Step 1: Different types of programs

Make a list of everything you want to get out of your time in the US. This can help you find the program that suits you best. Not all 1,500 graduate schools are the same. All Master’s programs are different, as are the students’ expectations. There are many different educational institutions and diplomas to choose between. Some universities only offer Master’s programs, some universities focus on a set amount of PhD topics, and some larger research institutions offer a wide variety of Master’s and PhD programs.

Master’s degree

American Master’s degrees are comparable to their Dutch equivalents, although the programs often take longer than one year to complete. Keep in mind that you will spend at least a year and a half to three years working towards your degree, depending on the program. You can create your own educational program by picking courses and seminars from a variety of classes offered within your field, as well as similar fields.

Universities in the US offer different types of Master’s programs: a professional Master’s, which prepares you for your future profession, and a broader academic Master’s.


The professional Master’s

Through a professional Master’s program you gain a title related to your specialization. These programs prepare you for specific professions. The final test it usually an exam or aptitude test rather than a thesis. The exact requirements differ depending on the school and field.


Some examples of professional Master’s programs are:

Master of architecture (MArch)

Master of Business Administration (MBA/Executive MBA)

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)

Master of Education (MEd)

Master of Public Administration and Public Policy (MPA/MPP)

Master of Public Health (MPH)

Master of Social Work (MSW)

Some professional Master’s degrees, such as the Executive MBA and MEd, can take one year to complete. Others take two years.


Academic Master’s programs

Academic Master’s programs prepare you for further academics (such as a PhD) or for teaching. After completing one or these programs, you gain the title Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Science (MS). Academic Master’s programs can be finished in two years and are completed by writing a thesis.

Unlike the Netherlands, it is not usually a requirement in the US to complete a Master’s degree for PhD entry.

The first years of this program resemble a Master’s program. If you already have a Master’s degree in the field you want to pursue, you might be able to transfer some credit and not be required to take the full amount of classes in the first two years.


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

An American PhD is similar to the Dutch title of doctor. Acceptance into PhD programs is very competitive. After your Bachelor’s studies, it will take you another four to six years to complete a PhD in a STEM-field. A PhD in humanities often takes even longer to complete. 

The first two years of a PhD are very similar to a Master’s program. You are required to take courses and seminars. Afterwards, you have to prove that you acquired enough knowledge to start your academic career through an examination. Once completed, you can start working on your dissertation. The subject will be selected in close collaboration with your supervisor. If you work in a STEM-field, your project will often be part of a larger research project conducted by your supervisor. As a PhD student, you will either focus on independent research, or work as part of a team. In the Humanities, you can usually choose a project within your supervisor’s field of interest. You conduct this research on your own. The result of your research is a dissertation, which you will have to defend in front of a panel of your peers.


Other doctoral degrees

There are several Doctoral titles other than the PhD, such as the Doctor of Education (EdD), Doctor of Business Administration (DBA), and Doctor of Social Work (DSW). Research done within these programs will usually reflect the professional situation instead of the acquisition of knowledge, as is the case for a PhD.


Public and private institutions

You can obtain your degree at a private or public institution. Public universities receive funding from their city, region or state. Students who are from the same state as the university pay lower tuition because of previously paid taxes. Students from different regions haven’t paid these local taxes, which is why their tuition is much higher. As an international student, you will be considered as an out-of-state applicant for all public universities. However, public universities often have lower fees than private institutions, even for out-of-state students. The tuition price for private institutions is the same for students from within the region, and those outside. These schools are often smaller than their public counterparts.


Specialist Institutions

Some universities are specialized in particular fields. This could be technical studies (engineering, technology, and computer science), as well as art programs, like performing arts, and art and design schools. These programs usually have specific admission requirements.