How to apply for a PhD in the USA? (Updated 2019)

The US, undoubtedly stands as the most prominent country in the field of education. It is eligible as the most preferred study destination for students from all the nooks and corners of the world.

The main reason why the USA is such a magnificent attraction for PhD applicants all-round the worlds is the amount of and the variety of courses it presents all the applicants with. Apart from that, the fact that the USA spends a major portion of its GDP in Research and Development, is also an attractive factor.

There’s little doubt left as to why one should apply for a PhD in the US. But a majority portion of students faces difficulty with the application. This blog post is to aid you with the application procedure of PhD in the USA.

How to apply for a PhD in the USA?

1. Select the subject you wish to pursue

The predominant step to be taken is to choose the subject one wants to major in.

Students might or might not pursue the same field as their bachelors or masters, but for that to happen, they need to possess a strong knowledge in the concerned field.

2. Research for best universities offering doctoral in the chosen subject and apply

Once the candidate is done choosing the subject he/she wants to pursue a PhD in, then comes the step of deciding on the college. This step is an extremely crucial step, as this step will determine the course of your future during the years of your doctorate and will also govern your life after you pass out from the chosen college. Henceforth, to avoid helplessness with no college in your bag, it is better to apply for 5 – 10 universities, shortlist all of them.

Top PhD universities in the US

  • California Institute of Technology
  • Stanford University
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Yale University
  • Harvard University
  • John Hopkins University
  • Carnegie Mellon University
  • Princeton University
  • University of California, Berkeley
  • University of California, Los Angeles

3. Pay heed to the deadlines:

  • California Institute of Technology-


  • Stanford University


  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology


  • Yale University


  • Harvard University


  • John Hopkins University


  • Carnegie Mellon University


  • Princeton University


  • University of California, Berkeley


  • University of California, Los Angeles


Are you eligible for PhD in the USA?

In US universities, appearance for Masters is not necessary, admissions for PhD are accepted after Bachelor’s degree as well.

  • 16 years of education:

The candidate must have completed 4 years of education after 10 +2. The admission in US colleges for PhD is only on completion of 16 years of education and now you know why some colleges in India, especially the art ones, have a bachelor’s of 4 years.

  • Masters:

Any student who stands qualified till a master’s degree, can easily apply for a PhD in the US. It is preferable, though not compulsory, for him/her to choose the master’s subject for PhD.

Eligibility Exams to Apply for PhD in the USA

  • GMAT:

Management studies admission

Used by business schools

  • GRE:

Mandatory for all graduate programs

GRE subject tests can be a special requirement of certain universities

  • TOEFL:

English proficiency test

For students of non-native English-speaking countries

Conducted more than 40 times a year

  • IELTS:

English proficiency test

Has 4 different parameters which are tested:





Documents Required for PhD in the USA

  • Statement of Purpose

Most important element

Reflects candidate’s commitment

Brief and clear

  • Letter of Recommendation:

Independent assessment

Reflects candidate’s potential

2-3 letters are needed

By candidate’s professor or employer

  • Resume:

At the PhD level, a resume becomes a necessity for college application. It should showcase your talents, your experience in the field you have chosen, alongside basic information such as date of birth, qualifications and achievements and details regarding the previous place of work.

  • Academic result transcripts:

Includes all the qualifications that the candidate will list while submitting the application form.

Other important Documents

  • Work experience certificates
  • Passport
  • Extra-curricular certificate
  • WES evaluation documents

Interview for PhD in the USA

Many reputed universities hold an interview round for candidates applying for PhD.

These interviews are based on general questions related to one’s subject of persuasion and interview takes place only after the candidate has been selected in the paper round.


  1. Am I eligible enough to pursue a PhD?

That depends. What would you like to research? Would you like to research or not?

Predominantly, one needs to identify what one’s future ambitions. A PhD is foremost a period of research training and intellectual challenge. Does this feel appealing to you? When we talk about eligibility on the other hand, have you cleared your masters? Or are you on the path of clearing it?

Does the subject you study, genuinely interest you? Would you be okay studying it and researching about the same field for a majority of your life? With the questions mentioned, find answers and you’ll know whether you suit a PhD or not.

2. How long does PhD take to complete?

There is no definite answer to this as the time taken for PhD varies from course to course.

In the US, you are eligible for PhD even after you have completed your bachelors and sometimes, master’s completion is not necessarily required.

Although it is always a better option to complete your masters prior to PhD so that you have gained access to the in-depth knowledge of your field, but the choice rests in your hands.

3. What qualifications do I need?

A Master’s degree, or its international equivalent, is often required for entry onto a PhD and this is generally the case in arts and humanities subjects. In the sciences, however, students can sometimes move directly towards a PhD after their undergraduate degree. In addition to some postgraduate requirements, you’ll also need to demonstrate good performance during your undergraduate degree. An upper second class bachelor’s degree is usually the minimum entry requirement.

If the PhD you applied for and are going to study is not conducted in your first language, then you’ll have to provide evidence of proficiency through a language test.

4. Am I allowed to study part-time?

Absolutely. Many students choose to study part-time, particularly when they are earning on their own, so as to work and earn funds for a college in the other half of their time. It is likely that most of the funded PhD positions will require a full-time commitment but the self- funded ones, without the hold of any sponsorship, can study part-time and work the other half.

5. What is an MPhil? Please Elaborate.

Most UK universities require PhD pursuing students to start their studies by registering for the degree of MPhil. The student is usually required to produce a report at the end of the first year and may undertake a more informal internal examination of this material as part of their upgrade procedure. If their work is judged to be of the required standard the student’s registration will transfer to a PhD.

This procedure is less common in US universities. In the US, PhD students directly jump-start to research in PhD, skipping the MPhil procedure altogether.


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About the Author

I am a study abroad content expert, associated with the study abroad industry since years. I am a firm believer that study abroad is once a lifetime experience and everyone should get a chance of having this experience.

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