European PhDs: How Recognized in the U.S.?

Here’s how well European PhDs are recognized in the U.S.:

A European PhD is recognized across the United States and will qualify the holder to work as a professional in the U.S., provided it comes from an accredited college.

That said, European PhD holders often lose job opportunities to U.S. PhD holders.

There are advantages to getting a PhD in the U.S.

So if you want to learn all about what exactly determines how well recognized a European PhD is in the U.S., then this article is for you.

Let’s dig right into it!

European PhDs: How Recognized in the U.S.? (All the Info)

What Determines How Well Recognized the European PhD Is? (2 Factors)

A young serious woman student sitting on a bench in the park and typing on her laptop on a sunny day on university campus

The short answer is that a European PhD is perfectly recognized in the U.S.

There are many thousands of European PhD graduates working in countless fields in the United States right now.

They’re fully qualified, and in many cases, European PhD holders are very competitive in the job market.

But, that’s not universally the case.

There are a lot of things that factor into this, so let’s look at them individually.

#1 Where You Studied

Manchester University

In theory, the college where you study shouldn’t matter.

You should be learning the same essential material at any qualified institution of learning.

And when it comes to a PhD, the research that you conduct should be more important than the institution name on your degree.

But, that’s not how the world actually works.

The institution does matter, and where you graduate in Europe will absolutely impact how well recognized your PhD is in the United States.

For example, there are plenty of world-class universities and institutions in Europe.

Think of Oxford, Zurich, or Amsterdam, just to name a few.

If you have a PhD from one of these schools, you can bet that anyone in the U.S. is going to value it highly.

That’s just how prestige works.

But, if your PhD comes from a little-known college in rural Romania, it might not command as much respect.

Prestige is part of the equation, even though the Romanian PhD really should be just as valuable as one from a prestigious school.

#2 Accreditation

female university student on campus

So, prestige matters, but it’s not the whole story.

Accreditation really matters more.

For the most part, European universities are accredited according to international standards.

There are actually a few accreditation bodies across Europe, but they work with other international bodies to ensure that European schools are up to snuff.

As long as your PhD comes from an accredited school in Europe, you are qualified to work jobs in the U.S. that require a PhD.

You won’t have to go back to school.

Now, accreditation isn’t the extent of competition.

Just because you’re qualified doesn’t mean you’ll get the job, but you at least don’t need to get a second PhD in the United States just to apply for positions.

When it comes to competition, that will depend on the research you have done, how many people are competing for the same position, the prestige of your university, and who you know.

Those last two might be hard truths, but they’re part of the equation.

What Is the Difference Between a European and U.S. PhD? (4 Points)

cheerful male university graduates during graduation day

Perhaps there’s a better way to look at this question.

Maybe, we can explore how European PhDs are recognized by zooming in on the differences between PhD programs in the United States and Europe.

In general, the programs are the same.

Students are expected to demonstrate professional mastery of a subject.

More importantly, to get a PhD, you typically have to perform original research.

You then have to present that research to a board of experts for review.

If they pass you, you get your PhD.

If they don’t pass you, then you don’t get a PhD.

For any given subject, PhDs in Europe and the United States are going to have comparable levels of knowledge and skill too.

You don’t really expect astrophysicists from one region to be superior to the other, and you definitely expect astrophysicists from both regions to be really, really good at physics.

This is true no matter the subject.

Despite all that they have in common, there are some stark differences, and we’re going to spend a few minutes on those differences.

#1 Time

PhD student reading a book in library

This is a big one.

The average time to complete a PhD in Europe is three years.

In the United States, the average time to completion is six years.

Does that mean that students in the U.S. study and research for twice as long?


This really has to do with prerequisites (more on that in a bit).

Basically, students in Europe are usually already experts before they start the PhD.

They’ve finished all of their coursework, and the only thing left to do is research.

In the United States, the majority of students haven’t finished all of their coursework before starting the PhD program.

They become experts along the way.

#2 Prerequisites

female university student working on a laptop in the library

This might make more sense if we focus on the prerequisites.

