By far our most useful canonical question is: How does the admissions process work for Ph.D. programs in the US, particularly for weak or borderline students?

Recently, Buffy drafted a new canonical question for countries other than the US. In addition to being a good "duplicate target" for questions that would otherwise be completely rejected as a "bad" question, this is also a useful reference for all those who might not be familiar with grad school systems in other parts of the world. In some sense, this is a follow up to this meta question from three years ago.

So, two asks:

  1. If anyone has suggestions for this canonical question (or thinks that it shouldn't exist at all), let's have that discussion here.
  2. Right now we only have an answer for the US (which people should feel free to edit); if you are familiar with the grad school system in other parts of the world, please consider drafting an answer. Even a short answer will do; others can expand or revise it later.
  • The current canonical question (academia.stackexchange.com/q/176908/75368) is lacking answers for some important places, such as China, India, and Brazil. What is the advisability of providing a bonus for such answers as was done for Australia? We might need some guidelines to get authoritative answers. Do such bonuses attract good answers or just quick and dirty ones? Maybe this needs its own meta, actually.
    – Buffy
    Commented Oct 18, 2022 at 21:52
  • @Buffy - hard to say. I was disappointed that no one from Australia responded to the Australia bounty. I suspect that is likely to happen again...outside of certain regions, there are only a few users from each country, so the odds that one of them bites on the bounty is pretty low. OTOH, my experience is that most bounty-hunters do answer in good faith; I suspect a failed bounty is more likely than a bounty awarded on a terrible answer.
    – cag51 Mod
    Commented Oct 18, 2022 at 22:33

6 Answers 6


What should be done if a new duplicate question gets asked, but there is no answer for that specific country in this canonical target?

I see several reasonable options:

  1. Immediately close the question as a duplicate, and leave a comment asking readers to provide an answer to the canonical question. This has the advantage of avoiding answer duplication, but would probably prevent the new question from getting sufficient visibility, and it seems wrong to close a question as a duplicate when the target doesn't answer it.
  2. Leave the question open initially, and if it gets good answers, write a new answer to the canonical question and then close the new question as a duplicate of the canonical question.
  3. Leave the question open. Write an answer aggregating information from the new question and link back to the original.

My preference is option 2.

  • 3
    Agree, option 2 seems best.
    – cag51 Mod
    Commented Oct 21, 2021 at 17:26

Should the answer be only concerned with the international students seeking to apply/wondering what is it like?

I have started putting something together about Russia where I work and in the process of doing so two things have became apparent:

  1. No one in their right mind would apply unless either:
    • Coming from some neighboring countries and speaking Russian freely (and being rich!)
    • Escaping some truly terrible living conditions
    • Being fully state-funded
  2. For those falling under state-backed exchange programs, it varies wildly case-by-case and does not make a whole lot of sense as a general answer. It also has little to do with the rest of academia here. Exchange students coming in as opposed to "our" students going abroad is a fairly alien concept to Russian academia still despite their numbers growing in the past years as a part of 5-100 program.

Is there even a point in the answer, given the circumstances? If yes, should it be focused on "cold" applications outside of these specifically created positions or try to describe what being a 5-100 student would be like?

  • 7
    I think such an answer would be very useful. (1) Prospective students may not realize that Russia is different than, say, Sweden in that it is not a good choice for foreigners, (2) this could be a useful reference for answerers trying to understand questions from Russian grad students, and (3) Russian undergrads may not know how grad admissions in Russia works (just as we get questions here from many US people who don't know about US grad school)
    – cag51 Mod
    Commented Oct 26, 2021 at 0:40
  • academia.stackexchange.com/questions/27209/… and academia.stackexchange.com/questions/46239/… Maybe you know the answers to these questions?
    – Allure
    Commented Jan 7, 2022 at 4:45
  • @Allure They already seem to have decent answers; in particular academia.stackexchange.com/a/27225/145124 and academia.stackexchange.com/a/46298/145124 come from very much relevant insider experience. I do have a bit more to say about rankings; but will do so in the actual answer - it's been a few (very busy) months, but you had a great timing - I just have gotten to that part of my backlog literally yesterday :)
    – Lodinn
    Commented Jan 8, 2022 at 5:24

One thing we should discuss is: Are there any places where it makes sense to have one answer that covers multiple countries? Perhaps countries where grad schools are very very similar? Or countries where our user base is so sparse that a "regional" answer is the best that we can probably do?

For example: maybe Eastern Europe should be carved into two or three blocks, rather than trying to write 30+ answers? Or maybe even larger countries, like AU/NZ, have very similar grad school systems? I am an ignorant American, so these examples could be totally off.

