<p>Is the US education system stretched out compared to most others? The British, for example, have 3-year bachelor's degrees. In Hong Kong, a good number of people go to university after what would be the equivalent of 10th or 11th grade..</p>
<p>Yes, compared to those then the US post-secondary education seems stretched out. If one wanted to finish ASAP, though, he or she could skip a grade in elementary, and probably one more in high school. Also, AP credits let one graduate from university in 3 years. Some universities offer 3 year degrees in and of themselves, but these are not highly regarded.</p>
<p>There are two reasons why bachelor's degree courses take longer to finish in the US than in Britain or continental Europe:</p>
[<em>] The typical US High School curriculum covers far less than the secondary school curricula in Europe. European students enter university then having already seen the equivalent of freshman-year college courses in the US. A good spread of American AP courses is roughly equivalent though to British A-levels or what is covered in the German Abitur. US students who take several AP classes in High School can get college credit and graduate earlier.
[</em>] European bachelor's degrees, especially in the UK, are highly specialized: one studies a single subject only (or at most two or, more rarely, three closely related subjects) for 3 years. Since there are no "general education" requirements, it is possible to graduate earlier.
<p>In the end, I don't think that shorter B.S/B.A degrees in Europe translate to "lower quality" compared to the US, but rather they are just indicative of differences in the educational systems of the two continents. In fact, European undergrad students probably graduate with greater depth in their chosen major compared to their US counterparts, at the expense perhaps of breadth. </p>
<p>Graduate education is a different matter though. Master's degrees in the Bologna area are obtained in 2 years (which is pretty much like in the US or longer), but doctorates tend to be shorter (3 years on average) which IMHO compares unfavorably in both depth and breadth to a US PhD. In the UK, in particular, it is possible to get a PhD in 4 years only beyond a first bachelor's degree (by taking a 4-year integrated bachelor's/master's course plus a 3-year doctorate). That is considerably shorter than in the US.</p>
<p>Length of time to Ph.D. doesn't depend as much on geography as it does on the difficulty of the dissertation research. Students who are very focused, and have good luck with their dissertation research finish early. Students who have less focus and/or trickier research topics take longer.</p>
Length of time to Ph.D. doesn't depend as much on geography as it does on the difficulty of the dissertation research. Students who are very focused, and have good luck with their dissertation research finish early. Students who have less focus and/or trickier research topics take longer.
<p>True, but, irrespective of the dissertation topic, the normal additional requirements to earn a PhD in the US (coursework, comprehensive/qualifying exams, teaching internship, thesis proposal, sometimes language exams) by themselves make it virtually impossible to graduate in 3 years only. </p>
<p>By contrast, PhD students in France or Germany are not normally required to take graduate classes or pass any comprehensive exam, and can work full time on the dissertation. Note: German students are normally required to teach though and actually hold the position of a salaried teaching/research assistant. </p>
<p>In UK universities, you may be required in some departments to take a few classes in your first PhD year (especially if you got your master's elsewhere, i.e. at another university), but graduate coursework beyond a taught master's degree is normally not mandatory. There is something called a "transfer exam" to advance to PhD candidacy, but it's not really like the US qualifying exam, but rather more like a very rough first draft of your dissertation followed by a somewhat informal discussion with two faculty members. In any case, British universities tend to be quite strict with the 3-year period because funding from the national research councils to pay PhD students is limited and is severely cut when students take too long to graduate. Students are normally given something like a 6-month or so grace period to finish up the dissertation and/or make changes as suggested in the final doctoral exam ("Viva", which, unlike in the US, is normally closed to the public). The research work itself is expected to be finished though by the end of the 3rd year.</p>
<p>In the US, on top of all the extra requirements I alluded to before (which slow down the dissertation), my personal impression is that, since funding is more generously available (especially in certain areas like engineering and CS), professors don't really care about the time it takes a student to submit his/her dissertation provided that the student remains "productive", i.e. writes and publishes journal/conference papers, works as a T.A., etc. In fact, many professors won't "allow" their students to graduate before they have a minimum number of publications, even though this requirement isn't normally mentioned in any official PhD program regulations.</p>
<p>Just another comment, which B@rium may be able to confirm (or refute): my impression is that most German professors in particular hold the old 5-year German Diplom in such high esteem that they would ** claim ** that 5 years of post-Abitur education at a German research university would bring a student to a level (in terms of depth of knowledge) equivalent to that of a first or second-year PhD student in the US. </p>
<p>Whether that German perception is true or overstated, the truth is that the system is not equipped to teach classes beyond the regular Diplom courses. There may be special seminars organized by professors for PhD students, but that's pretty much all there is. It is only now that a few German-speaking universities like ETH Zürich have begun to move to more US-style PhD programs. On the top of that, the Bologna process, which now applies to virtually all German universities, was actually the first real attempt to differentiate between bachelor's (i.e undergraduate) and master's (i.e. graduate) courses within the German educational system. Before that, such distinction didn't really exist.</p>
<p>Bruno hit the nail on the head :)</p>
<p>From what I can tell, the Diplom brings German students to an all but dissertation status of an American PhD student. Math Diplom candidates at my old German university (Wuerzburg) are taking the same courses as 1st and 2nd year math PhD students at Penn. Diplom candidates also have to pass a comprehensive set of oral and written exams before they receive their degree, reminiscent of qualifying exams in the US.</p>