For the most part, you have to complete a master’s degree (or equivalent) before you can apply to a PhD program in Europe.

This means you have already done an average of six years’ worth of study in a topic before you apply to get a PhD.

From there, it’s another three years of research (on average), and then you’re ready to be a professional.

In the United States, the majority of PhD students are recruited after completing a bachelor’s.

They don’t already have a master’s degree.

That means they have two fewer years of schooling in their subjects when they start, and it’s why U.S. PhD programs take two to four years longer than European PhD programs.

U.S. students have to make up that classroom time while doing the PhD.

In the end, students from both regions have the same amount of schooling, but this prerequisite difference is a big deal.

Also, it’s worth noting that the U.S. is a little less rigid.

While the majority of PhD students start immediately after earning a bachelor’s degree, that’s not always the case.

It’s not entirely rare for someone to complete a master’s and then get into a PhD program in the U.S.

When that happens, their journey suddenly looks a lot more like the normal European journey.

#3 Publishing

Serious male scientist working on a digital tablet reviewing an online phd publication in a lab

This is where the prerequisites really start to make a difference.

PhD students in Europe are already experts in their field.

They’re just expanding on that through original research.

As a result, European students are expected to publish research while they’re going through the program.

That doesn’t mean they need to publish their dissertation right away.

Instead, PhD students in Europe will often work on multiple projects over the course of their degree program.

They will always be working on a central dissertation, but they might also crunch numbers or contribute to research for other professionals.

When that happens, they should be contributing at a level that gets their name listed on the published results.

Meanwhile, PhD students in the U.S. aren’t qualified to publish research when they first start, and so that isn’t expected of them.

Another way to look at it is that PhD students in Europe are already professionals.

They work in a professional capacity while conducting the type of specialized research that is necessary to become a PhD.

Students in the United States become professionals over the course of earning their PhD.

So, they won’t publish as frequently, and they won’t be expected to either.

#4 Funding

Seeking grants for business or research

This is probably the biggest difference.

There is a lot more funding for PhD programs in the U.S. than there is in Europe.

It’s a massive difference.

Because of this, European PhD students usually have to write grants and do pitches to get funding for their research.

That’s one of the reasons why they have to get a master’s degree first.

After the master’s they are better equipped to pursue their own funding, and it’s an essential skill.

In the U.S., if you start a PhD right after your bachelor’s, then it usually means that you’re in a fully funded program.

Typically, you won’t be paying for tuition, and your lab and research materials will be paid for by the institution (usually your department will win grants and such to cover funding for all of their PhD students).

You will probably have to work as a teaching assistant and in other capacities for the university, but your expenses are covered.

If you happen to be a U.S. student who earns a master’s before starting a PhD program, then you might be expected to write grants and pursue funding (that was definitely true in my case).

Since most U.S. students don’t already have the master’s, they spend a lot less time working on grants and other funding pursuits.

What’s the Bottom Line?

PhD graduate in black gown University degree

Considering all of these differences, what’s the bottom line?

How well recognized are the European PhDs in the U.S.?

As I said before, a European PhD will qualify you to work in the U.S.

As long as your program was accredited, the degree is recognized.

The better question is how competitive the European degree is, and in that case, it’s usually less competitive.

It’s a little odd.

European PhD graduates, on average, have more professional skills than their U.S. counterparts.

Since they spent three years pursuing funding and publishing research, they have a strong grasp on how the business side of research works.

You would think that it would make them more valuable, and for some employers, that’s the case.

But, when it comes to PhD-level work, recruitment is expensive.

And, recruiting people out of Europe is more expensive than recruiting someone from the U.S. (assuming the job is located in the U.S.).

Employers also have to worry about visas and other international issues.

On top of all of that, U.S. PhD students work alongside experts in multiple fields in the United States.

They meet a lot of people, and to put it simply, they have better personal and personal connections than European PhD graduates (usually).

For all of these reasons, European PhDs who didn’t graduate from a prestigious university are going to lose job opportunities to U.S. PhDs who are in all conceivable ways their equal.

There is a clear advantage to having a U.S. PhD if you want to work in the U.S.