Types of Degrees/Programs

Like everywhere in the world, in the USA graduate education offers a greater depth of training than undergraduate/Bachelor’s education, with increased specialization through instruction and research. Study and learning are significantly more self-di¬rected at graduate level.

The two graduate degrees of¬fered in the United States are the Master’s degree and the PhD/doctoral degree. Both involve a combina¬tion of research and coursework.

Master’s Degree

The Master’s degree usually takes 1-2 years to complete. It provides ad¬ditional education and training in a specialized branch of knowledge, well beyond the level of a Bachelor’s degree. There are two main types of Master’s pro¬grams – academic and professional – and they are of¬fered in many different fields.

Academic Master’s Degree
Poza 4.1The Master of Arts (MA) and Master of Sci¬ence (MSc) degrees are awarded in a wide range of disciplines, from the traditional arts and sciences to the humanities. The MSc is also awarded in technical fields such as engi¬neering and agriculture. These programs usually require 1-2 academic years of full-time study beyond a Bachelor’s degree and may lead directly into doc¬toral programs.The MA/MSc may or may not include a final thesis


Thesis vs. Non-Thesis
Many Master’s offer a thesis and a non-thesis option. The degree is the same in both cases, with slightly different requirements. Students in non-thesis programs usually take more coursework instead of re¬searching and writing a thesis, and they take a written comprehen-sive examination after all coursework is completed. Students in degree programs that include a thesis component generally take a comprehensive oral examination covering both coursework and the topic of their thesis.

Professional Master’s Degree
These degree programs are designed to lead the student from the Bachelor’s degree to a particular profession. They are usually terminal degrees, meaning they provide the highest level of training in the respective field. As such, they do not lead to a further academic program, for instance a PhD.

Their names are usually descriptive, such as Master of Business Administration (MBA), Mas¬ter of Social Work (MSW), Master of Education (MEd), or Master of Fine Arts (MFA). Other subjects of professional Master’s programs include jour¬nalism, architecture, and urban planning.

Professional Master’s degrees focus on the direct application of knowledge rather than on original research, which is why they tend to be more tightly structured than academic degree programs. They usually take from 1-3 years to complete, depending on the institution and the field of study.  

Doctoral Degree/PhD

Poza 4.2The doctoral degree is designed to train research scholars and, in many cases, future professors. Re¬ceipt of a doctoral degree certi¬fies that a student is a trained research scholar in a specific discipline. The PhD (Doctor of Philoso¬phy) is the most common doctoral degree awarded in academic dis¬ciplines. In professional fields, other doctoral degrees include the Doctor of Education (EdD) and the Doctor of Business Adminis¬tration (DBA).


To receive a doctoral degree, candidates must pass a compre¬hensive or “qualifying” exami-nation, usually after 3-5 years of study and completion of all coursework. This exam is de¬signed to test the student’s ability to use knowledge gained through coursework and independent study in a creative and original way. After passing this exam, students are expected to complete an original piece of significant research, write a dis¬sertation describing that research, and successfully defend their work before a panel of faculty members who specialize in the discipline. This may take an additional 2-3 years.

The courses scheduled in the first years of the doctoral program are meant to offer advanced knowledge in the doctoral students’ field of study. Depending on the subject, courses may be quite formal, consisting primarily of lecture presentations by faculty members, or they may be relatively informal, placing em¬phasis on discussion and exchange of ideas among faculty and stu¬dents. Seminars involve smaller groups of students than lecture courses and may require students to make presentations and par¬ticipate in discussions. Class par¬ticipation, research papers, and examinations are all important in graduate education.

