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When are you too old for a PhD? - Chris Blattman

Chris Blattman

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When are you too old for a PhD?


A fewf years ago a reader wrote me to ask how old is too old to start a PhD. Will schools penalize your application, and is it harder to get a job?

I blogged some thoughts in this spot. Not very deep ones. 18 months later, to my surprise, it was my most-read post of 2014: almost 40,000 views. Clearly, it was time to write a more thoughtful post. I sought input from readers and here’s what I’ve got.

In my case, I was 28 when I started my PhD and 33 when I finished. There were a handful of people older than me in the class, in their mid-thirties. Probably the median was about 25. Even though I wasn’t that much older, my (tenured) advisor was two weeks younger than me. That smarted a little.

Anyways, there were some clear advantages and disadvantages. I’ll talk about what I experienced, and what people who started older than me have added.

The short answer I like best came from one reader: “if you’re curious enough, never.” True, it is never too late to advance your professional career or your personal fulfillment with a PhD. With two important caveats. First, you properly understand the time, cost, and job prospects. Second, that if your goal is to enter elite programs and advance the research frontier, I think this gets tougher as you get older.


If you’re under 35, I don’t think age will be a huge concern for an admissions committee. They are mostly concerned with your raw intellectual potential and ability to produce distinguished research.

Naturally, an admission committee will look at your career and consider what it says about you, whether it’s going to contribute to or detract from your research potential, and what the career switch says about your focus. So a lot will depend on your specific story and experience.

I’ve sat on committees where experience was an advantage: political science applicants who had spent many years as international correspondents or in the state department, economics applicants who had spent several years in Treasury or finance, or sustainable development PhDs with careers in environmental science. All are field where applied knowledge is useful, rather than raw intellectual fluidity and power (as in, say, in math or economic theory).

All the successful applied applicants I know, however, had a good rationale for a PhD and a very clear intellectual and academic thread to their previous work.

On balance, I do think that thirty-something applicants are treated with some suspicion, and that the burden is on them to make a case that they are going to be intellectually vibrant and focused. But only a little. Don’t sweat it too much, and don’t feel you have to write your statement defensively. Use your statement to describe, like anyone else, what questions interest yo and how you want to push the field ahead.

(For related advice, see my advice on whether and how to apply to PhDs, whether an MA program is for you, and how to get a PhD and save the world.)

If you’re over 35, I think admissions committees will start to wonder how much of a contribution to the field you can make, starting late and presumably having less time to contribute. This will matter most at elite research institutions.

Indeed, all of the above advice mainly applies to the top research universities and PhD programs. Their goal is to train the generation who will push the field ahead in terms of research. There are many more PhD programs that serve people who want to research, teach, practice (e.g. in the private sector, government of international organizations), or simply learn.

My sense is that there are dozens of very good research universities with PhD programs who not only are used to older applicants, but welcome them for these purposes.

