I'm currently in my first year of undergrad in Physics in Leipzig, and was just wondering, does a 3 year undergrad program make it necessary for one to pursue MSc instead of going straight to Grad school for a PhD like most American Physics undergrads do?

P.S. My interest is inclined towards theoretical particle physics.

  • 1
    Do you mean going to do a PhD in the US or in Europe? I suspect the answer is that different countries/institutions will vary. At least across the UK, different universities (and potentially different departments within the universities) have different requirements for PhD applicants.
    – Ian_Fin
    Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 15:05

2 Answers 2


An undergraduate degree in physics in Germany will usually leave you better prepared for PhD work than an undergraduate degree in the U.S. Of course there are plenty of people who are individual exceptions, but what I'm saying is that the two degrees are not perfectly aligned. You need to keep in mind that the German equivalent of the U.S. high school is not perfectly aligned with the U.S. high school "diploma" either. You would have to do U.S. high school plus one or two years of U.S. college to be at a comparable level to the entering first-year college physics student in Germany.

I am basing this answer on what I have heard from my spouse who studied physics in Germany, and my spouse's comments over the years about what our son did in high school and college (physics major) in the U.S. where we live.

But the best way to check if my answer still holds would be to compare programs of study, course descriptions, and syllabi.

Bottom line, for physics, at least, you can probably go comfortably from a German undergraduate degree to a U.S. PhD program.

  • Oh. Thank you so much, that had got me worried. Apparently most European universities ( Such as Oxford) require a Masters before getting a doctorate. Please do thank your wife as well! Would you mind if I asked where she received her degree in Germany?
    – Shrey
    Commented Sep 7, 2016 at 15:55
  • You should note that there is a difference in what is contained in PhD programmes as well - my experience is in maths, but from looking into the US you'd start a PhD programme by taking some courses and tests and eventually getting to the stage or starting research, while in UK and I assume the rest of Europe you'd be expected to start a PhD ready to begin research immediately.
    – meta
    Commented Sep 8, 2016 at 7:58

I know this is an old question, however, I can personally say your physics undergrad education in Germany is probably far superior to an American. I studied at Uni Freiburg as well as MSU and FU Berlin and it's ridiculous how much Americans pay for such an incomplete education. If you choose to move to the states, be aware that you will have to take qualifying exams during your first 1-2 years of grad school, during your 'masters' work. This was a turn-off for many of my friends in Germany, who could just apply for their masters program and start working at a Fraunhofer somewhere.

Also, don't think of it as 'master's' and 'PhD' as much as the first 2-ish years and then research. Universities handle this differently: For instance, I've heard of universities that accept way more masters students than they have PhD positions for and if you aren't working with a professor by the time your first couple years is over, you're out of luck. Others only accept as many as they can promise PhD positions to, which is not many, but if you talk about your course work and labs, you shouldn't have a problem.

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