classes and, in some programs, some measure of competency examinations. United States programs generally call for fewer formal requirements, whereas UK course requirements are spread out throughout the program.

In the UK, completion time for a PhD ranges from 3 to 4 years, while in the US it is generally 5 to 8 years. The UK projects are shorter because a master’s degree is a prerequisite for entry. In the US, getting a master’s degree in the process of going for a doctorate is quite common, and the additional qualification makes the projects longer. In addition, a distinction should be made between progression time and actual doctorate time.

  1. Research Component

In the UK, the research phase for a PhD is condensed into a three-year window of time, which makes UK PhDs significantly more focused than American ones. In the US, it often takes two years for students to complete the research phase alone, with a typical range being one to three years. The key reason some students take significantly longer to complete a PhD in the US than in the UK is also linked to funding: in the UK, the PhD is often free to the student.

So unlike US students, UK students do not have to search for their own funding, and a UK PhD is less likely to run into years of additional research because the student also has to hold a full-time job. In addition, UK students are not expected to take on teaching assignments as part of their PhD programs.

  1. Supervisor-Student Dynamics

The forms that typical supervision takes are not the same in both the UK and the USA. Supervising a PhD student in the UK is usually considered to involve less frequent meetings than in the USA, and be slightly more hands-off. A typical PhD in the USA will see students in regular meetings sharing chunks of their writing, whether dissertation chapters, papers, or conference papers. This is only one of a few reasons why PhD students from the USA coming to the UK need to be extra prepared for more total self-study hours.

These differences change the relationships between supervisors and supervisees. The other is the typical division of power with the academic advisor. In the UK the supervisor is a formal advisor, giving advice when asked of him or her, and the PhD candidate has no problem in reminding the advisor that they are the authoritative figure in the relationship. In the USA, the advisor is more than just an advisor.

Also, they have the authority to sign off on the PhD committee paperwork which is an important part of the PhD process. They can even prohibit the student from taking the dissertation proposal defence, the dissertation defence, or the student from graduation if they were to refuse to sign off on the student’s dissertation.

  1. Publication and Research Output

Postgraduate and research funding projects in the United States are higher than in the United Kingdom. Typical attitudes towards publishing research in the UK and the USA are very different. In the UK, the focus is often more on getting research published in peer-reviewed journals, which are then read by other academics but cost quite a significant amount of money to access. On the other hand in the USA, the emphasis is more on getting the research out to those who will use it in practical contexts and so articles are aimed at a more general audience.

  1. Work-Life Balance as a PhD student

There is much concern about the mental health and general well-being of PhD students due to the demands of their studies. It is often noted that the more independent style of a US PhD means greater work hours and perhaps less work-life balance. However, these claims are unsubstantiated and the following comparison of conditions indicates that they are not necessarily true.

If you are a PhD student, the work-life balance will be similar in both the US and UK. For the remote PhD student or those with long days spent at a computer, taking regular breaks is important for physical as well as mental health. Moreover, it is important to ensure that these breaks are not taken at the same time every day and it is important to remember that our work is often desk-based, so we do need to take care of our bodies as well as our minds. If you are working in a lab or an office it will also offer a welcome break from the screen and for many.

  1. Post Studies Life

This is the part where many people will choose to live in the country they studied in. Also, each country has its own set of minimum stay requirements making it hard for students to get out and travel beyond the borders within the first year of their studies. This is something that could be a limiting factor in the advantage of choosing the country to study in.

Outside of minimum year restrictions, the UK has a fairly easy process of getting UK citizens. If you land a job in the UK and are making above £20,000 you will be able to get citizenship after a course of 5 years. However, the US is a harder process as the process of getting citizenship in the US is quite long and hectic.Getting a PhD in the UK Over Getting a PhD in the USA

Advantages of Getting a PhD in the UK Over Getting a PhD in the USA

  1. Higher Commitment To Equality And Fairness

The UK government places a strong emphasis on upholding principles of equality and fairness, ensuring that every individual, regardless of their background, is provided with equitable opportunities

  1. Full Funding for all PhD Students

The UK government wholeheartedly supports the education and research endeavors of PhD students by fully funding their programs. This comprehensive financial support includes tuition fees and living expenses, eliminating any financial burdens and allowing students to focus solely on their academic pursuits.

  1. Shorter Programs and Faster Completion Times

Recognizing the value of time, UK universities have taken concrete steps to streamline PhD programs, resulting in shorter durations and faster completion times. By implementing efficient structures and tailored processes, students can expedite their research and complete their programs in a more timely manner, thus optimizing their academic journey.

  1. Total Focus on Research, No Extra Classes

In the UK, PhD students are enabled to fully immerse themselves in their chosen field of study without any distractions. Unlike some other educational systems, PhD students in the UK are not obligated to engage in coursework outside of their subject area, allowing them to focus all their energy and attention on conducting groundbreaking research and making significant contributions to their respective disciplines.

  1. Generous Visa Possibilities Post Graduation

The UK government values the presence and contributions of international students and offers a range of generous visa possibilities for those who wish to remain in the country after completing their PhD programs. This allows students to continue their careers, embark on meaningful employment opportunities, and contribute to the growth and innovation of the UK while enjoying the vibrant and diverse culture that the country has to offer.

Advantages of Getting a PhD in the USA Over Getting a PhD in the UK

  1. Abundant Opportunities

The United States of America, renowned for its world-class universities with international acclaim, provides an unparalleled allure for ambitious individuals pursuing their academic and professional aspirations. With a multitude of distinguished institutions, the USA offers an abundance of opportunities for intellectual expansion and the attainment of global recognition, attracting researchers from all corners of the globe.

  1. Abundant Financial Support

The availability of abundant financial support and scholarships further enhances the attractiveness of these countries as research destinations, providing aspiring researchers with invaluable resources to fulfill their scientific endeavors. The United States, in particular, is known for its generous funding opportunities and prestigious fellowships, making it even more appealing to those who seek to push the boundaries of knowledge and innovation.

  1. Networking Opportunities

The multitude of universities scattered throughout the vast expanse of the USA lays the foundation for potential collaborations and networking opportunities, expanding horizons and fostering meaningful connections that can propel research to unprecedented heights. The academic communities within both countries are vibrant and diverse, offering a platform for interdisciplinary collaboration and the exchange of ideas. By fostering such an environment, researchers can draw inspiration from various fields and perspectives, allowing for the generation of groundbreaking discoveries and advancements.

With this rich tapestry of advantages, both countries undeniably emerge as paramount destinations for postgraduate studies. Not only do they offer state-of-the-art facilities and cutting-edge research infrastructure, but they also provide a supportive ecosystem that nurtures intellectual curiosity and innovation. The academic institutions within these countries prioritize excellence and strive to create an environment that is conducive to the pursuit of knowledge and the advancement of society as a whole.


Both the UK and the US are popular destinations for international PhD students to study. The opportunity of getting a PhD in the UK or getting a PhD in the USA certainly has its advantages. Both nations are renowned for their quality provision and it is at this level where the differences begin to start. International fees are typically much higher in the US than in the UK; on average, a two-year-long PhD can cost around $80,000 without a scholarship.

By comparison, in the UK international students can expect to pay around £40,000-£50,000 for a four-year program, so the average yearly in the US would be more expensive. Although it may not appeal financially to students with not much money, the ability to work whilst studying in the US makes it a much more feasible option than the UK.


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