PhD in USA – Your Complete Guide

United States of America is one of the most popular study destination for doctoral studies among international students. The education quality of the USA is highly admirable and the country offers a wide range of subjects. A PhD from US Universities gives exposure to the students in the emerging areas of research and enhances the network of contacts, which helps the students in building their career. A PhD from the USA leads towards the path of becoming an international expert in the specialized field of study.

PhD in USA – Course Structure

PhD programs in the USA are designed to provide you with advanced training in your chosen field of study, preparing you for careers in academia, industry, or research. These programs typically follow a structured format that includes a combination of coursework, research, comprehensive exams, and a dissertation.


PhD programs typically begin with a period of coursework designed to provide you with a solid foundation in their field of study. Coursework may cover advanced topics, research methods, theoretical frameworks, and specialized areas of interest. You are required to complete a certain number of credits or courses to fulfill this requirement.


Research is a central component of PhD programs, allowing you to explore original research questions, contribute to the body of knowledge in their field, and develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. You work closely with faculty mentors and advisors to design and conduct research projects, analyze data, and disseminate their findings through publications and presentations.

Comprehensive Exams

Comprehensive exams, also known as qualifying exams or candidacy exams, are a milestone in the PhD journey. These exams assess your mastery of the foundational knowledge and skills in their field of study and determine your readiness to advance to the next stage of the program. Comprehensive exams may consist of written and/or oral examinations covering coursework, research, and broader concepts within the field.


The dissertation is the culmination of a PhD program, representing your original research contribution to the field. You work independently to design and execute a research project, analyze data, and write a dissertation document that presents your findings and conclusions. The dissertation is typically defended orally before a committee of faculty members, who evaluate the quality and significance of the research.

Also read: How to apply for PhD in USA

How to Choose the Right Program for PhD in USA?

When it comes to pursuing a PhD, selecting the right program is crucial for your academic and professional journey. Choosing the right PhD program sets the foundation for your research career. It’s not just about earning a degree; it’s about finding a program that aligns with your interests, goals, and values. The right program will provide you with the support, resources, and opportunities you need to thrive academically and professionally. Factors to consider when researching programs:

Faculty Expertise and Research Interests

The expertise and research interests of the faculty members within a program can greatly influence your academic experience. Seek out programs with faculty members who are leaders in their respective fields and whose research aligns with your own interests and goals. A strong mentorship and collaboration with faculty can enhance your research opportunities and professional development.

Location and Campus Culture

The location of a PhD program can have a significant impact on your overall experience and quality of life. Consider factors such as proximity to research institutions, access to resources, and the cultural and social environment of the campus. Additionally, assess the campus culture and community to ensure it fosters a supportive and collaborative learning environment conducive to your academic success.

Funding Opportunities

Financial considerations are an important factor when researching PhD programs. Look for programs that offer competitive funding packages, including stipends, tuition waivers, and research assistantships. Explore opportunities for external funding through scholarships, grants, and fellowships to supplement your funding package and alleviate financial burdens during your doctoral studies.

University Rankings

Like most PhD aspirants, you may think that university rankings can significantly improve your academic and career prospects. While the allure of high-ranking universities is undeniable, it’s essential to weigh the pros and cons before making a decision that will shape your academic and professional future. Surprisingly, university rankings for PhD studies are NOT as important as you might expect them to be. Instead, there are other factors like faculty interests, curriculum, resources, and personal fit which are more important than university rankings. To know more, read our article on why the university Rankings don’t Matter for PhD.

Length of PhD in USA

The duration of PhD program in the USA is around 4 to 6 years. However, some students may take up to seven years to complete the program. Students are generally expected to publish at least 2 research papers in good international journals before they submit their PhD thesis. In the USA, an academic year includes two teaching semesters – August to December, and January to May.

Cost of PhD in USA

PhD fees in the USA vary a lot as there are a huge number of universities. Also, the fee between public and private institutions sometimes depends on a students’ residency status:

Public institutions charge an average of $12,737 per year for in-state students on graduate programs. The fees for out-of-state students (including international students) are higher than this.

Private institutions charge an average of $43,300 per year for all students on graduate programs.

The average Living cost in the USA including accommodation, transport, food expenses, etc. is approximately 12 lakhs/ year.

