How are doctoral studies funded in the USA

Doing a doctorate as a German in the USA

More and more students are opting for a doctorate after completing their master’s degree, which is not only possible in Germany. So many are drawn to the USA, but what are the requirements to be observed? How long does a doctorate in the USA take and how much does such a project actually cost?

Where can you do a doctorate and what programs are there?

A doctorate is the award of the academic degree of “doctor”. This proves the ability to carry out in-depth scientific work. In the land of opportunity, there are a total of 21 different universities that offer doctoral programs. These are the following:

University cities (USA) with doctoral programs

The three universities with the most doctoral programs are George Mason University in Fairfax (40), Northeastern University in Boston (41) and Saint Louis University in St. Louis (42).

The study programs are also extremely diverse and can easily keep up with the programs offered in this country. In addition to conventional doctoral programs such as in mathematics, physics, psychology, economics, history, English, civil engineering and law, more specialized courses such as audiology or nursing are offered, which you will not find in Germany. With regard to the standard period of study, the doctoral programs in the two countries differ only insignificantly, as the doctorate usually takes around three to four years (the exact period of study naturally depends on the respective subject). At the center of every doctorate is a self-written dissertation.

What are the requirements for a doctorate?

In order to be able to participate in a doctoral program, you usually need a master’s degree or a comparable qualification. Only in rare cases, such as in vocational courses (audiology at Northeastern University, physiotherapy at Bellarmine University, and education at California State University Stanislaus), a bachelor's degree is sometimes sufficient. [insert related]

Since only a limited number of applicants are usually admitted to the doctorate, one should be able to demonstrate outstanding performance in the form of a good to very good examination. Applicants who do not come from an English-speaking country must also take a standardized language test such as the IELTS or TOEFL and prove that they have the necessary knowledge of English to be able to follow the lessons. In some degree programs, it is also necessary to prove one's abilities in research (appropriate techniques and methods). Since some degree programs have additional requirements for their applicants, it is always advisable to obtain detailed information in advance from the respective universities.

How high are the costs?

The costs for a doctorate depend on the respective subject and the individual length of study. In addition to the participation costs and the tuition fees, there are living costs for food and accommodation. The tuition fees are calculated depending on the university per semester or credit hour (creditable lecture hour). These amount to an average of around US $ 14,300 per semester. Those aiming for a doctorate in education get away a little cheaper at around US $ 10,500, while the life sciences (around US $ 14,700) and math and computer science (around US $ 15,400) are above average in terms of costs. All in all, the average total cost is about $ 33,400 (per semester), which is not cheap.

For this reason, you should think carefully in advance whether you can cope with such a financial burden at all. If you compare today's costs per year for a doctoral degree in the USA with those ten years ago, it quickly becomes apparent that these have increased by 49 percent at a state university and by a whopping 79 percent at a private university.

Compared to a doctorate in Germany, the costs are almost astronomical. This is due to the fact that in this country no tuition fees are charged for a doctorate and consequently only costs for your own living costs and research work are incurred.

What financing options are there?

In order to be able to cope with these enormous costs, there are a total of four different ways in which doctoral students can finance their doctorate:

  • Self-financing (own funds, financing by relatives or professional activity outside the university)
  • Doctoral grants or loans
  • Activity as research assistant (for projects of a supervisor; so-called "research assistantship")
  • Activity as a teaching assistant (either through university funds or as a public grant; so-called “teaching assistantship”).

In contrast to Germany, however, there are no positions at the universities at universities in the USA that could in any way serve the purpose of teaching or qualification. According to the Council of Graduate Schools, around 93 percent of doctoral students in the United States receive financial support (an average of $ 26,000) in the form of the aforementioned options. Around 22 percent of doctoral students receive “teaching assistantships”, and a further 24 percent “research assistantships”.

Nowadays there are far more German than American institutions that support German doctoral students in the USA with a scholarship. The prerequisite for this is, of course, a degree with very good grades and, in some cases, commitment in the social field. In this context, a distinction can be made between full and partial scholarships. Depending on the type of scholarship, it is quite possible that all costs, i.e. both for tuition fees and for living expenses, will be covered.

Overview of German institutions

  • German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD)
  • Alexander von Humboldt Foundation
  • Bayer AG
  • Bavarian Research Foundation
  • Christoph Dornier Foundation
  • Erich Becker Foundation
  • Schering Foundation

Overview of American institutions

  • German Historical Institute
  • International Education Financial Aid (IEFA)
  • The German-American Fulbright Commission
  • American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS)

Working as a PhD student in the USA

Anyone wishing to take up employment in the USA must either be in possession of an appropriate visa or a work and residence permit (green card). However, it is anything but advisable to enter the country with a tourist visa and simply take up employment, or to want to obtain the necessary documents during the course of your stay.

For a green card, which is otherwise only issued under certain conditions (e.g. emigration, US spouse), you can apply in the lottery procedure. However, this is not absolutely necessary, because anyone who wants to pursue temporary, fixed-term employment can simply apply for a special visa. In this context, a distinction is made between the H-1B visa (for highly qualified workers in special jobs), the H-2B visa (for temporary workers) and the J-1 visa (for participants in exchange programs). It is also possible to take your family members with you on a J-2 visa.


If you want to do a doctorate in the USA, you have to be aware that this usually entails significant costs for tuition fees and living costs. In addition, you have to demonstrate excellent performance and be able to master the English language. With the help of scholarships and assistantships, however, the cost problem can at least be reduced considerably. Another positive aspect is the fact that bachelor graduates are usually admitted to vocational courses.

Author: Manuela Schneider
Published on May 3, 2011

Tags: degrees, abroad, doctoral candidate, funding, doctorate, USA