TL;DR: As an American, does it make sense to consider a MS in Statistics in Europe (Germany, Switzerland, or England) prior to applying to PhD programs in the US?
I am confident that I want to do a PhD in Statistics in the US for a number of reasons: reputation of the top US universities, better funding, structure of PhD programs, and lack of language barrier (English is my native language*).
However, I am entertaining the idea of first doing a MS in Statistics in Germany, Switzerland, or the UK. I am interested in how this might affect my chances of getting into a top statistics PhD program in the US.
My German girlfriend of 4 years lives in Hamburg and is tied to the city for at least the next 1.5 years, so I would like to narrow this gap somewhat, even if we can't live in the same city. (It's a world of difference to be able to visit each other over long weekends than to suffer the expanse of the Atlantic.)
Bolster my applications with research experience during my master's studies, as I currently have precious little to boast. Also, cultivate relationships with professors for letters of recommendation.
Low cost -- at least in Germany & Switzerland: tuition in Switzerland is very low (<1,000 EUR/year), although cost of living is high; and tuition in Germany is free, just leaving room and board.
Bureaucratic reasons (Germany). It's likely that I will eventually move back to Germany, and a degree from a German university gives me nearly unhampered access to the German labor market, as the state does not require employers to demonstrate a lack of qualified German applicants for a position, given that the non-EU applicant holds a degree from a German university.
Programs I'm considering:
LSE - MSc Statistics (1 year)
Imperial College - MSc Statistics (1 year)
ETH Zürich - MS Statistics (1.5 years)
LMU Munich - MS Statistics (2 years)
Berlin (consortium of Humboldt, TU, FU, and Charité : 2 years) - MS Statistics
Potential poor performance, as I am not accustomed to the academic systems at these universities. From what I gather, they tend to place a substantially higher emphasis on final exams, often basing entire class grades on these. This unnerves me, as I sometimes succumb to test anxiety and excessive time pressure can be my kryptonite. Additionally, the distribution of grades – from what I hear – can be rather severe compared to the US. For example, I've heard it's not uncommon for half the class to fail a major test or for nobody to receive the equivalent of an A grade in courses at Swiss and German universities.
Professors may be more aloof. For example, they might be less willing to explain tricky concepts during office hours, less likely to write a glowing letters of recommendation, and less likely to entertain the possibility of a research assistantship.
Lack of prestige in the eyes of US admissions committees. While the Oxbridges and LSEs of the world are international name brands, the German universities worry me, as few Americans are familiar with German higher education.
Cost. While an masters program in the US would doubtlessly be more expensive, possible direct acceptance into a PhD program in the US would be the least expensive option, especially considering the opportunity cost of the time invested an MS program.
What do you think about pursuing a MS in Statistics in any of these countries as preparation for a PhD in the US?
A lot of what I've written is conjecture, some of which is surely incorrect. Please correct me wherever you can. I'd especially appreciate advice from those with experience navigating both US and European university systems or with insight into PhD admissions with regard to foreign degrees.
* I do speak fluent German, frequently passing as a native speaker and definitely surpassing the necessary proficiency level required study at a German university. Still, I'm less articulate, slower taking notes, prone to make minor errors in academic writing, and less sensitive to nuances in the language compared to English.