4 best US unis to study PhD for international students

best us universities for phd
Universities in US for PhD are innovative, research-focused and have a diverse academic community. Source: Daxia Rojas/AFP

Getting a PhD is a long journey with many challenges, even dropping out — but getting one from one of the best US universities for PhD programmes can change your life.

Although the country is home to thousands of universities, not all award doctoral degrees. Only around 1,500 universities — out of 4,000 — offer PhD programmes.

In the US, the total length of a full-time PhD is usually four to six years. Students will spend one to four years on coursework and two to four years working on their dissertations.

This is not necessarily a bad thing — you will have more time to adjust and settle in, both of which are important before you embark on a tough and sometimes painful journey.

It’s a period of intense study where you’re also a researcher, responsible for forming your own hypotheses and theories that could be torn down by your supervisor and peers.

Leisure time will be scarce. Instead of hours with family and friends, you’ll be studying and working with books, meeting with supervisors and interviewing people.

But what will be in abundance is writing — and the deadlines that come with it.

The pay is not that great, either. PhD students in the biological sciences reportedly earn well below the basic cost of living at almost every institution and department in the US.

With these challenges in store, it’s important that you choose the best US universities for PhD programmes.

Getting the most advanced degree is good, but it’s just as important to take care of yourself during this grand journey.

Read on to learn more about the four best US universities for PhD programmes and why you should choose them:

best universities in us for phd

With the many challenges in store when getting a PhD, it’s important that you choose the best US universities for PhD programmes. Source: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images North America/Getty Images via AFP

MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) 

The first on the list and among the best US universities for PhD studies is MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). 

It’s well-known for focusing on on scientific and technological research that works towards creating a better future for humanity. 

The institute is home to highly ranked graduate schools including the School of Engineering and Sloan School of Management.

It also offers an extensive range of doctoral degrees from Aeronautics and Astronautics to Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, and Nuclear Science and Engineering

The university research expenditures have exceeded US$700 million a year, meaning you’re less likely to run into funding issues here.

MIT has received funding from government agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense. 

California Institute of Technology (Caltech)

California Institute of Technology, or Caltech, is a private university ranked #9 for Best National University Rankings 2022-2023 under US News and World Report.

Caltech offers top graduate programmes in engineering and areas of science including biology, chemistry, computer science, earth sciences, mathematics and physics.

Its commitment to producing high-impact research has led to grants from institutions such as NASA, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Health and Human Services, among others. 

If you’re looking for financial aid, Caltech is one university that’s generous with its funding.

On average, more than 98% of graduate students offered admission at Caltech are offered a package of merit-based financial support that pays all tuition charges and provides them with a stipend.

What’s more, all doctoral students will also receive full financial support in the form of internal or external fellowships, research assistantships, teaching assistantships, or a combination of these.

A separate application for requesting financial aid is not required.

Johns Hopkins University

When searching for the best US universities for PhD studies here or elsewhere, you’ll likely see John Hopkins University ranked high on the list.

Established as the first research university in the US, the university continues to place research at the heart of all its programmes and is still striving for research excellence since its inception in 1876.

To give you a better idea, there are a total of 29 Nobel Prize winners associated with the university.

Their discoveries include developing a blood test for cancer, landing the first spacecraft on an asteroid and developing the first effective treatment for sickle cell anaemia.

It’s a level of prestige hard to find elsewhere — adding to the ROI of your PhD degree.

University of California, Berkeley


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UC Berkeley is another one of the best US universities for PhD candidates.

At this top-ranked university, and with PhD studies rankings do matter, there are 14 schools and colleges, such as the School of Optometry and the Graduate School of Journalism.

Graduate programmes are also offered at the Haas School of BusinessGraduate School of EducationCollege of Engineering and School of Law.

Similar to CalTech, the Graduate Division at UC Berkeley provides funding to its graduate students through fellowships and travel grants. 2023-2024 admissions are open — apply online today.