Postgraduate study in the US

Harvard University, USA
US graduate schools offer many opportunities for specialist research, and boasts some of the best funded institutions in the world.

There is a long tradition of international students going to the US to pursue 'graduate' study, as postgraduate study is known over there. Most students choose a masters or doctoral course. Masters courses are either 'professional' (vocational) or 'academic' and often involve writing a thesis. Postgraduate courses can be longer than in Ireland and the UK – one to three years for a masters and up to eight years for a doctorate – as you're usually expected to study related topics alongside your chosen specialism. Doctoral students in particular typically take classes until they've passed their 'qualifying examination', which allows them to write and submit their dissertation.

Institutions offering postgraduate qualifications, colloquially referred to as 'grad schools', fall into a number of categories. You could study at a large research university or a smaller doctorate-granting university or attend a comprehensive institution, which may award masters degrees but doesn't prioritise research. Alternatively, you could study in a specialised institution, which either offers a limited range of courses or caters to specific professional occupations or student demographics.

How to apply

Arranging funding and applying for courses can be a lengthy process. As an international student, you'll need to submit your application at least three months before the deadlines, which could mean applying 12 to 18 months before the course starts. You will need to send off an 'application pack' that typically contains an application form, examples of written essays, an application fee ($50–100 per institution), university transcripts, a personal statement and letters of recommendation. Once you have been accepted, you will be given a visa application form by your visa sponsor, which is often the US institution but could be a funding body.

Entry requirements

To attend a US institution, all students have to sit a standardised admission test. Individual institutions can advise you about which test you need to sit. The most common tests are:


Fees start at a few thousand dollars but can be more than $30,000. Living costs vary considerably and tend to be more expensive on the East and West Coasts. According to the USA Study Guide, average living expenses range from $3,000 to $8,000. Also give some thought to health insurance, as having adequate coverage is often a condition of enrolment. It may be possible for international students to arrange cheaper rates: your institution may be able to facilitate this.

Funding your course

The Fulbright Awards is a significant source. Individual institutions may also offer funding. You may also find on-campus work available as part of the funding package offered by your university.