Funding PhD Studies in USA

It’s very common for US universities to provide funding to their students. Funding can take various forms. ‘Full-ride’ scholarships will cover fees, living costs, and other expenses. Other common options include partial fee discounts or full fee waivers.


Apart from direct funding, US universities also offer assistantship positions to their graduate students. These are generally a form of employment with the university: students are required to fulfill some responsibilities in exchange for a stipend or a fee waiver.

Common types of assistantships include:

  • Graduate teaching assistantships – These involve teaching and mentoring undergraduate students on courses related to one’s subject. Responsibilities may include leading discussion groups, supervising essays and helping with course admin. Graduate students doing this kind of work are sometimes referred to as ‘TAs’ (teaching assistants) or ‘adjunct faculty’.
  • Research assistantships – These involve helping faculty with their research. Responsibilities may include collecting and recording routine data, monitoring experiments or helping set up equipment.
  • Administrative assistantships – These involve clerical, administrative and secretarial work for the university or graduate programme. Responsibilities may include data entry and management, assisting with meetings and other activities or helping with other routine office tasks.
  • Fellowships – These don’t involve additional work but may be conditional on maintaining a certain standard for your academic work or pursuing particular directions with your research.

Completing a PhD in USA – Assessment and examination

The students need to clear the regular assessments to complete the PhD course. The requirement of a PhD course will depend on the university or the graduate program. The general requirements include the following:

  1. Course Work: The classes will be assessed by essays, presentations, and exams. The students will have to clear all the assessments to earn credits to complete the coursework as per the program stage. This is in contrast to many European PhD programs which require students to do little to no coursework. USA PhD programs, regardless of the field, require students to take two to three years of courses and seminars in a wide range of disciplines while they work on their PhD projects.
  2. Examinations: In the exams, the academic competence will be assessed by the institute. The exams will include oral presentations or the traditional closed-book test to assess your general subject knowledge. The number of exams will depend upon the programs selected by the student.
  3. Thesis Advisory Committee (TAC) meetings: The thesis committee will orally examine and check the research plan/progress from time to time to make sure that you are on track. 
  4. Thesis Defence: The last examination of the students will be based on the presentation and oral examination of their PhD thesis. The oral examination will be similar to the viva voice or final interview round. 

USA Student visas

Once you get an offer letter from a US university, you have to apply for F1 visa – the student visa for the USA. You can remain in the US for up to 60 days beyond the length of time it takes to complete your PhD degree. However, this can be extended to up to 2 years under the OPT (Optional Practical Training) Program. For graduates of STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Management), the visa can be extended up to 24 months, whereas, for all other subjects visa can be extended for a maximum of 12 months. This means you can work for one or two years, depending on the subject you studied, after you finish your studies. It is temporary employment permission allowing students the opportunity to gain practical experience in their field of study.

Exceptions apply to citizens of Canada and Bermuda, who can enter the United States without a visa. All other students will need an F Student Visa.

Family visa norms

As an international student, you may consider bringing your dependents to the United States to live with you. F-1 and M-1 students are eligible to bring their children, who are unmarried and under the age of 21, and/or spouse to live with them while they study in the United States.

Dependents cannot work (but can take up voluntary work without pay) and are not eligible for social security numbers. Also, dependents may study full-time in a primary or secondary school to meet the compulsory education requirements for minors in the state where they reside;

Can I work in USA after my PhD?

The USA is a world-leader in academic research and an ideal place to seek a university career. However, you will need to apply for a new visa in order to do so (your F Student Visa will expire 60 days after your graduate programme ends). First you should extend your visa under the OPT program and use this time to find a job which allows you to apply for a work permit such as H1-B visa.

Can I work in USA part-time during my studies?

Yes, all full-time PhD students with a valid study permit can work part-time on or off-campus for up to 20 hours per week during university semesters and full-time during semester breaks. If you are working as TA or RA in the university, then those hours will count towards part-time work.

How can “Road to Abroad” help you?

We provide the best PhD Assistance across the globe. We provide the right guidance and support needed to complete the tedious and time-consuming PhD admission process. Our flawless track record and very high success rate have fulfilled the dreams of many students who aspire to gain a doctoral degree. We will help you secure a fully-funded PhD position and help you in all the steps from application to immigration. For more information, visit our PhD Consultation Page.

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