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Earning a PhD in Europe

Updated on January 15, 2020

So, you have that bachelor’s degree in hand, but now you’re thinking of taking your education a step or two further. Maybe you’re even aiming for the mother of all degrees – a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). Maybe this idea intrigues you, but you haven’t made any definite plans, or you have planned to attend graduate school before you even graduated from high school. Either way, why not consider earning that degree in Europe?

Before starting the process of applying for graduate schools in Europe, there are a few basic facts that it’s important to know, according to Academic Positions.
What makes studying in Europe so attractive?

According to the Find a PhD post, “Europe’s historic and world-renowned universities have always been home to leading scientists, artists and thinkers.”


European vs. American graduate programs

The #1 fact to know before applying for doctorate programs in Europe is that it is not always possible to start working on a PhD in Europe until you have earned a master’s degree. On the other hand, many PhD programs in the United States accept applicants with only a bachelor’s degree. In these American programs, students generally earn a master’s degree on the way to completing their PhD. In these cases, the master’s degree serves as a milestone in the journey to the ultimate degree. So, applicant prerequisites are an important factor to consider if you’re seeking to earn your PhD abroad.

Secondly, PhD programs in Europe tend to take less time than they do in the U.S. For instance, the average time needed to complete a PhD in the U.S. ranges from six to eight years, with the lengthier doctorates being the in the field of humanities. A three to four year time frame for completing a doctorate degree is common throughout Europe.

On the financial front, some European countries treat PhD students as employees and provide work contracts. According to Academic Positions, fees for earning post-graduate degrees tend to be considerably lower in Europe than they are in the U.S. However, similar to the U.S., post-graduate students in Europe have the opportunity to apply for funding sources such a scholarships, research grants or external fellowships.

There are a number of other differences between European and American doctorate programs and requirements. So, learning these should definitely be at the top of your “Things to Do” list before even beginning to apply for a European graduate program.


The basic application process for graduate school

Although application procedures and requirements for entering a PhD program vary between institutions in Europe, this example from European University Institute can give you a peek into the application process you may encounter. This institution offers programs in History and Civilization, Political and Social Sciences, Economics and Law. The EUI campus is located between Fiesole and Florence, Italy.

The academic year for European University Institute begins in September. Here is the process you will go through in the application process for this school.

  • The application process for the following academic year at EUI begins in November.
  • The deadline for applications to the program is at the end of January.
  • EUI will process applications and pre-select applicants for interviews in February and mid-March.
  • Interviews at EUI run through the last days of March.
  • EUI will make admission decisions in Early April.
  • Students selected for the program will register in August.

The selection criteria for EUI includes the following:

  • Academic record – This is your transcript. If the country where you are planning to study speaks a language other than English you will need certified transcript translation services because the translation must be absolutely accurate.
  • Graduate Record Examinations (this only applies to the Department of Economics) – This is a standardized test required for graduate admissions to many U.S. and Canada graduate programs.
  • Potential supervision
  • Quality of research proposal
  • Language capabilities


The Visa process

As you mull over the application process for earning your PhD in Europe, do not neglect the visa process for getting permission to temporarily live in a European country for the time period that you expect it to take to finish your degree. In fact, the POSTGRAD website says that most of the respectable European universities require an advance guarantee that you will have permission to legally remain in their country for as long as it takes to complete your degree.

Since a master’s degree should take you a year to complete, and a PhD will take three to four years, you will need a Long Stay Visa or a Residence Permit. The Long Stay Visa will cover you for up to a year. However, if you plan to stay in a Europe for the time it takes you to earn a PhD, you must get a Residence Permit.

To apply for a Long Stay Visa or Residence Permit, you must submit a full application with the embassy or consulate in the country where you plan to study. When you file these applications, you must provide proof of your intent.

The university of your choice should be able to direct you to whom you should contact to start the visa process.

This is a list of the evidence you are required to provide in the educational visa process:

  • A copy of your current passport
  • Documentation regarding your finances, insurance, plans for accommodation and work
  • Two or more photographs
  • Your post-graduate acceptance letter
  • Travel itinerary
  • Other documentation relevant to the country you are trying to enter

The average time for visa approval is 90 days. If you have not received a response to your application after 90 days, it’s time to find out what the delay is.


The benefits of studying abroad

IES Abroad claims that students who study abroad come home with greater enthusiasm for academic pursuits along with a strong commitment to lifelong learning. Not only that, the ability to list foreign study credentials such as a PhD on a resume, can boost your career.


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