Career considerations

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. It’s a long slog.
    • If you have an MA already, you might get away with a 2-3 year PhD at some universities (e.g. the UK), though almost never in the US. Plan on a minimum of 5 years, and more likely 6-8 depending on your discipline.
    • At best your program will cover your tuition and living expenses, and you won’t graduate with debt. You can calculate the present value of your salary sacrifice, and it will probably be large. Many people make their peace with this choice (I did) but do make it a conscious choice.
  2. Know thyself and thy options.
    • Remember that your counterfactual to a PhD is to spend 5-6 years investing in something else: your current job, a new career, a non-PhD skill set, etc. Some of these opportunities might actually be paid. They will get you experience, respect, and great opportunities. The opportunity cost of a PhD in terms of salary and other work is high. This is true for every age, of course. Your opportunity cost as a more experienced person is probably higher, though.
    • Make sure you understand your post-PhD career options. In some disciplines, like economics, there’s a lot of demand for PhDs and almost everyone gets a well-paid professional or academic job. Political science too, I think. Academic and even professional jobs in your field get scarcer in some social sciences and the humanities. I once heard that under a third of graduates from the best history programs in the world get academic jobs.
    • If you’re not planning on becoming a professor, think twice about a PhD. Yes it might advance you in your field. But most jobs I know would reward six years of intensive experience in many things, not just a PhD. I’m not sure the PhD is rewarded more. You have to want it for its own sake.
    • A lot of people gripe about the terrible options for many PhDs, and the maltreatment of adjunct professors. This says to me that a lot of people get a PhD with erroneous expectations.
  3. Older people will bring a lot of good things to the table.
    • PhD students are not known for being good at managing people, projects, or money. Presumably you learned a few things about being a professional whatever you’ve been doing. This will serve you well, and make up for some of the disadvantages of age. Maybe even more than compensate. Certainly my experience as a management consultant helped me run large research project better and sooner.
    • When you’re done, as long as you’re under 35 or 40, faculty hiring committees are probably going to focus more on what you can do relative to your cohort rather than your age. They might not even look at your age or previous experience. If you’re over 40, then yes I think you’ll see job market discrimination with any major career change, whatever the career.
  4. But there are a few drawbacks.
    • You may or may not enjoy being around a lot of 25-year old peers, and being treated similarly by your professors.
    • Unless you have savings or take on debt, you may have a much poorer lifestyle than you’ve grown accustomed to.
    • You’re more likely to have family or financial obligations when you’re older, and so you’ll have less freedom when you graduate to make high-return investments that are far flung or unpaid. Some jobs, post-docs, or fellowships won’t work out for your more complicated personal situation. You might also not be able or willing to pull 12-hour days for the same reasons.
    • This is true of any later-life career change, of course, especially ones in non-profit sectors or public service.
  5. Once you’re in it, remember that no one finds a PhD easy. It is a constant source of existential angst when you’re in the midst of it. Just know that everyone else feels the same way, and it’s not a special product of how old you are or what you brought.
  6. As one commenter put it, “I’m tempted to counter, when are you too young?” A good point. Here is another person voicing the same view. A topic for another day.

Other PhDs or faculty out there have comments?

277 Responses

  1. Well, for me age is only the numbers to any thing, especially for the PhD in my opinion there’s no age limit to do it. you only need the passion to learn and adapt the capability to do it. That’s it

  2. To Satyajay: Well, that may be so and often refusal is typical for those programs and institutions that are narrowly tailored to recommending post-docs, and finding tenure-track research positions for their younger charges. in general, older PhDs continue to face all types of roadblocks, stereotypes and outmoded behaviors no matter where they are. Money is always is a concern since most PhD students rely on fellowships and other forms of assistance. Often the institution will not welcome a student into the group because in a social sense — the old one does not fit into the club’s idea of who and what a PhD student should be. PhD clubs, as I call them, are still alive and well, though the trend is slowly changing toward acceptance and inclusion. I know several PhDs who have very secure teaching positions. They were hired at 50+ years. What I find interesting is the continual air of superiority that pervades the PhD club. I still say, if you want that degree, go for it and ignore the rest as best you can.

  3. I think if your guide/supervisor is younger to you in age then they may not like to take you into their group as after completion of coursework,thesis,viva,degree etc. they may not be able to recommend you for a post-doc due to the reason of you being older to them

  4. I appreciate everyone ‘s responses to this question. Of course I googled the question because I am 35 and I too think I am getting old for a PhD. Considering my family is growing (bigger than I had ever imagined), I have responsibilities. Though I have to say that my unique family structure gives me a bit more flexibility than most families so for that I am grateful. But I want to provide for my family and at the moment I’m not bringing in so much income. I feel I have finally decided on the perfect program for my PhD venture. PhD in Peace Studies & Sociology at the University of Notre Dame. Yes, Notre Dame! I never ever imagined the University of Notre Dame but after taking a grad lever qualitative social research course as an auditor, with my mentor Dr. M, I was able to add a significant piece to the puzzle of my journey. So I thank you all for your comments and for giving me a spark to continue and know that age really doesn’t matter. Though I am not officially accepted in the Peace Program at the Kroc Institute at Notre Dame, I am very excited.