Poza 4.3"You can apply to a PhD in the USA without having a Master’s degree. Surprised? Actually, you can apply to a PhD as early as the final year of your Bachelor’s program. This is because the first two years of a PhD are usually the equivalent of a Master’s, anyway.
Another note: you don’t necessarily have to have your dissertation topic set in stone when you apply – you do, however, need to know what you’d like to focus on, at least tentatively. Also, your PhD doesn’t have to be in the exact same field as your prior specialization. Sometimes the transition can seem “shocking”, sometimes not so much, for instance when a math grad does a PhD in sociology or economics. The issue isn’t what field you can or can’t go into. The issue is: what can you bring to the field and the program you’re applying to that is new and exciting?"
Bogdan State, PhD in Sociology, Stanford University, CA

Specialized Professional Degrees: Law, Medicine, Business

The path for study and entry into many professions in the United States differs substantially from the admissions process in Romania and other parts of the world. Specializations included here are medicine, dentistry, nursing, veterinary medicine, and law.

It is extremely difficult for Romanian students to get a degree from a medical school, a dental school, or a veterinary school. Academic costs are very high and financial aid is usually not offered to international students.

• Medical School

Poza 4.4Medical education in the United States begins only after completion of a four-year Bachelor’s degree. Med school usually lasts 3-4 years, and students graduate with a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree. The study program combines classroom experience with observation and clinical work.
Admission to medical study is very competitive. Less than 50% of U.S. citizen applicants are accepted to medical school, and typically less than 2% of international applicants are admitted. The majority of these international applicants have completed their Bachelor’s degrees in the United States. Also, some state-supported schools will consider only U.S. citizens and permanent residents for admission.
At most colleges and universities in the United States, students do not have the option of doing a pre-medical major. They may, however, embark on a pre-medical track.
Students on a pre-med track may choose any undergraduate major in any field of study, as long as they also do some required courses such as biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics. These subjects are usually medical school prerequisites and they are also tested in the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test). Other prerequisites are courses in social and behavioral sciences, humanities, math, and an excellent academic record overall, as well as extracurricular activities.
Although many students on a pre-med track choose a life sciences-related major, an increasing number of students with a background in humanities have been choosing medicine in recent years and some medical schools, for instance Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City,  has created a program specifically for non-science majors that has more relaxed pre-requisites.


• Romanian Tip

Many graduates of Romanian medical schools choose to apply to doctoral or Master’s programs in the U.S., commonly in biological sciences, dental sciences, or animal sciences. These programs prepare graduates for teaching or research careers. There are exciting financial aid options available for international applicants who want to pursue graduate programs in the above sciences.

Another option is to go on a residency program.

• Residency Programs

Poza 4.5A residency is a professional training program under the supervision of senior physician educators. Most residency programs last from 3 to 7 years. The length of residency training varies and depends on the specialty chosen: family practice, internal medicine, and pediatrics, for example, require 3 years of training; general surgery requires 5 years. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) accredits such programs. While entry to residencies is quite competitive, international physicians have more opportunities to pursue U.S. study at this level than at the first professional/MD level. Students may complete residencies at teaching hospitals, academic medical centers, health care systems, and other institutions.
Information on residency programs can be found in the American Medical Association's (AMA) Fellowship and Residency Electronic Interactive Database (FREIDA).
To ensure that applicants from foreign medical schools have qualifications comparable to U.S. medical school graduates, they must pass a certification program administered by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) as a prerequisite to applying for a residency or other program involving patient care.

• Romanian Tip

International medical graduates can apply directly, without the ECFMG authorization, to graduate academic programs in medically-related fields that do not involve patient care, for instance radiology, immunology, molecular biology, genetics, neuroscience, pathology, or physiology. They may also apply for research grants in the health sciences.

• Dentistry

Poza 4.6Dental study only begins at the graduate level in the United States. There are no undergrad programs in dentistry that lead directly to a license to practice as a dentist. Instead students may take a set of pre-dental courses as part of an undergraduate degree that dental schools typically require for admission to DDS (doctor of dental surgery) or other graduate dental programs. Students interested in dentistry should have a minimum number of prerequisite undergraduate courses in the biological sciences, chemistry, physics, and mathematics, as well as in the humanities and behavioral and social sciences.

• Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS)/Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD)

The first professional degree in dentistry is either the doctor of dental surgery (DDS) or the doctor of dental medicine (DMD) degree. They require four years of study, with two years emphasizing the basic medical sciences and two years providing a clinical orientation. Graduates of dentistry programs must also meet state requirements where they plan to practice, and obtain satisfactory scores on the National Board Dental Examination and a state clinical examination.
Admission to a U.S. dental school is highly competitive. Although anyone is eligible to apply, international students rarely gain admission to a U.S. school of dentistry without having completed at least two years of college or university study at a U.S. institution.

