My understanding is that for most US PhDs:

  • applicants are expected a bachelor's but not a master's
  • applicants are required a statement of purpose but not a research proposal
  • applicants apply to school before choosing doctoral adviser
  • first year or two is coursework followed by exams then finally dissertation

while for most European PhDs:

  • applicants are expected a master's (and has to be a research master's and not a taught master's?)
  • applicants are required a research proposal
  • applicants choose doctoral advisor before applying to school
  • almost no coursework


  1. What countries or states outside Europe and aside from the US are like the US?
  2. Which are like Europe?
  3. Which are in between Europe and the US?

For example, PhDs in Country A seem to be somewhere in the middle:

  • most PhDs require master's but...
  • ...may waive the requirement if the applicant has bachelor's with honors (or bachelor's without honors but in an honors course or something like that)
  • some universities require research proposals (and choosing a doctoral advisor first) for PhDs in certain fields but only statement of purpose* in other fields in the same university
  • some universities require research proposals (and choosing a doctoral advisor first) for PhDs in certain fields but other universities require only statement of purpose* for the same field

*or something which in my opinion is closer to a statement of purpose than a research proposal

  • 2
    Can you clarify the purpose of your question? My initial impression is that the question is falling into the "shopping" category of being off-topic, and your question already answers the more generalized question of approximately, "how do degree requirements for PhD admissions vary across countries?" I would also add that although there is variation between countries, there is also definitely variation within countries across disciplines, so your question probably depends on the specific field of study.
    – Bryan Krause
    Nov 4, 2016 at 16:20
  • 1
    @BryanKrause Curiosity and desire to not be or be seen as ignorant. I mean Japanese universities for example, are they more like the US? Like Europe? Are they varied like HK is? I mean, we can say that generally US PhDs don't require research proposals and that generally European PhDs require research proposals, but we can't say that generally HK PhD's don't require research proposals.
    – BCLC
    Nov 4, 2016 at 16:28
  • 4
    I think you underestimate the variability of PhD programs within EU. To give you an example, in the last few years we had a few requests from PhD students to do a joint PhD degree with a foreigner university, with double recognition. It turned out that setting up a double PhD degree, even within EU, is a bureaucratic nightmare because of the different requirements: in one country the PhD is 3-years long, in another 4; in a certain country there are certain coursework requirements, in another certain others; in one country the student is assessed yearly, in others in a different way, etc. Nov 5, 2016 at 21:28
  • 1
    The impression of the US system seems overreaching in its assumptions. The primary difference between the EU system and the US one is that in the US there are usually 2 years of coursework prior to starting research, whereas in the EU you go directly to research. This means in the USA you have more preparation for the research, but the program takes longer. Your other generalized statement about the USA do not hold across disciplines. Jan 8, 2017 at 14:47
  • 1
    in the US there are usually 2 years of coursework prior to starting research — This is incredibly field-dependent. In most strong American CS PhD programs, students are expected to start research from day one, even while they're still taking classes. The "research proposal" only comes together after the student has some results.
    – JeffE
    Oct 8, 2017 at 1:32

1 Answer 1


In Canada it is standard to have a Master's before beginning a PhD. There are a small number of direct BSc/BA to PhD programmes but they remain the exception. Most universities will admit PhD students who do not have an advisor already lined up, but if you already have an advisor lined up you're more likely to get in.

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