With more than 1,700 institutions offering postgraduate degrees in a multitude of subject areas, it is easy to see why thousands of UK students go to the USA. In addition to being able to work with world-renowned faculties in state-of-the-art facilities, there are a variety of funding sources that can make going to the States the affordable option.

It should be noted, however, that the process of applying to US universities is very different to applying to UK universities and it can seem arduous and expensive. The US Educational Advisory Service, part of The Fulbright Commission, recommends that students interested in pursuing postgraduate study in the US begin researching 18 months before they plan to enrol. In addition to the application forms, students will be expected to complete essays, get recommendations, provide transcripts and take admission tests. US universities are keen to get a total picture of each applicant and while obviously wanting students with the best academic records, will also take into consideration other factors which may have affected academic performance. In other words, they will look at potential as much as grades.

The structure of a US postgraduate degree differs from one from the UK. There are no pure research degrees. Masters and PhD programmes will always involve a combination of research and taught courses and the evaluation of performance continuously assessed through classroom participation, examinations and papers. While the structure may produce a workload that British students often find heavy and highly structured, the US system is also highly flexible. Programmes will often allow students to take courses outside their own departments and interdisciplinary degrees are also offered.

While fees may be higher than in the UK, averaging $19,000 (£10,000) per academic year in 2003, there is a plethora of funding sources. In addition to the university itself, which will often offer students assistance in the form of fellowships or assistantships, there are independent foundations, such as The Fulbright Commission, and scholarship organisations that provide funding for British students studying in the US. Many of these awards will also pay for living and travel expenses. There are also many personal loan schemes available. Additionally, working for up to 20 hours per week on campus is allowed.

Contrary to popular belief, obtaining a visa to do postgraduate studies in the US should not be problematic. While it will require an interview at the US embassy and may cost a bit more than before 11 September 2001, the process is not complicated and UK students should not face any particular hurdles. Please visit www.fulbright.co.uk/eas for further information and assistance.

The writer is director of the US Educational Advisory Service at the Fulbright Commission