  5. Getting ready to graduate with my PhD in ed tech with a stats cognate. Finished in three years while working full time, raising young children, and making a 1.25 hour commute two to three times a week to get to class. I was hired for a university tenure-track position as a first-year doctoral student. I’m a 40 year old woman. What can I say? I have grit.

  6. I think if you are not interested in doing a PhD,then once you are 32 or 32+,you cann’t be enrolled for a PhD,but if you are interested in doing a PhD,then at any age you can be enrolled for a PhD

  7. So sorry about the above typos — I am writing a lecture, took a break and zoomed into this site. “to hear” of other older students is what I wanted to say.

  8. I am so happy to here of other over 60 and successful PhDs It has been a while since I commented on this page, as I am busy working on a paper and revising my dissertation for a monograph. I also have a full load of teaching at the local community college. It is far from the usual moonlight adjunct job. I also am mentoring two honors students in history with their special projects. While it is not a tenured position, few college/univ. jobs are anymore, it suits me and affords me time for research and writing. I am over 65 now and retiring is far from my mind I agree that perhaps 70 is the new 50 and definitely we need to rethink the entire educational framework — especially here in the USA. One of my honors student is 57 and wants to be an art teacher. She will be 61 when she finishes teacher training, I hope she makes it and lands her dream job. Again I say to all older students — Go For It!

  9. At 63, I’m finishing an LLM (advanced Law) degree, and my intellectual curiousity is only growing greater. What is striking to me is how simple-minded things like law school are at this age, when they are a challenge for kids in their 20’s and even real people in their 30’s. It’s like at this age, you already know the answers (LOL)! We may have to rethink education as 70 becomes the new 50, both medically and intellectually.