• Law School

Poza 4.7Just like in the case of admissions to a medical degree, you can enter law school in the USA after you receive your Bachelor’s degree. There is no undergraduate major in law and no requirement concerning the undergraduate major; the “pre-law” tracks, while available at some universities, is not required for entrance into law school.

Competition for admissions is intense. Requirements generally include fluency in English, an excellent undergraduate academic record, and a satisfactory score on the Law School Admission Test LSAT.

The first professional degree, Juris Doctor (JD), takes 3 years to complete. Students receive an education that is specific to the U.S. legal system. Since training in U.S. legislation will not easily transfer toward practice in Romania, the JD has limited relevance for Romanian students.

The Master of Laws degree (LLM) is usually a more appropriate option for Romanian students. The program is offered in a variety of specialties. Romanian law graduates are eligible for this master’s program; however, very limited financial aid is available to international students, if at all.

Other options for Romanian graduate students interested in law are: the Master of Comparative Law (MCL) also known as the Master of Comparative Jurisprudence, and the programs in International Law or International Business.

Almost all master’s programs in law last one year and admit students only for the fall semester.

Doctoral programs in law (D Jur, D Law, LLD) admit only a small number of promising applicants, usually from among those who have completed a master’s program at a U.S. law school and who plan to enter a career as a law school faculty member.
As a general rule, when you plan to apply to law programs, check university websites for specific information on admission requirements and financial assistance for international law graduates.

• MBAs

A master's in business administration (MBA) is one of the most popular graduate degrees in business education in the United States. The curriculum of MBA programs generally includes coursework in topics such as management, finance, accounting, marketing, economics, organizational behavior, entrepreneurship, globalization, and social responsibility. To show your personal skills and interest, focus on a specific concentration as part of your studies. On average, students earn an MBA degree in 2 years, although accelerated programs do exist.

Doctoral programs in business include the doctor of philosophy (PhD) in business and the doctor of business administration (DBA). The PhD program is designed to lead graduates to state-of-the-art business practice that improves the impact of the business sector on the larger community. The DBA program is designed to improve business practice, processes, and programs, ranging from the management of people to the management of operations and projects.

Poza 4.8Admissions to MBA programs does not require a Bachelor’s degree in a specific field, but recommends a certain amount of prior study or coursework in the subject area.
There are many good reasons to get an MBA: students want to change careers, want to advance in their current fields, want to get managerial positions, want sufficient skills to start and/or run a business, etc.
MBA programs look for academic ability, managerial and leadership potential, character and solid career goals. The admissions committee will examine everything in your application package, from your undergraduate record to your work experience, to determine whether you have what they seek. They also look at your GMAT test score, as a good predictor of academic performance in the graduate management school, although the test does not presuppose any knowledge of business or other specific content areas. Many schools will interview the applicants they perceive as potential students.

• Highlight: U.S. MBA Programs

MBAs in the USA: Changes Benefit Students, Employers
Poza 4.9Article contributed by the energetic team at the McCallum Graduate School of Business, Bentley University, MA (Jan. 2012)

