PhD programs in US usually include an MSc degree and many of the admitted students don't have an MSc. In Europe however, with just a few exceptions, everywhere requires an MSc for a PhD. There are also quite a few differences in the structure of the undergrad in US and Europe.

I was wondering if it is easier for someone with a US undergrad degree to get into an MSc in Europe than PhD in US? Are the PhD admissions in US more competitive?

If I have an offer from a couple of top US schools (by "top" I don't mean Harvard and MIT, I mean around a dozen (national) ranks below that... say, top 30-40 in global rankings), should I be confident that I can get into one of the few MSc programs in Europe I've applied to? (The programs are top/best programs in Europe, but the universities are essentially on par with the US school in global rankings. Perhaps some of them have a better global reputation in the specific field.)


1 - By Europe I am referring to Western Europe, excluding UK. More specifically, Germany, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Holland, Austria.

2 - The field is Mathematics, if that makes a difference. (I think it might, given the reputation of places like Heidelberg, Bonn (Hausdorff Institute), and the universities in Paris have in Mathematics.)

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    Apples with oranges... Also, different programs may have different requirements. Considering that you are targeting different programs in different countries with different education systems, no one can promise you that if you are admitted to A you will be admitted in B. But as a general rule, I second nra: in most places MSc is not considered as a something super competitive program.
    – Greg
    Apr 13, 2018 at 0:54
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    @nra: Not in the sense that difficulty remains the same, but in the sense that 1) some MSc courses may be direct (more advanced) follow-ups to courses from the respective BSc, and 2) BSc + MSc might be considered "the complete major", so-to-speak the default degree that most students aim for when they plan to "get a degree at the university and then start working". Apr 13, 2018 at 7:32
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    @nra You're trying to apply the American system to another system. It doesn't work like that, university isn't divided in undergrad vs grad. It's divided (in most of Europe) in license (= bachelor) / master / doctorate.
    – user9646
    Apr 13, 2018 at 17:00
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    @O.R.Mapper I many countries the undergrad education was split intentionally to be compatible with BSc+MSc system, so yes, I agree, MSc is often considered as full major, and BSc is something lesser.
    – Greg
    Apr 13, 2018 at 17:25
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    @Greg: I know; I studied in such a country right before undergrad education was split, and then worked at the university, including duties related to teaching students right after education was split. Most of the overall studies remained the same, with the Bachelor/Master split put somewhat arbitrarily in the middle (and some material left out due to restrictions in the new timeline). Apr 14, 2018 at 8:37

1 Answer 1


Master's education in Europe is largely considered an "undergraduate" degree that follows the bachelor's degree, rather than being the prerequisite for the PhD. Thus, admission to a European master's program tends to be much less competitive than PhD admissions in the US. Now, if you're applying to a top program in Europe, it can be as difficult and competitive as in the US. But the average master's program in Europe has a lower bar to admission, so long as you've done the necessary undergraduate studies considered a prerequisite of the bachelor's degree program.

The rules about what is considered acceptable varies, but a few rules of thumb apply:

  • In a “consecutive” master’s, which requires a bachelor’s in the same discipline, you need to be able to catch up with coursework in less than one year (sometimes one semester, if the program is competitive).
  • In a non-consecutive master’s, you just need to have a suitable bachelor’s degree to enroll.
  • One of the many things I don't know about the criteria and the admission process in Europe, is whether they consider a US Bachelor's degree to be sufficient coursework. The reason I have doubt about that is that in European undergrad they only take courses in their major, but in US, there are other requirements, so I may be a few math courses (probably only 2, since I've taken a few additional courses here) short of a European BSc in Mathematics. Do you have any information on how strict they are in evaluating a US undergrad degree and comparing it to theirs?
    – nara
    Apr 13, 2018 at 1:06
  • It depends on the program. See edit above.
    – aeismail
    Apr 13, 2018 at 1:47
  • So, does that mean that the consecutive master's programs are more competitive, or just that they set the bar for qualifications higher? (i.e. they require a better set of undergrad courses and evidence of sufficient talent and competency for being able to catch up)
    – nara
    Apr 13, 2018 at 2:51
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    Neither. It just means that the consecutive program assumes a very specific background.
    – aeismail
    Apr 13, 2018 at 2:54

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