I'm currently thinking in which country to spend my undergraduate period, UK or US. I'm going to apply for PhD program of Molecular Biology in US university after graduating from undergrad school. So, it seems better to stay in US during undergrad period to prepare for PhD program admission. But I prefer undergrad programs of UK, because of its specialized and accelerated curriculum. Is it a rational choice to go to UK just because of my preference of its curriculum?

  • 2
    This questions seems to me to fall under the "transitioning from undergraduate to graduate researcher" and should be considered on topic. It is asking a very relevant question about the extent to which a UK undergraduate program prepares students for a US graduate program.
    – StrongBad
    Jan 20, 2014 at 10:52
  • @DanielE.Shub: I agree with you.
    – user102
    Jan 20, 2014 at 10:53
  • @CharlesMorisset I brought this up in chat.
    – StrongBad
    Jan 20, 2014 at 10:54

3 Answers 3


Among some of the valid points raised by aeismail and Neo, I would also say it makes a big difference how good the university you are admitted into is. Probably Cambridge Univ. or Univ. of Chicago are fine for most Life Sciences choices, but Univ. of South Cambridgeshire or of Northwestern Illinois aren't.

You are shaping yourself as a person still; keep it simple and don't dwell on details. Go to a reputable university, built up yourself as an academic person and as you are there you will see and hear more stuff. You say "PhD in Molecular Biology" now but in 4 years time you might say "PhD in Neuroscience" (not to mention the possibility of you going off to industry with a good salary. :) )

Without wanting to put you off, as Neo said, it is a bit early to think about your grad-school at this point. Go in a good university and be the best you can, the rest will come naturally (and even if you don't end up in an US PhD programme, you might still have great fun elsewhere!)

  • Thanks for your nice remark. I'm sure I will be accepted to reputable schools in the UK such as Imperial College London or Durham University. I think my decision of future area of study was done way earlier than normal American students, but this is a common custom outside of the US. In many European countries, there is no liberal arts requirement, so the student studies only subjects related to his major. If I will major in Biology in the UK university, it will be a bit harder for me to study things like neuroscience in grad school, since I can't take such class in undergrad. Jan 19, 2014 at 20:42
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    I think you are mislead to believe that rigid barriers exist; I am not saying transitions are easy, but they definitely not uncommon. While having a first degree in your preferred area of research study is advantageous, it is not an absolute requirement. Of the top of my head I can think of a computational linguist with a English language undergrad, an economist with a Physics undergrad and a neuroscientist with a Chemistry undergrad. (Yours truly did CS in his undergrad and ended up in a Stats grad school.)
    – user8458
    Jan 20, 2014 at 22:58
  • Sorry, don't agree. I have a PhD in economics from Oxford and if I had to live another life I would 1. get information about PhDs well ahead of time, 2. go to the US, almost anywhere in the US.
    – PatrickT
    Feb 1, 2014 at 9:04

Personally, I think it is to early to think about graduate school if you haven't even started undergraduate. I would go with where you want to live, and where you think you will have the most research opportunities, and where you think you will get the best grades. Most of all, I would go where you think you will be happiest in life, and not academics. It is infinitely harder to do good work, no matter what field, when you are not happy.

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    "where you think you will get the best grades" - this is ambiguously worded, I strongly disagree with one of the interpretations. You should pick an institution that is a good match academically. That is, Cambridge might not be the best choice if you will struggle, and conversely a little-known, middling-ranked university is perhaps not the best choice for a brilliant student. However, you absolutely should not go somewhere just because they have a reputation of liberally handing out A grades.
    – Moriarty
    Jan 18, 2014 at 23:55
  • You are absolutely correct, thanks for adding this correction.
    – Neo
    Jan 18, 2014 at 23:56
  • As an int'l student from Asia attending in a high school in the U.S., I have already undergone a huge difference of environment. Since I couldn't really feel happy in both Asia and America, I don't think anything significant will occur to me after moving to the UK. Also, I got respectable grades in spite of my boring life. But studying about things of my interest, especially about biology, has always made me happy, so I suppose I have a different taste of happiness from you. Jan 19, 2014 at 20:54
  • Never too early. By the time I graduated I'd heard of Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard, so I went to Cambridge and Oxford assuming I couldn't afford the US and wouldn't get a scholarship to Harvard. If I'd had more information, I'd have gone to Berkeley or UPenn or Cornell instead, which I had never heard of. You're assuming the OP knows as much as you do.
    – PatrickT
    Feb 1, 2014 at 9:08

Academic success is only one component needed for acceptance into graduate programs; you also need to have advisors who can comment favorably on your capabilities as a researcher. That means you should focus not only on where you can do well academically, but on where you can also get the opportunities to do research.

However, one thing which you should be aware of is that in the US, admission to PhD programs generally occur directly after the bachelor's phase. This may or may not be the case in the UK. The consequence of this is that, depending on the requirements of the (US) school, even if you have a master's you may need to repeat some coursework or take additional classes upon enrollment in the PhD program.

  • I'm planning not to get MS in the UK. It is my largest concern that a difference in system between these countries will probably cause such unpredictable problems. Not many people are familiar with the undergrad research opportunity in the both countries, so I'm not sure which is better. As you mentioned, I really need such an advisor but couldn't find yet. Jan 19, 2014 at 21:02
  • You get those advisors after you get to the university, not before.
    – aeismail
    Jan 19, 2014 at 21:07

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