U.S. colleges and universities aren’t just challenging their students to think differently. They are testing their own creativity by developing MBA programs tailored to meet the emerging needs of employers and students.
For example, recent economic crises have prompted many U.S. business schools to re-examine whether MBA programs are equipping professionals with the right skills to lead in today’s challenging landscape for organizations of all kinds. Meanwhile, the rise of younger applicants to MBA programs is driving change on a parallel track.  
Call to Action
Poza 4.10What are employers looking for in business graduates? The topic took center stage in a spring 2011 symposium sponsored by AACSB International (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business). Expertise in the functional areas of business remains on the corporate wish-list. But the most competitive candidates are also able to engage with others and lead the high-octane innovation and strategic decision-making integral for success. Poza 4.10
These and other new demands have inspired a call to redesign MBA programs, both in content and in delivery. Without such changes, institutions could see a significant drop in enrollment rates, according to Rethinking the MBA: Business Education at a Crossroads (Harvard Business Press, 2010). Data show that, between 2000 and 2008, enrollment rates at the top 20 U.S. business schools were essentially flat, and fewer companies hired MBA graduates.
Experts point to programs that feature experiential learning and reflection, hands-on leadership roles with organizational partners, and a focus on innovation and creativity.
Dramatic Response
What are U.S. colleges and universities doing to meet the needs of employers and students?  
For programs that serve the traditional MBA candidate with five or more years of professional experience, the move is toward integration. That is, redesigning curricula to present key topics in a holistic way, rather than the “silo” approach with separate courses in management, finance, accounting and other disciplines. A concurrent trend – to minimize time away from work to earn the MBA – is challenging the country’s prevailing two-year model of study. More U.S. schools are adopting the 11-month time frame popular in Europe.
At the same time, schools are seeing an increase in younger MBA applicants. London-based education research firm Quacquarelli Symonds reports rising interest in MBA programs among those with less than four years of work experience [(QS) TopMBA.com Applicant Survey 2011].
Poza 4.11Recent college graduates who want an added credential to launch their career have a growing range of options. Willamette University, for example, offers the Early Career and Career Change MBA, a 21-month program for applicants with limited work experience who are seeking their first professional position or career change. At Bentley University, the Emerging Leaders MBA is a full-time two-year program that delivers a solid grounding in business functions while developing broader skills in leadership, values, creativity and innovation. It is one of the few U.S. programs to offer two significant consulting engagements and a trip overseas to learn from global leaders in government and business.
Among U.S. business schools offering an 11-month full-time program for applicants at least five years’ professional experience, Bentley is first out of the gate with a dramatically re-engineered MBA that launched in fall 2011. The program is precisely calibrated for the new demands of leading organizations within the broad context of society.
The faculty-led initiative to develop the Bentley MBA included ongoing consultation with industry leaders. Among the questions brought to the table: What do employers look for in developing their own talent? What is an appropriate next step for someone with five to seven years of work experience who has shown potential for leadership in the organization?
Similar questions informed research by the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD). The foundation identifies employers’ top MBA competencies as managing strategy and innovation; strategic and systems skills; knowledge of general business functions; managing decision-making processes; knowledge of general business functions; and learning, motivation and leadership. EMFD goes on to cite the need for “a more human-centered approach – this being supported by representatives from companies and business schools alike.”
Creative Collaboration
Collaboration is key in redesigning business education to be more holistic. At Bentley, for example, faculty who developed the new MBA program are not from business disciplines alone. Arts and sciences faculty were and continue to be very engaged in the process – making the program unique among MBA offerings.
This wide-angle approach gives students a different set of lenses through which to analyze problems and identify solutions. As students move through the program, there will be ongoing assessment of their leadership style and potential.
The Bentley MBA program also replaces traditional courses with four broad themes — Innovation, Value, Environments and Leadership — each covered over 10 weeks. Three themes culminate with projects in the field at a host organization, two of which are overseas. On-campus resources include a dedicated MBA studio with leading technologies for communication, videoconferencing and work sharing.
As these examples demonstrate, the days of one-size-fits-all MBA education are gone forever – much to the benefit of students and employers alike.

