I posted something similar a while back and it was closed, but I believe this post will be more suited for discussion.

I'm heading to Europe from the U.S. to complete my BS in physics. I intend on returning to the U.S. to complete a PhD (ie. no masters degree in-between). I'm aware that the European system has a three year BS program, as compared to the four years that are done in the U.S.

The central question is: Does having a three year BS affect admission into a competitive American graduate program?

From where I sit, I can't help but feel PhD programs will raise an eyebrow at applying with only two years of experience. All of the graduate application deadlines available online (Princeton, Cornell, Columbia) have a deadline of the 15th of December, which correlates to a little over two years of undergraduate education.

I've been lucky enough to have a huge head-start on the material (few formal credits, however), which means I could start research within my first year of study.

  • My friend did that, and get to a top tier place. Sep 4, 2013 at 2:12
  • Some US universities are unwilling to consider a 3 year BS as equivalent to a 4 year US BS and insist that students have at least another year (e.g. an honors year or a master's degree) before admission into their graduate programs. At other institutions it may be up to the admissions committee in the individual department or their may be some universal policy that 3 year BS degrees are acceptable. It all depends on the particular institution and department, so I've voted to close this question as being dependent on institutional rules. Sep 15, 2016 at 23:27
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1 Answer 1


I don't think there will be a huge problem in taking a European bachelor's degree to a US institution, so long as you do a little explanatory work in getting ready to apply. The reason for this is that in those first two years, you will often have more major-specific work than most US students will have completed in three years!

So, I would recommend contacting the graduate admissions of programs you're interested in applying to, and explaining your situation to them. Take a look at the undergraduate programs they offer—and in particular, the list of required courses, and show that you have a similar amount of preparation (or more!). Then ask if there's anything else that you need to do.

  • I've done a lot of research into physics programs from top tier schools here in the U.S., the university I'm looking at(Universität Wien) has a solid physics program, and I shouldn't have any problem when it comes to knowledge, I'm a bit concerned about "how it looks". I suppose that the worst case situation is finishing an MSc before applying to the U.S. Will European institutions accept students for REUs after only a year of study?
    – Astrum
    Sep 4, 2013 at 6:47

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