I am considering to follow this path. (Will be joining Masters course at TU Dresden this winter). I was just wondering if it is possible to get into a really good USA PhD Program after doing MS in Germany and how often does this happen.

Would love to hear stories if anyone has followed this path!


Having done my doctorate in both the U.S. and Germany, I can vouch that this is indeed not uncommon. However, you will likely have to "start from scratch" in the U.S., since most programs are a masters/PhD rolled into one. I knew many European students, with European masters already, who spent two years more than they would have liked taking classes and passing exams in U.S. doctoral programs, before they could start real research.

You have to also consider your long-term goals. You're more likely to get a job where you've spent time building connections. If you want a job in the U.S. long-term, then a Ph.D. there would be good; if you want to return to Europe, however, then it's probably better to get the doctorate in Europe. You could of course also consider exchange programs, visiting a professor for a few months, or a dual degree if you'd like to get a mix of both.

To more directly answer your question: of course it's possible to get into a "really good" U.S. graduate program with a masters from Germany. But "really good" is ultimately relative to where you want to be, what you want to do, and how novel your own research is. Rankings and perceived prestige don't matter nearly as much when you're competing for jobs and trying to settle down somewhere.

  • However, you will likely have to "start from scratch" in the U.S.: Indeed, but that's not necessarily a bad thing; you'll be seen as ahead of your schedule. – darij grinberg Aug 5 '19 at 7:47
  • Actually "starting from scratch" may not be needed. There are a lot of places where "pass the qualifying exams and write an acceptable thesis" are the only real requirements. If you come with the knowledge to pass the exams you don't need to take the courses intended to get you ready to do that. If you also come with research experience, the dissertation time may also be shortened. – Buffy Aug 5 '19 at 12:03
  • But it depends, right? Spending two years taking courses and exams on things you already know about could be a waste of time if you already know what you want to research. So many of the guys in my program were already in their early 30s by the time they started and felt frustrated at having to postpone other aspects of their lives even longer. I would hope that there are American programs that don't make people with masters do unnecessary work; unfortunately, mine all the ones in my region weren't like that. – artificial_moonlet Aug 5 '19 at 12:32

Admission to a "really good" PhD program in the US depends much more on what you do than on where you do it. If you do well and can show aptitude for research, you will have a good chance at many excellent universities.

Admission, however, is very competitive and there will be many people applying to top programs who have nearly perfect academic records. That will be the biggest issue, not the institution at which you study. Make sure that you can get excellent letters of recommendation by the time you wish to move on.

As for "common", however, I don't really know, but suspect it is about as common as applying from good institutions (like Dresden) from any other country.

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