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Admissions PhD in UK and USA: is it useful to have a European MSc?

  1. Oct 15, 2016 #1
    I'm a Physics student currently ending the bachelor degree. Since I study in Europe (Italy) there are quite big differences in the degrees system between Europe, UK and USA.
    Start from the assumption that I would like in the future to do a PhD in the UK or in USA.

    My main question is: do a MSc in Italy or in Europe (2 years, 120 ECTS) represent a "waste of time"* for the road to a PhD in UK or USA or is it, in some way, an advantage?

    *With "waste of time" I refer to the situation in which, at the time for admission to PhD (in UK or USA), I will considered the same way as someone who holds a bachelor (from the country at issue), even if I have a BSc, plus a MSc, or even in a worse way because I come from a foreign european university.

    I'll explain better, starting from USA.
    In USA students (correct me if I'm wrong) after the Bachelor in Physics (4 years) enroll for Graduate Programmes (Master and/or PhD). In the case of Physics I see that a lot of University put Master and PhD togheter in a single "graduate programme".
    So, supposing that I want to do a PhD in USA, should I avoid the european MSc and directly go for the "graduate programme" after the (european) BSc? (In that case doing a MSc would be a "waste of time")

    But someone says that this is not possible because in Europe students do a three years BSc, which is considered in USA less than a Bachelor (because it's 4 years there), so
    $$\mathrm{European \,\, BSc \, (3 \, years) \, < \, American \, \, Bachelor \, (4 \, years) \,}$$
    If this is true, if I do the european MSc, then can I enroll for the PhD in USA, without the Master?
    $$\mathrm{European \,\, BSc \, (3 \, years) \,+\, European \,\, MSc \, (2 \, years) \, \approx \, American \, \, Bachelor\, (4 \, years) \,+ Master}$$
    Or will I be considered in the same way as an american bachelor?
    $$\mathrm{European \,\, BSc \, (3 \, years) \,+\, European \,\, MSc \, (2 \, years) \, \approx \, American \, \, Bachelor\, (4 \, years)}$$
    For UK is it true that with a UK BSc (3 years) one can go directly to a PhD (which looks quite strange)?

    If this is true, then, as for USA, do I lose my time (again, supposing that I would like to do a PhD), in doing a 2 two year MSc in Europe? Should I try to go directly in to a PhD in UK after BSc?

    On the contrary, if I do a MSc in Europe, then is this considered in the same way as the MSc offered in the UK (which are even shorter, only 90 ECTS)? So can I go to PhD in UK with a MSc from Europe ?

    So if my dream is to do a PhD in UK or USA what should I do if I have a european BSc? The options are
    • Do a MSc in Europe and then apply for PhD
    • For USA: go directly in to Graduate Programme (if possible)
    • For UK: go direclty to PhD (if possible) or get a MSc in UK which is shorter than MSc in Europe
    The things I would like to achieve are
    • avoid to waste time (in the sense specified above)
    • take the path that gives the best opportunities in terms of admission to PhD prgramme*
    *For istance if I do a MSc in Europe I will study more things than if I do a MSc in UK, so this should be an advantage for admission. On the other hand doing the MSc already in the same university where I would like to do a PhD makes the possibilities to be admitted higher, I guess. Which of these two aspects is more important, in general?
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2016
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 16, 2016 #2


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    The people I know in the US or UK who did undergrad in the UK did their bachelors in 3 years and then a one year master's before coming to the US.
  4. Oct 17, 2016 #3

    Larry Gopnik

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    Gold Member

    Yes people here (UK) can get onto PhDs with just a BSc. This is naturally quite rare but it does happen, it usually happens when a student impresses their 3rd Year Project supervisor enough to gain funding. We also have an undergraduate course (which I am presently taking) which is called an MPhys, an Intergrated Master of Physics, a 4 year course which is essentially a BSc and a year of masters. You'll find that lots of British applicants to PhDs will have this (this is actually mainly to do with the way our funding and grants work for university, the government system has just changed that system so you may find more British students doing separate bachelors and masters in the coming years).

    But yes, if you can persuade a supervisor to take you on with just a BSc, by all chance go for it however it will be tough and impossible for some of the higher ranked unis.
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