At this point, I am reasonably certain that we should have individual posts for the following countries:

  • US
  • Canada
  • UK
  • France
  • India
  • Japan
  • China

And that the following countries should be merged:

  • Germany / Austria

Wondering about:

  • Australia / New Zealand / Oceania
  • Eastern Europe
  • South America
  • 1
    Add Australia and probably Brazil.
    – Buffy
    Commented Oct 20, 2021 at 23:40
  • I am wondering whether Australia should be alone or should be paired with NZ and the other islands. Same for Brazil: alone, or pair with the rest of South America? I really have no idea what Academia is like in those parts of the world....
    – cag51 Mod
    Commented Oct 20, 2021 at 23:41
  • I think we need expertise from those places. Australia and NZ might be quite different. We get more Aussie questions than from NZ, I think.
    – Buffy
    Commented Oct 20, 2021 at 23:43
  • It is possible that for some countries a footnote to another answer might be enough. For example, are all of the Bologna Process countries similar enough to group?
    – Buffy
    Commented Oct 20, 2021 at 23:44
  • Yeah, that's exactly what I'm hoping people can tell us, I have no idea. :-) Though in the interim, we could write an answer for, say, Australia, and then later add "and New Zealand" to the title if someone tells us that they really are super similar.
    – cag51 Mod
    Commented Oct 20, 2021 at 23:48
  • Austria and Germany are pretty similar. Subtle differences could be covered in the same answer, perhaps? Commented Oct 21, 2021 at 10:27
  • @henning, I'd welcome your answer. Maybe tag it as Germany and Austria. I think quite a few US folks want to study in Germany but think the system is the same as US. Big surprise.
    – Buffy
    Commented Oct 21, 2021 at 12:26
  • @henning, an answer was provided for Germany. Should it be also marked for Austria, or can you either update the Germany answer or provide a separate one for Austria if there are differences?
    – Buffy
    Commented Oct 24, 2021 at 12:57
  • 1
    Is US/Canada that different? Commented Oct 25, 2021 at 3:07
  • Good question -- I really have no idea what the Canadian system is like. It does seem relatively common to apply to institutions in both, but not sure if this is due to inherent similarity or just due to physical proximity.
    – cag51 Mod
    Commented Oct 25, 2021 at 4:20
  • @AzorAhai-him-, my guess is that the differences are important. Just some hints from reading answers. But the Canada system may share features with UK rather than US.
    – Buffy
    Commented Oct 25, 2021 at 16:07
  • 2
    I have only very limited experience with Canadian academia, but I didn't think it was all that different. I look forward to an answer from someone with more experience than me. Commented Oct 25, 2021 at 16:41
  • Potential candidate for creating an answer for France: academia.stackexchange.com/q/16824/68109
    – GoodDeeds
    Commented Nov 10, 2021 at 7:26

There seems to be a potential for a lot of duplication in content between the existing canonical question for the US and the new canonical question. Even though the original focuses on "weak or borderline students", good answers for the new one should ideally include that aspect as well.

Since the original has multiple good answers, my suggestion is:

  1. Include important points from the old question in the answer to the new question.
  2. Close the old question as a duplicate to the new question.
  3. Prominently link back to the old question from the answer to the new question, so that the old answers are still easily accessible.
  4. Close all future duplicates as duplicates of the new question instead of the old question.
  • #3 has been done.
    – Buffy
    Commented Oct 20, 2021 at 23:41

GoodDeeds pointed out that the old canonical question and this one overlap a bit in the case of the US. I agree this is an issue.

My preferred solution is the following:

  • Use the new question to explain how the admissions process for grad school works. That you have to apply to a committee and find an advisor afterwords, take the GRE, write a statement of purpose, etc. A lot of this could be migrated from the old canonical answer.
  • Edit the old question to focus only on Will my application to a US grad school be competitive, and how can I improve it? This one will have the advice for writing strong essays, compensating for weak grades, etc. This will also explain why we can't answer the question "can [my stats] get me into [my dream school]?"

I think this would be a lot better, because when someone posts "I have a 3.5, can I get into Harvard", the current duplicate target "How does grad school work" seems like it doesn't really answer my question, but the new proposed title seems like a perfect fit.

Update: On closer examination, there was less overlap than I expected; the old question was already tightly focused on "advice" rather than "process." For now, I updated the title to reflect this; so, perhaps, problem solved. We can discuss further if others see the need for more drastic disambiguation.

  • I like the direction of this idea, but isn't the new one supposed to focus on how admission to grad school works? "How can I get into grad school" and "How does admission to grad school work" seem a lot closer to me.
    – GoodDeeds
    Commented Oct 20, 2021 at 23:43
  • Good point, edited my answer. Maybe we should open the new one to also accept answers about how grad school actually works (e.g., coursework + qualifying exam + research, in the case of the US). I will add this as another answer.
    – cag51 Mod
    Commented Oct 20, 2021 at 23:46
  • I like the current version of this answer, and I don't see why "how grad school works" needs to be a part of the scope.
    – GoodDeeds
    Commented Oct 21, 2021 at 0:11
  • 1
    Yeah, I posted that separately for a reason...I'm pretty sure this answer's proposal is the right thing to do, whereas the suggestion to broaden the scope could go either way, imo.
    – cag51 Mod
    Commented Oct 21, 2021 at 0:19
  • Should the new question not focus on "particularly for weak or borderline students" then? Commented Oct 21, 2021 at 10:28
  • @henning, my purpose in starting it was not to focus on weak students but to give the general process that can be expected in applications.
    – Buffy
    Commented Oct 21, 2021 at 12:29
  • I like this suggestion, but it may be a historical problem for questions previously marked as a duplicate of that one.
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Commented Oct 21, 2021 at 16:03
  • Well, it would only be a problem for questions that asked "how does grad school work" (and not some variation of "can I get in") -- I suspect most of these questions were quickly closed and deleted by the roomba. Though there may be some exceptions we have to deal with. But I think it is worth it -- currently, when someone takes the time to write a very detailed, specific question about their personal situation, they get dupe hammered with "how does grad school work?" -- rescoping the dupe target to "will my application be competitive" would be more welcoming / reasonable.
    – cag51 Mod
    Commented Oct 21, 2021 at 18:08

