Studying in the US

Studying in the US

Universities offer four-year degree courses, which are similar to UK undergraduate degrees, except that they are more varied in content and allow for study of a wider range of subjects. Universities also offer postgraduate courses, although these are usually known as graduate courses.

There are two types of universities in the US:

  • Public universities – these institutions are state-funded and have more students and lower tuition fees. Overseas students pay higher fees due to their status as non-state residents (students who don't live and pay taxes in the same state in which the university is located).
  • Private universities – are mainly funded by tuition fees, private donations and grants. They usually have fewer students than a public university and higher fees. The same fees are charged for state and non-state residents.

What courses can you study?

There are two types of graduate degrees: masters and doctoral.

  • Masters degrees are offered in many different fields, and there are two types of programmes: academic and professional. They last between one to three years, depending on the subject. Most academic masters courses provide entry to a career in academia or research, while professional masters qualifications tend to be for entry to a particular profession.
  • Doctoral degrees are the highest level, and usually require original research for academic programmes, and the practical application of knowledge and skills for professional programmes. They usually take between four to eight years to complete, which includes the time it takes to write and present a dissertation.

There are over a thousand universities that offer postgraduate courses. is the education guide for international students and universities can be searched according to the level of programmes they offer.

How do you apply for postgraduate study?

University admission in the US is extremely competitive, especially for international students. You should contact individual universities to find out their specific entry requirements, but a minimum of a 2:2 is usually expected. They will also take other factors into consideration, such as sufficient financial resources, proficiency in the English language and other academic and extracurricular achievements. You will also need to take an admissions test, which measures aptitude and achievement. It is a standardised test that can be taken at centres around the world.

It is best to start the process of course selection and application 18 months in advance of enrolment. This allows enough time to do all that is required to request application materials, prepare for and take the admissions tests, and submit applications. Application deadlines vary, although most fall between November and February for masters and doctoral programmes.

Applications are made directly to the university. It is a good idea to apply to more than one university as you may not be accepted onto your first choice. As part of the application process it is likely that you will need to complete a personal statement, send a transcript of your results and provide letters of reference. You may also be required to attend an interview, although for international students this may be conducted over the phone.

Fees and scholarships

Education in the US is not cheap. The application process alone involves a fee of $50–$100, which is paid per application to the universities. As an international student, as part of the visa application, you will also have to pay a SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) fee, which is currently $200. Tuition fees vary across each university but may range from $5,000 to $30,000. Edupass has further information on the costs involved in graduate study in the US.

Scholarships and grants are available in the US, although competition for them may be high. The Fulbright Commission offers awards for postgraduate students, which provide grants for study. More information on the types of scholarships available can be found at the following:

You may also be able to access university funding. Check universities' websites to see what might be available to you.

Are there any exchange programmes?

The US-UK Fulbright Commission organises exchanges and an awards programme, which includes postgraduate study. They also offer helpful tips on applying for study and looking for funding.

IAESTE (the International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience) organises exchanges for UK-based students who are studying science, engineering, technology and architecture. Your university may also have exchange programmes in place with US universities. Contact your university's international office to see what is available.

Will your qualifications be recognised in the UK?

Check with the university or higher education institution where you are hoping to study to see if their qualification is recognised or has an equivalent in the UK.

Do you need a visa to study in the US?

If you are planning to travel to the US for study, you will need to apply for a non-immigrant visa. There are three types of student visa:

  • F-1 – is the most common type of visa for those who wish to study in the US and is intended for those who will be attending an accredited US college or university.
  • M-1 – is suitable for study at a non-academic trade or vocational institution.
  • J-1 – sometimes referred to as an 'exchange visitor visa'. Suitable for those going to the USA for exchange programmes, internships, consultation, training, research or teaching, or for an approved au pair or temporary work position.

If you will be studying on an F-1 visa, it may be possible in certain circumstances to be permitted to work while studying in the US. If you have been allocated an M-1 visa, you will only be allowed to work if it is a required part of your training and has been pre-approved by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

If you need a study visa, then you are required to have been accepted by your chosen educational institution and approved for your programme of study before the visa application process can start. Once you have accepted an offer, whether you are embarking on full-time study in the US or an exchange programme, in order to apply for a visa, you will need to prove you have enough funds to support yourself while in the States. You will also need to have a visa interview at a US Embassy in the country of your residence. You can find a list of US embassies at US Embassy Gov.

Written by AGCAS editors, November 2016