Getting a master’s in the US vs. Europe

The United States and Europe are leading destinations for international students, so choosing between a master’s in the US and Europe can be difficult. In this article, we explore a few key similarities and differences to help prospective master’s students make their decision!

In short

The United States vs. Europe: Two heavy hitters in international studies

North America and Europe are the top two most popular study destinations for international students. In 2020, the United States was the top host destination for international students, welcoming over 1,000,000 students. In the same year, 10 of the 15 top study destinations were European countries: the United Kingdom, France, Russia, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway.

It’s easy to see why the US and Europe continue to attract international studies worldwide. Both offer top-ranked universities, diverse communities, an array of social and cultural activities, and abundant career opportunities. In the US, the approval rate for F-1 (student) visas reached 80.2% in 2021, the highest in nine years! South Asian countries, including Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, and India, saw the most significant increase in student visas issued. Meanwhile, in Europe, international enrolment in many places has bounced back. The UK even reached its 2030 international student population target nine years early!

For prospective master’s students, the choice between a master’s in the US vs. Europe might be a difficult one. So, let’s explore the similarities and differences between each destination to help you make your decision!

Shorter master’s programs in Europe, but no significant differences in curriculum

A significant difference between master’s programs in the US vs. Europe is that European programs tend to be shorter. Most full-time master’s programs in Europe are around one year. However, a master’s degree in the US typically takes between 18 months and two years.

Even though the duration of master’s programs might vary, there are no significant differences between the curricula of master’s programs in the US and Europe. The number of international students doubled between 2010 and 2020, and schools have adapted. In fact, new research points to an increase in the internationalization of curricula in higher education in general. Many universities have “internationalized” their programs – such as bringing on international faculty, allowing students to study at partner universities in different countries, and including international case studies or examples in course curricula.

No shortage of international diversity

It is no secret that diversity has become a focus of universities today. Diversity and inclusion positively affect academic performance and reflect the globalized nature of business today. 

The US diversity has traditionally meant increasing the representation of diverse groups from its domestic population. In the 2020-2021 school year, international students only made up 4.6% of total enrolment at higher education institutions in the United States. The relatively small proportion of international students masks the growing international diversity in US graduate programs. 

“American schools have very international populations,” says Matt Clemons, Assistant Dean of Admissions at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. “We have a tendency to attract people from a lot of different countries. It’s not uncommon for there to be 25 different citizenships represented within one of our programs.” (33:45

In Europe, on the other hand, international students are much more common. According to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2022, the UK was the most represented country regarding schools with the highest percentages of international students, with 19 universities in London alone featured in the top 200 universities. However, Jacobs University in Germany has the highest percentage of international students – at a whopping 78%.

Interestingly, most international students in Europe come from within the European Union. Rebecca Pignot, Head of Admissions at EU Business School, shares, “We’ve got the countries closer together, we’ve got these diaspora communities, and I really think students are opening themselves up to a vast, diverse cultural experience studying [in Europe].” (31:15)

The elephant in the room: Money!

When comparing a master’s in the US vs. Europe, it’s hard to ignore the most obvious difference: the cost! As Matt puts it, “American education is known for being very expensive.” (31:31)

The average cost of a master’s program in the United States is $62,100 (€57,855) in a private school and $29,150 (€27,157) in a public school. In Europe, master’s programs range from completely free (for EU/EEA citizens) to around €60,000 ($64,401) at prestigious schools like Oxford University’s Saïd Business School and Cambridge Judge Business School. However, the cost of most European master’s programs ranges from €6,000 to 20,000 ($6,440-$21,467) per year for non-EU students.

While tuition fees can be high in both the United States and Europe, many universities offer scholarships for international students. In Europe, for example, the Erasmus+ Master’s degree loan provides European students up to €12,000 for a one-year master’s program or €18,000 for a two-year master’s program to study in another Erasmus country. In the US, international students are eligible for the Fulbright Foreign Student Program to cover study and living costs.

Bringing home the bacon: Where do you want to build your postgraduate career?

Choosing between a master’s in the US vs. Europe can come down to where you’d like to build your postgraduate career. “Anywhere you choose to go, you’re going to get a great education, and you could make an argument that, geographically, where you would like to work is a good place to go to school,” Matt says. (32:09)

In both the US and Europe, most international students choose to remain in their place of study to pursue work opportunities. In the US, 41% of international students plan to work there for a few years before returning home or to another country. Every year in the Netherlands, almost half of all international students stay for at least five years after graduation. Regarding working during your studies, the rules vary across Europe; however, in most European countries, non-EU students can work up to 20 hours per week if they are full-time students.

In the US, the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees, led to a spike in the employment of international students. The STEM OPT extension allows international students to remain in the US for three years post-graduation. In 2016, around 1.5 million international students chose to stay in the US. Almost three-quarters of these students come from Asia, particularly China, India, and South Korea.

All in all, when it comes down to it, the comparison of the US vs. Europe for a master’s degree shows they aren’t that dissimilar. There are some striking differences that prospective students should pay attention to, such as affordability and career options. It’s important to assess your situation and the hurdles you might have to jump to study in either the US or Europe. Nevertheless, studying in either destination will provide you with high-quality academic education, as well as diverse classmates and career opportunities.

Still deciding on where you want to study? Reach out to a current or past master’s student in the country of your choice to help with your decision!

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