  10. I obtained my PhD at age 65 years; it took 3.5 years and I have never looked back. However, while my PhD became a wonderful experience, ageism was initially experienced and this is my PhD story; one that reveals ingrained social attitudes and individual self-determination. I started my PhD in Education at a top UK Russell Group university at the age of 61, after having worked in a research centre as an administrator looking after the needs of PhD students. Initially I handed my draft 5000 word proposal to 2 academics and was told that it ‘was up there with the very best of them’ and I was advised to submit my application right away. I did so. After months of waiting and chasing and being ignored, upset, I asked one senior academic if he could check it out. Consequently I received an offer for PhD study and planned to use my redundancy money (the research centre I worked in had closed in a university restructure). Yet on my first day of PhD study, I was called into the Programme Officer’s office. She told me that my second supervisor – a young lady about 30 yrs old who had passed her PhD a year previously – did not think I should be doing PhD as I lacked passion, would get very tired and they did not want to take my money which would be wasted, and she agreed with this. I was told that they did not think I realised what a PhD entailed, what I would be taking on. I firmly argued that I had an BA hons, an MA with the Open University (OU), a PGCE in research methods with the OU – all studied part-time while working full-time and raising a family – and that I had worked for years with PhD students discussing their thesis ideas and encouraging them when the going got tough. It was what I really wanted to do. In the end I won the argument as I refused to step down, but this first-day left me dismayed and wondering what help I would get with my research. Most academics were very nice and supportive but over the next 7 weeks it was clear that the Programme Manager and my second supervisor were not prepared to give any encouragement. Their body language and facial expressions made their attitude to me clear and I was told (incorrectly) that my previous studies in history and English bore no relation to my PhD research with a sociological framework. Yet, as I felt miserable and crushed, a new door opened. Another top UK institution had also accepted my research proposal and I had declined as the university was further from my home. They now contacted me again, asking if I was currently happy or would I like to go and have a chat. There seemed little to lose and I went along pouring out what I had experienced since starting PhD. They assured me my research proposal was detailed, well written and showed passion. They understood that women like me, born in 1949 to working-class parents who thought education for girls was unnecessary, had been disadvantaged in their life – (My parents refused to let me sit the 11+ for grammar school or to study GCE “O’ levels, insisting I learned shorthand and typing at night school and go to work at age 15 – after all I would marry and have kids, any job would do till then). After leaving a rough school in 1965 with no qualifications I studied exams over future decades at evening classes but higher education became possible with widening participation in the 1990s. My A-level history teacher at night-school suggested a degree and, amazed, I applied to a local college offering HE degrees (it is now a university in its own right). I obtained my BA hons over 5 years part-time evening study, then joined the OU for postgraduate qualifications in history and research methods. With such encouragement from the second university for my PhD, I went back to the Student Services in the Russel Group University where I had spent 7 weeks and told them what had happened and that I wanted to transfer to the University of Reading, IoE. I never looked back. They could see I was a good independent researcher, they let me work and research, advised and guided when required, and I passed my PhD Viva after 3.5 years with two small minor corrections which I did immediately. I had loved doing it but at 65 years, what was next? Well I had worked on several projects for the university as I did my PhD, earning a little income, so had gained good experience. Head of school and supervisors told me I was a model student; the hardest working they had ever had. After a year they employed me part-time on a longitudinal contract which I am still enjoying. While doing this I decided to write a book, using my PhD data, and put in a book proposal to a reputable publisher. The Editorial Board accepted my proposal, once revised to satisfy reviewers, and my book was published in December 2017. This has been thrilling, to think I have published a book at age 68 years – and collaborated on 2 published journal papers. Now I want to think about my next publication. The PhD experience, shaping and deepening my knowledge and thinking, plus the book, has increased my confidence and happiness. For decades I felt useless in society, as a woman always put down. I did jobs I did not like (even in factories) just to earn money to survive, yet from age 60 my brain was delighting in accumulating wider, deeper knowledge, in writing, in learning and understanding. Recently I put myself forward as a candidate for a political party and was duly elected to stand in the May local elections. Challenges in earlier life were ‘not possible’ being a working-class woman particularly with a mother and sister suffering mental illnesses. But now I know I can take on challenges that appeal; societal attitudes have changed and are still changing Having a go, can lead one along unexpected paths and hugely increase quality of life. Yes, one needs to pace oneself, especially over 50 or 60+ years of age, to sensibly take rests when eye strain occurs or tiredness ensues, but plan and time manage well and you will succeed. Education is key – at any age!! Go for it.

  11. @art Fulley No online program engages in ageism… that’s not “the kind” of program that we are talking about here.

  12. Anyone know an online accredited clinical psychology program that does not engage in ageism?

  13. Not truly relevant to most of the discussion, but my father has just passed his viva, aged 78, having started an MA when he was 71

    1. Awesome. Some years ago, I had an 80 year something veteran taking one of my beginning computer classes. He kept plugging away and his enthusiasm for learning was inspirational to other students to be sure. Be very proud of your father. You have the right to be!

  14. I started my Ph.D. program at the age of 38. I was not the oldest (by far). In fact, most of my colleagues were in their mid-to late 30’s. In my field, the good programs in Public Health require 5 years of professional experience to meet the minimum requirements for admission to the program. I graduated with my degree 3 years later. I started the program with a Master’s degree, but in a different field. I only experience a few raised eyebrows when applying for post-doctorate positions, but was offered and accepted a junior faculty position at a very well-known institution. Now, twelve years later I have advanced in the field and am now a Associate Professor and Program Director at a research institution. If you have a really good reason for getting a Ph.D., it shouldn’t matter what other people think about your age. There are opportunities available, especially if you are getting a Ph.D. in the medical sciences.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story, ALM. In some cases, fields of study are relatively new compared to other disciplines and are cutting edge. I recently retired at a major land-grant university that had a new Masters of Public Health program and because of my expertise in the human aspects of natural resources management, I was invited to teach the Environmental Health course for the Public Health program. Because I belonged to a different department, this was a ‘teaching overload’. My class sizes were typically 25 to 35 students, some of whom were biologists, Pharm Ds and other health professions. There were three oncologists from a local hospital in my last class. I recall having a student or two with an animal science or plant science background. The other uniqueness were the number of Tribal members and international students going through the program, which added much depth and breadth to the class discussions. I think that the graduate work in Public Health is still evolving and is a fantastic opportunity for anyone considering a Ph.D. no matter the age.

