European vs. American Masters Programmes

American Masters programmes differ from European ones in duration, location and culture, but how do they compare?

European vs. American Masters Programmes

How would your experience in a European and an American Masters programme differ in terms of curriculum, teaching methods and admission requirements? Will your studies on one of the two continents take you to a different world?

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Student mobility

One of the toughest decisions for a Masters student intent on studying abroad is exactly where to go. North America and Europe are the two most popular choices for international studies. According to UNESCO, the US is the most popular country for international students, accounting for 19% of international student mobility. Add Canada’s 3% to that, and North America emerges as the destination of choice for 22% of all international students. Five of the remaining eight countries in the top 10 list of international destinations are in continental Europe. Combined, the UK, France, Germany, Russia and Italy draw a total of 26% of students, crowning Europe as the most desirable continent for international studies.

While both continents offer attractive packages to modern-day students, there are differences in what Europe and America offer, and it is necessary to highlight them in order to make an informed decision.

Check out: The Essential Guide to Choosing a Masters Degree

European vs. American Masters Programmes – a Tough Choice

Regarding the curricula offered by universities in America and Europe, there is a heated debate among scholars and educational analysts. While Europe has some of the oldest universities in the world and excels in providing innovative education, America is topping the economic charts and is the expert provider of education in various disciplines.

While Masters programmes in Europe are very well-recognised, America remains the leader in the specialised study of business, medicine, engineering, and others. Upon analysis of the educational rankings of The Financial Times (FT) and The Economist, it becomes clear that, on average, nearly four out of the top five universities in the world are American (examples include Princeton, Yale, and Harvard). However, this does not suggest that a European Masters is any less worthwhile. For instance, the three top-ranked universities for Masters programmes in Finance, according to FT, are HEC Paris (France), ESADE (Spain) and ESCP Europe (a joint project in France, the UK, Germany, Spain, and Italy). In addition, Europe boasts its own “Ivy League” with universities such as Oxford, Cambridge, and the Sorbonne.


One of the major differences between the European Masters programmes and the American counterpart is that most European Masters programmes last only a year. American Masters programmes tend to stretch over a year and a half to two years. This is usually because American postgraduate education emphasises the need for a mid-term internship, by often making it compulsory. In Europe, students are also encouraged to undertake a work placement, but it is not always obligatory. However, one-year and two-year degrees can be found in both America and Europe.

The curriculum of Masters programmes in both Europe and America is more or less the same, as both offer degrees in numerous fields. However, American Masters degrees have evolved to include new disciplines that are not found in Europe, such as Masters in Non-profit Administration and Masters of Music-Jazz Studies and Performance. The Masters programmes in both continents are thorough and provide a fully-fledged educational experience for students. However, teaching methods may vary slightly between the American and European educational systems.


According to the website, American universities usually have a higher entrance score requirement and ask for entry test scores based on the discipline chosen. European universities may not be as demanding, although some of them may also require entry test scores for specific specialisations. Universities in Europe that have entry score requirements include the European School of Management and Technology, the German Institute of Science and Technology, and Aachen University, among others. Academic exam requirements for admission vary from programme to programme. Both American and European universities require results from language proficiency tests such as IELTS and TOEFL for non-native speakers.

Finally, admission essays, references from former employers or teachers, and admission interviews make up the core of the admissions effort, and are identical on both continents.

Teaching methods

Although both European and American universities use a combination of teaching methods to ensure that students are able to accumulate maximum knowledge and experience, the American Masters educational experience is generally considered to be more practical, while the European one is considered more theoretical.

Nevertheless, both American and European universities have become more innovative in their teaching methods and now combine case studies, lectures, class discussions, simulation games, peer-to-peer teaching, company visits, presentations and team projects in order to provide a complete and well-rounded educational experience.


The essential character of student life definitely depends on where you are located and the kind of leisure activities available. The campus environment is greatly shaped by its climate and geography. Studying at the University of Miami, a few miles from the famous beaches of South Florida, is certainly a different experience to being perched in between Tuscan mountains at the University of Florence in Italy!

Check out: How to Choose a Masters Degree

The cultural offerings of the city or town in which your university is located is an important aspect of student life. Concerts, night clubs, restaurants, museums, and opportunities to do volunteer work can greatly enhance the student experience. Because of the expansive size of the United States and the great distances between cities and states, students find it difficult and costly to travel to new locations. In Europe, however, distances are smaller, and travelling to new countries or cities is more accessible. “Whether you are looking for the best cuisine or highly interesting leisure activities, Europe has it all! I still have a lot more to explore,” says Mante Zelvyte, 26, a student of Glasgow Caledonian University.

Intercultural experience

Europe is more likely to provide a more intercultural experience, even though American universities also open their doors to people from all countries. But with a higher percentage of local students, American schools can give you the opportunity to mingle with the locals while also making a few international friends.

All in all, America and Europe both offer outstanding study options and it really depends on where you want to go and what you want to gain from your Masters programme. If you wish to spend a shorter time studying, are on a restricted budget, and appreciate meeting people of different cultures, Europe may be your best option. If you want a longer, more rigorous and practical Masters education and can afford the costs, then head straight for America to complete your studies.

Since the decision may be tough, weigh the factors to ensure you make the optimal choice. However, success comes with hard work and applying that motto to your Masters programme is essential, no matter which school you choose.

This article is original content produced by Advent Group and included in the 2016-2017 annual Access MBA, EMBA and Masters Guide under the title “Continental Divide”.

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