While most European doctoral courses require its applicants to hold master's degree, many doctoral courses in US often do not. In these graduate schools, by satisfying conditions set by the schools, students advance to candidacy, when the school may or may not grant them master's degree.

Suppose the school does not. Then, can a Ph.D. candidate at the school be admitted to a European doctoral course, which usually require its applicants to have master's degree?


2 Answers 2


Although the term "PhD candidate" is used in both continents, a Ph.D program in the USA comprises of: Master (2 years) + Doctorate (3 years), meaning it takes at least 5 years, whereas in Europe comprises of just the latter: Doctorate (3 years). This means that yes, a Master's degree or something deemed equivalent or superior is required to enter the doctoral course in Europe. The fact that it's "not required" in the US is an illusion, it's just because the Master's is (sort of) included IN the Ph. D program. In the end you will get your Ph. D degree at around the same age than students in Europe.

If your University in the USA does not deliver a Master's degree per se, you will have to check with the prospective university in Europe to see whether they will count your research experience (preferably 1-2 years of lab research after your 4-year Bachelor's, which you could sum up in something that looks like a Master's thesis) as being equivalent or superior to a Master's degree. I believe it is case by case.

Also, please keep in mind that some countries like France require you to have a scholarship or to secure some kind of funding prior to admission to cover your living expenses for the entirety of the Doctorate (3 years) since Ph.D candidates have a status similar to paid staff.

The UK is probably one of the only countries in the world where it's OK to do just a Doctorate (3 years) right after your Bachelor's (=if you compare to other countries, you could say it means skipping the 2 years of Master's), however, I don't think this is highly valued on the international market, unless you managed to end up with the same amount of work and publications than the people who did Master (2 years) + Doctorate (3 years).

//Speaking for science majors//

  • 4
    While I agree with the overall description of the difference, I don't think it's true that a US PhD "comprises" an MS and Ph.D. In fact in many universities the tracks are quite distinct and it can be difficult to (for example) use Ph.D coursework to fulfill requirements for an MS. I've seen examples of "MS by research" as the OP mentions: get to candidacy and get an MS "for free". I think a more important underlying difference is that a Ph.D in Europe is viewed as closer to a job (so you're staff as you point out) compared to the US where it's viewed as education.
    – Suresh
    Apr 18, 2014 at 15:51
  • It's definitely not true in my department. Our Masters degrees have much more constrained course requirements than our PhD program. Many PhD students take the courses required for an MS anyway, but not all (or even, I suspect, most).
    – JeffE
    Apr 19, 2014 at 15:34
  • Just a note on the term "PhD candidate": in my institution (in the US) a person is admitted to a PhD programme on a contingent basis. After about a year, they do qualification exams (“quals”). If they pass, they advance to candidacy and are considered PhD candidates. That is, even though you are enrolled in a PhD programme, you are not considered a PhD candidate until after you pass your quals. Before that, you're just a student enrolled in a PhD programme.
    – Emmet
    Apr 20, 2014 at 17:39
  • Thank you all for the corrections. I realize that my answer may have not quite gotten to the point. But I do think admission in most European Ph.D programs will actually require a scholarship of some sort on top of some equivalent of a Master's degree. This can sometimes be negotiated on a case-by-case basis if the applicant can justify sufficient research experience.
    – biohazard
    Jun 23, 2016 at 12:56

One should note that the reason why there's such a big difference between the US and the European systems is the way master's degrees are handled. In the US, the master's degree is viewed as a "graduate" degree, to be completed after the bachelor's study, which is effectively independent. In Europe, however, the bachelor's degree is largely considered a precursor to the master's degree, which is normally done in succession after the bachelor's degree is complete. Doctoral candidates (post-master's) in Europe do not normally have significant coursework requirements associated with the degree.

Consequently, for most PhD positions in Europe, a master's degree is considered a prerequisite. The exception to this are programs that are more or less patterned after the US model, in which a master's degree is acquired as part of a larger PhD program. However, even in these programs, the acquisition of the master's degree is not merely "an option," as it is in many US programs. Instead, it is a necessary component of what amounts to a dual-degree program.

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