We should also broaden the title question to include a brief description of what happens after you get admitted. For example: how long does a PhD usually take in country X? Is it all research, or classes too? Do most students who start end up finishing? Do you have to pay, or do you get paid? Etc.

  • 2
    Wouldn't this get really too broad? I suppose "how grad school works" will also involve significant field-specific differences, far more than in the admissions process.
    – GoodDeeds
    Commented Oct 21, 2021 at 0:12
  • 1
    If we want to go nuts, another canonical question about what happens from acceptance to graduation. It is fairly common in US, but there is more variation in that than in admissions.
    – Buffy
    Commented Oct 21, 2021 at 0:14
  • I actually wanted to write a question about academic tracks per country but got lost trying to scope it properly. Still, am very much interested in a list of things such as duration of each stage, requirements/expectations, duties. Answers along the lines of "MSc. Takes one or two years, requires BSc to be admitted, it's all study. PhD, the program takes 3 or 4 years, by the end of it 3 published articles and a written thesis are expected; also has some coursework on year 1". Where the funding comes from for citizens/non-citizens, that kind of thing.
    – Lodinn
    Commented Oct 21, 2021 at 3:03
  • 2
    @Lodinn, I think it might be too difficult to generalize about what happens during doctoral study. That, especially, is likely to vary widely by field as well as country. In the US, comprehensive exams are very common and very important in some fields, but perhaps not all. Another variable is maximum time to degree. Some impose it, but I doubt all do. In my answer to the current question I considered saying that you start with coursework and choose a thesis advisor only later. I left it out as of doubtful universality.
    – Buffy
    Commented Oct 21, 2021 at 12:48
  • Some of the newer answers also discuss what happens during the degree, not just applications. Should I try to add something for US? Note that there is more difference between fields here. Especially between lab science and other fields - even other STEM fields.
    – Buffy
    Commented Oct 25, 2021 at 16:08
  • Yeah, this answer only got 1 upvote and 1 downvote...I interpret that as saying that there is not much interest either way and so we should make an executive decision. It's your question, so I will defer to you...broaden the question or trim some of the existing answers? Whatever you decide, you can either do it directly (everything is community wiki) or reply here and someone else (probably me, though anyone is welcome) will take a stab at it.
    – cag51 Mod
    Commented Oct 25, 2021 at 19:23
  • 2
    Perhaps a "middle path" would be to add a brief section to each answer that explains just the highest-level facts about how things work...for example, I thought the Sweden's answer had good intel about the "supervision team", though the part about grad students' duties may be too much detail / too heterogeneous.
    – cag51 Mod
    Commented Oct 25, 2021 at 19:28
  • Maybe one of us could suggest, in the question, that information about the process of earning the degree after acceptance, if included, should be brief.
    – Buffy
    Commented Oct 25, 2021 at 20:36
  • Nice edit to the question. I think we can probably leave the current answers as they were written. How general is the practice of required comprehensive exams do you think. In particular does US practice differ from other places?
    – Buffy
    Commented Oct 26, 2021 at 13:58
  • Cool. I did already trim one of the answers, but you can revert if you think it went too far. My sense is that the US is a bit unusual in that we do coursework + research during the PhD (rather than having coursework in master's and research in PhD, with two different admissions cycles), and thus qualifying exams are correspondingly unusual. But I'm not sure how things work in the rest of the Western Hemisphere; could be that things are similar there.
    – cag51 Mod
    Commented Oct 26, 2021 at 14:05
  • You are braver than I would be for the Japan answer. Can you use superpowers to ping a known user from Japan?
    – Buffy
    Commented Oct 26, 2021 at 17:49
  • Well, it is such a common question I wanted to make sure we got an answer on record for it. RE superpowers -- I don't see why not, if you want to leave a comment on the post identifying the user you have in mind, I'll reply with a superping.
    – cag51 Mod
    Commented Oct 26, 2021 at 17:51
  • Sorry, but I don't have anyone in mind. I'm no good with searching either. You are probably better than I am. We also need more folks in the conversation.
    – Buffy
    Commented Oct 26, 2021 at 18:53
  • Oh, I thought you had a relationship with someone in particular. Yeah, I am hoping someone with first-hand experience makes some additions/edits, but I probably shouldn't superping random users.
    – cag51 Mod
    Commented Oct 26, 2021 at 19:31

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