  15. Admittedly, as it happened to the two institutions I approached (both teaching unis!) and I don’t really have much exposure as to how grad schools operate, I did assume back then it must be the norm and let the desire go–though, obviously, not totally let it go as here I am reading your blog post :D Hopefully, life situation aligns again favoring going back to school and find the right one. Appreciate your reply, Bruce, thanks!

  16. Sorry to sound so simplistic, but why do they (the institution and faculty) make it hard for one to enroll for a Master’s or PhD? It’s not a free service/mentorship out of the goodness of their hearts as students pay tuition and it’s not cheap. Why are they assuming the position of judgment whether a candidate will be able to contribute or not post-degree, what’s with the academic elitism? Their job is to educate, first and foremost, the willing, are they not?

    I applied for science-related course a few years ago, in my early 30s. The curt replies I received when they found out I was more than a decade out of school was so off-putting. My questions above is just mere curiosity.

    1. Van, there are serveral factors for turning down applicants depending on the institution’s mission. A research university, for instance, relies on financial sources such as grants, and the number of advisees that faculty members can handle. On the other hand, being more than a decade out of school as an excuse from a teaching university or college is their loss. I personally know several non-traditional students who took two graduate classes before declaring their major to “see how it fits.” They showed themselves and the institute that they would do well and were consequently admitted. The question I have for you: would you want to attend an institution with the mind-set that you are put off because you were more than a decade out of school? Henry Ford was purported to say, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty.” Apply at a different institution.

  17. Bruckner, Franck, Janacek, Carter, Beethoven, Chabrier, Haydn, Verdi, all made huge major siginicant contributions to MUSIC COMPOSITION AFTER AGE 45. NOW TAKE THIS LIST AND SHOVE IT UP YOUR MOTHER FUCKING ASS.

  18. I love all the comments here and the encouragement. would love to connect with few of you who have pursued a PHD in their late 40s. I am there and am completing my MBA next year, want to start a PHD but cannot afford to not work as am a single mom to a 12 year old child. Is it possible to make money and do a PHD ? I could perhaps pull along for a year or so without having an income or having a very minimal income but not more. Please advise.

    1. Anita, I first want to congratulate you in advance on your MBA! To answer your question about earning money while pursuing a PhD, in my experience, yes there is. On the other hand, earning enough to survive is a bit more tricky! Consider seeking graduate research assistance positions, which may help defray tuition and fees plus provide a stipend. A rather sneaky trick I used in my doctoral studies (age 50+) was to ‘fund my own research.’ That gave me the liberty to research my agenda and not rely on department funding from someone else. Some supplement their income from being federal grant ‘reviewers.’ Personally, I wrote and lived off of community grants. Consider sitting down with trusted peers and faculty to brainstorm ways to financially stay afloat. Finally and most importantly, try very hard to stay away from student loans of any kind. I wish you the best!

  19. I started my PhD aged 47 and hope to finish next year when I’ll be 51. Like many others I’m not doing this for an academic career but so that I can undertake better and academically more robust research in my work as a health improvement lead in the UK NHS. I’m doing the PhD part time and the topic is in the area which I have been working in for many years. For me the ‘journey’ of the PhD has been very positive; I have very inspiring supervisors who have years of experience in the field I’m researching, I’ve had all the support and encouragement from my employers as I could wish for (and more) and I have gained invaluable experience and insight into the science of health improvement. At the end of the PhD I’ll go back to my NHS post full-time but with a deeper understanding of the topic and and a wider skill set. That may or may not lead to promotions and increases in salary but promotions in the NHS generally take you further away from research toward strategy and management. Doing the PhD has definitely meant I am better in my NHS role and it means I am a greater asset to my employer and the health service in general (which is why they are so supportive). It has already opened up opportunities to working collaboratively with others who are also undertaking health improvement research within the NHS (and the plan is that this will continue). So long-term I intend to have a non-academic research career within the NHS where I attract research funding in topics of interest to the NHS, that I publish in as prestigious journals as is possible and I focus on implementing improvements in health in an effective and scientifically robust manner (to be honest prior to the PhD those improvement projects I was involved in were a implemented a little haphazardly and with less rigour than they are now).

