I'm currently in the last year (aka 3rd - 2019/2020) of my bachelor's degree, and I'm planning to apply for a PhD in the US, just after earning my degree.

Assuming everything goes nicely for me, then I'll expect graduate in September/October 2020 (this is the fastest I can do here in Italy). Let's also assume that I can fill all the PhD's prerequisites (recommendation letters, TOEFL, ...) during this period.

At that point, I would be ready to apply, but the application would be for the next year. If I do get admitted I would start my PhD in the 2021-2022 fall! An entire year would be basically wasted.

  • Am I arriving too late? Is the fall of the 3rd year the "proper" time to apply?
  • Is there anything useful I can do during this period? Should I start a master's degree in the meantime? Maybe I can convert some classes to the PhD program?

I apologize for the naive questions, but I couldn't find anything on the internet, and I don't know really have experience with the admission process /timeline in the US. I hope you can help me and maybe even report your experience. Thanks!

  • It may be possible to apply to a program in the US to enter in the spring semester. – Brian Borchers Oct 19 '19 at 21:09
  • Some graduate programs in the US won't admit students with only a 3-year (Bologna process) bachelor's degree. In those situations, students typically complete an MS in Europe before being admitted to a US graduate program. – Brian Borchers Oct 19 '19 at 21:11

Actually, you should be applying now, not when you finish. Now is starting to be a bit late for the 2020 opening. The process is pretty long.

If your application is strong, then starting a month or so late in the US might not be a problem and it is possible that an exception could be made if that is necessary. But programs in the US usually start with a fair bit of advanced coursework, depending on the field.

Also, your current record is complete enough that people will be able to send proper letters and the admitting committee will be able to judge the likelihood of your success. You don't need final year grades to make that possible.

But if you do need to take a delay then some project with one of your current professors, even if unpaid, might be a useful way to stay connected, get a bit of research experience, and build relationships that result in strong letters. But there are lots of other possibilities, some of which keep you connected and some of which let you unwind for a while before doctoral study.

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I think unfortunately this isn't going to line up well for you. Yes, if you want to start fall of 2020, you would be applying now, and a some Americans go straight to PhD programs from undergrad, but it's becoming less common.

Assuming everything goes nicely for me, then I'll expect graduate in September/October 2020

That's a wide range. I find it a bit unusual you don't know when exactly you'll be done, so it's hard to give concrete advice, and I suspect many US programs will also not be sure what to tell you.

I'm a bit less optimistic than Buffy about you starting late. September/October is going to be in the middle of almost every school's semester, and the programs I'm familiar with in the US (in the sciences) have fairly rigid first years, and I think it unlikely you could start halfway through the first year.

I think the best bet for people in your situation is to apply in the fall of 2020 to start the fall of 2021.

An entire year would be basically wasted.

Don't think of it as a year wasted! If you're in the sciences, find a research assistantship to bolster your application and maybe score another letter of rec. If you're not, I don't know what you would do, maybe an internship.

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