• Success Stories

For a truthful representation of academic standards, challenges and opportunities in a U.S. graduate program, the Romanian perspective, read Mirela Cengher's update below. Mirela is a FEAC friend enrolled on a master's program at Queens College, CUNY, class of 2012.
Poza 4.12Why study in the U.S.? Well, I cannot think of any reason not to, nor can I imagine any other place for me to develop academically. Before coming here I borrowed the enthusiasm of students who'd already studied in the USA and now I feel that I may pass it forward to future international students.
Queens College was not my main option, despite the fact that I was impressed by the outstanding faculty who promoted great research opportunities in Applied Behavior Analysis. I felt disappointed at first for not being admitted where I wanted most, but soon I learned that it was all for the best. For me, studying at Queens College (CUNY) opened a world of academic, professional, and personal opportunities. Altogether, this is the most challenging and wonderful growing experience I’ve ever had.
Academically, there don’t seem to be any boundaries in USA. Theoretical training and access to information are as good as one can imagine. Professors are there for you, whether that means staying after class for as long as it takes to get into detail with theoretical issues, being available for meetings (as often as you need!), offering advice for academic development, borrowing books, or trying to help with academic and cultural adjustment. The USA is also the place to find experts in your field, regardless of what that is. Work internships and participation in research programs developed by the faculty are great opportunities to come into contact with such experts and learn to deal with “the other side of the coin”: the practice. Last but not least, studying in the USA offers a great chance to make new contacts, learn about other cultures, and share your own cultural background and perspective. This personal experience is even more intense for me because I study in New York City, which I believe is the most diverse cultural place in the U.S. Although the cultural experiences might seem irrelevant for professional development, I believe they are fundamental in becoming open minded and developing inter-personal skills.
When I think of the first few months of school, the most intense recollection I have is of panic (now I can laugh at it, but back then it was anything but funny). Everyone told me that the first semester is the most difficult one for an international student and so it was. I was surrounded by new people, experiences, and expectations, while all I could think of was the old ones. The academic requirements and the volume of work required on my behalf were enormous (compared to what I was used to) and, at the same time, learning and writing in English was far more time-consuming than I had imagined. However, with patience, perseverance, and hard work (lots of it!) anyone can pull it through. Looking back, I think there are five things that helped me.
First, the syllabus! If there was a ranking of inventions for academic use, the syllabus would be right on top. Basically, at the beginning of each course every student is offered a description which covers the learning objectives, the assignments, the topics of each lecture, the required and optional reading materials, and the grading system (very detailed and objective). Everything is so well organized that you know what is expected of you from the very beginning and, therefore, you can plan your learning for the whole semester. Besides, there are assignments and tests on a weekly basis, so learning is a continuous process. This leads to my second point, which is time management. It is essential to make good learning plans, establish deadlines and objectives, and KEEP them! One cannot get away with taking a week off from learning because he/she “doesn’t feel like it”. There is so much to learn and to do every week that you will fall behind. Thirdly, the professors! I don’t want to be redundant, but those people are there to help you and you have to make the most of it. A good strategy for every student, especially for international ones, is to find a good and friendly professor with whom to develop a mentoring relationship. Such a relationship goes far beyond the typical professor-student encounters; a mentor can assist your academic steps (in my case, my professor helps me choose the best track for the doctoral program I want to enroll on once I complete my master's program), give you professional and personal advice, offer practice opportunities (e.g. participating in extracurricular research), introduce you to other faculty members - the list is endless. The fourth thing that helped me was thinking positive and being proactive. My first major writing assignment turned out not so well: I got 80 out of 100 points. I don’t recall ever receiving anything less than maximum grades for my writing in college and grad school (in Romania), so at first I was very disappointed, although the professor’s comments and feedback made perfect sense. This determined me to work on my writing and the professor agreed to explain, assign me writing tasks, and give me feedback. With his help I improved my writing and I got an A for my final paper. My point is to think of every experience as an opportunity to learn and improve. A less than perfect grade is not a failure, but another opportunity to learn. Needless to say that as you appreciate a professor who is interested in your academic development, a professor appreciates a student who shows interest in learning. The last thing I want to talk about is the support of family and friends. It is very important to be surrounded or keep contact with people who believe in you and who support and respect your work. I owe a lot of what I accomplished so far to my parents, whose confidence in me is endless, and to my husband, who left his job and friends and came with me all the way here so that I can get the training I need in order to become a well prepared professional the field I feel passionate about. These are the people who say (and truly believe that) “You can do it!” whenever you feel overwhelmed.
Even though I’m only at the beginning of my American journey, I believe I grew a lot, both professionally and personally, and I just can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings. I’d like to think that my story can inspire others to challenge themselves and pursue an excellent academic training in the USA.
Mirela Cengher

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