  20. Happy to read here your thought on sustainable development PhDs with careers in environmental science. A few things regarding Career considerations you shared here is very helpful to me for providing career advice to my students as I am an educational experts.


  21. A few days ago I read an article in the local newspaper that a gentleman recently earned his B.A.–at the age of 85. One must first consider that individuals age at different rates and many seniors maintain their intellect well into late age. The other thing to consider is that a PhD may be a life dream and has nothing to do with career or work or earnings; the degree is its own reward. What needs to change is the myopic thinking of academics who can become very fixed in their thinking. I will even go so far as to say that new avenues to leading to graduate degrees need to be explored. One cannot apply the same standards to a man or woman who has spent a lifetime developing wisdom and life skills which someone in their twenties or thirties can’t begin to comprehend. This is a complex issue with no easy solutions. Programs need to be developed specifically for older scholars who wish to pursue advanced degrees. I must also say that the notion that a 65 year old should be put in the position of being a twenty-five year old’s peer is ludicrous. I mean no disrespect here, but in terms of life experience, a twenty-five year old is still a child in some respects.

  22. I started a PhD in Natural Resources when I was 47… did course work, proposal, etc. but did not finish dissertation due to all of those familial obligations mentioned in the article. I was only offered an assistantship one year, but funds were very tight in that department. I would still like to finish but not sure to what end. My wife, however, started her PhD in Hospitality & Tourism when she was 44 with full funding. In fact, her undergraduate department head reached out to her and asked her if she was interested in doing a PhD. They expedited her into the program in about 3 weeks after they contacted her. She finished last year at age 49 and started her assistant professor position the day she defended. Great job, income and benefits, and almost done with first year of teaching, she loves it.

  23. Hey Andreas: I just thought of this funny story. I was visiting our local art museum one day not so long ago. While sitting in the A.M. café I recognized a retired professor who was having coffee. Thirty plus years ago he advised me not to go into a PhD program because so many students would be younger than me. I might feel strange sitting there in class with students in their 20s. After all this time, he did not recognize me. But when I told him I was a PhD candidate, he remarked that when one is old is an excellent time to get the PhD — one has time to devote to study. Its odd how people can change their minds.

  24. I plan to do a PhD when I am old. It’s the perfect thing to keep the mind active and to get out of the house from time to time.

    In Europe, you don’t have to pay tuition fees for most PhD programs, so it’s not a big deal to finance it either.

  25. What an ageist load of shite. Stop writing off people who are past the age of 30. That in itself shows the advantages of more mentally mature people going into education. ‘Smarting’ because someone was two weeks younger than you? Are you for real? How snide and strange. Not everyone can get everything done in one decade. Life goes on and circumstances alter, and often people actually see sense the older they get as opposed to the narcissistic and egostical grip of youth where we want to be everything all at once – the most accomplished, the most attractive etc. Eugh. We get older and realise that we take things as they come, we calm down and get our heads out of our arses and change perspective. I would think that holds a lot for PhD work and perhaps some people are too young and ignorant when they’re taking on degrees/PhDs because they don’t know who they are or whether they’re doing it for the right reasons. Just a nation of over-achieveing plastic people with no real merit, and nothing which shows for true grit or character building. Those people who succeed really early are also the most incredibly dull. Little tired of the shame brought on by our year of birth. Life is just a journey, I wish people would stop having audacity to act like they know when the expiry date beginson that journey…Speak for yourselves, and just evolve for christ’s sake. Out of all the ridiculous ‘isms’ out there in liberal looney land, why is this one ‘ism’ still used so loosely? For everyone – it’s better that you set your own standards and not ask these types of questions anyway. There will be some conceited moron who will have the brass stones to tell you whether you’re ‘past it’ even though they know sweet f*ck all about you on your own merit. In fact, no-one will ever know you like you know yourself. Get on with it if you have an opportunity, you’ll feel good and they don’t have a clue about what you want to do with it – you may not even want to continue in te academic world (it is a very toxic environment anyway), but the PhD will certainly be a colourful addition to your CV and open more doors for the career that you really have your eye on (where people are sane, and more human). I’ve seen people in their fifties, sixties doing PhDs. Why should they give a sh*t what any of you think? For your information, I’ve witnessed people in their mid-thirties, late forties and early fifties get accepted onto funded life sciences programmes so quit with the ‘ideal age’ garbage. Follow your own nose and be limited by nothing, seeking answers from those who already think they have the answer to a question which is tantamount to ‘how long is a piece of string’ will not help you. Life really isn’t that serious if you think about it (a PhD is just a long thesis that only a couple of people will read in your lifetime), but if you take it too seriously you’ll be trapped by everything. Don’t fall for it….

