As the world’s most popular study abroad destination, the USA has plenty to offer you as an international postgraduate. You’ll be one of over 900,000 overseas students, many of whom study on the country’s renowned graduate programmes. But America isn’t just the most popular choice for international study. It’s also one of the biggest. With 50 states, 9.8 million square miles and over 4,300 higher education providers, there’s a lot to take in when considering a Masters study in the USA.
World-class universities – American institutions dominate the global rankings for universities – out of the top 50 in Times Higher Education’s league, 23 are based in the US. Find out more about postgraduate rankings in the USA. International outlook – America is by far the most popular destination for international students, and with good reason – its institutions offer an unparalleled breadth of qualifications to choose from. Funding opportunities – It’s true that Masters in America won’t necessarily be cheap, but this doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of funding opportunities for talented overseas students. What’s different about postgraduate study in the USA? Higher education in the USA isn’t that different to other parts of the world. In fact, many countries actually model their university systems on a US template. But there are a few things that make postgraduate study at American universities quite unique. ‘Graduate’ vs ‘postgraduate’ First things first: Americans don’t tend to use the term ‘postgraduate’. At least not in the same way as universities and students in other countries. Rather than studying as a ‘postgraduate’ in the USA, you’ll probably be enrolled onto a ‘graduate’ programme.
This may also be organised within a specific ‘graduate school’ (or ‘grad school’) at your university. The word ‘postgraduate’ (or ‘post-graduate’) is still sometimes used at American universities. But it normally refers to someone who has completed graduate level training up to PhD level. Such a person would probably be looking for a post-doctoral or early career academic position, not a Masters degree. So be careful not to accidentally promote yourself up the academic ladder! For the sake of simplicity, we’ll keep using ‘postgraduate’ on this page. Don’t worry if you see American universities using the term ‘graduate’ instead though. For more information, check out our guide to the differences between college and university in the USA and UK. No pure research degrees This is probably the most striking feature of higher education in the USA: almost all programmes include taught units and assessments. This may surprise you if you’re familiar with a system such as the UK’s, in which Masters degrees can be either taught or research focussed. Masters degrees (and PhDs) in the USA are much more structured. You’ll still be expected to think and study independently, but you’ll be assessed much more formally and consistently across your programme. This means that you won’t be able to study a standalone research Masters such as the MRes (Master of Research) or MPhil (Master of Philosophy) in the USA. In fact, even PhD programmes in the USA normally include initial taught training and examinations before a student proceeds to the final ABD (‘all but dissertation’) stage and completes their thesis.
This approach has its advantages. You’ll benefit from more organised training and will acquire a range of complementary skills alongside your academic degree. In fact, universities elsewhere are increasingly mimicking the American model, with a structured approach to postgraduate education. As a Masters student in the USA you’ll be able to have it both ways. You’ll experience a ‘modern’ approach to postgraduate study within a higher education system that has extensive experience delivering these comprehensive programmes. Regular assessment and grading A structured approach to postgraduate training also means that a US Masters degree often involves more continuous assessment. Masters degrees in other countries often involve a smaller number of large assessments. You might only have one coursework essay to produce for each module, with other work such as seminar preparation and discussion not contributing to your final grade. In the USA this system is reversed. You’ll be set more regular tasks, ranging from in-class examinations on core knowledge to shorter coursework essays. Marks for these will be converted into a Grade Point Average (GPA), reflecting progress across your course. Don’t worry about losing the opportunity to dig in and undertake more substantial academic work either. Your Masters will almost certainly conclude with a substantial independent dissertation.
This will be your chance to really apply the knowledge and skills you’ve developed as a postgraduate. Search for a Masters in the US Our database includes plenty of US Masters degrees and our listings provide lots of helpful information about specific programmes. Why not take a look? American universities If you’re approaching the prospect of postgraduate study in the USA for the first time, the sheer range of options on offer can appear a bit daunting. Don’t worry though.
The US higher education system is easier to understand once you can distinguish between the different types of American higher education institution and the kinds of programmes they typically offer. Colleges Unlike countries such as the UK where colleges tend to be pre-tertiary-level institutions, Americans often use the term ‘college’ as an equivalent term for ‘university’; so, ‘going to university’ becomes ‘going to college’. However, ‘college’ is more often used in this way to refer to undergraduate education. With some notable exceptions, institutions that refer to themselves as colleges are usually smaller, with a focus on a few subject areas. They may not always offer postgraduate programmes. There are two common types of higher education college in the US: Community colleges only offer undergraduate programmes (many of which are associate’s degrees, preparing students for Bachelors level study). Liberal arts colleges may have postgraduate programmes awarding Masters degrees and even PhDs, but the majority focus on undergraduate education through a combined liberal arts and science curriculum. Universities To be classed as a university in the USA, an institution normally has to include a certain number of faculties or schools.
Some of these will focus on specific subjects. Others will focus on a particular level of teaching. In fact, it’s common for a large American university to include dedicated undergraduate colleges as well as more advanced graduate schools. Whatever their make-up, universities are where most academic research happens in the USA. This means they also have the expertise and facilities to deliver advanced degrees such as Masters and PhD qualifications. Individual universities in the USA may be either public or private, depending on their funding status.