  26. To be sure to some extent but when it normally won’t want me I’ll make possibilities personally. Basically could possibly get with the PhD I’m able to make my very own way. I have not permitted anybody to find out my revenue or my possibilities. I’m able to only control myself not others.

  27. In an ideal world education should be available to all. But universities are all about reputation and money. Its not about the pursuit of knowledge. Its “what can you do for me now.” How can a student getting a degree from our school, dept. etc. enhance the reputation of the school, bring in grant money, and make us all look good.

  28. Education is a fundamental right and everyone must get an opportunity to pursue a course including PhD and age must not be a hindrance in this age of rapid human development. Universities must abolish age restrictions and open door for the benefit of the learners. They also must provide full financial assistance for the adult students.

  29. SS
    I would say generally that you are correct. PhD programs do not exist for personal fulfillment. But that does not mean one’s goal should only be dictated by the potential for academic contribution. At a certain point, personal goals and enlightenment really count and if the university lets you in and you want to work that hard for the PhD, then do it. I still write and give papers for presentation and publication even though I know I am too old to ever be considered for a tenure job.

  30. All excellent points. But I would also add that it depends upon what you have done in your field up until now. In Education, it is not uncommon to begin doctoral studies after you have been in the field teaching K-12. This is critically valuable experience to conducting further research and making sense of existing research, and it brings quite a bit of credibility. This is probably true of many fields: if you have been compiling a competitive record in your 35-40 years of work, you may be worth the investment; a PhD is not the beginning of your career. However, if you haven’t really been building your competitive record in your field by the time you are 40, then I would say you are not a good candidate, if what you’re hoping to do after you graduate is be a research professor. Moreover, if you don’t have an impressive track record at that age, it would beg the question – how ambitious are you, really? Ambitious enough to finish, attract funding, and continue to do high quality research after graduation? PhD programs are not there for your own personal fulfillment and enlightenment. That’s undergrad. PhD programs are there to create the next generation of scholars pushing the field forward.

    1. Thank you for the informed insight. I hear faculty asking undergraduate students what students want from their class. My first question to graduate students is “What will you contribute to this class?”

  31. I am liking this post and the comments herein. I would lie if I never mentioned that I am feeling motivated and well on course towards getting my PhD.

    I am still sourcing for PhD funding and doing all that is within my means and trusting in God to have my PhD before or when I am 35.

    I am already into entrepreneurship and consulting and I believe having a Phd will not only limit me into academia but open a wide berth for me to do embark on other things as well.

    1. Good on you Notepad! I sourced everything myself including my own research project. I worked with the U.S. Forest service on a project they wanted and was not bound or tied to university department for the funding. I also peer reviewed a few federal grants that I got paid for. The other trick for me was to write or co-write a few community grants. I found that when an academic department does not hold the purse strings, I had much more latitude. I know you can do it Notepad!

  32. Bruce: One more thing — that last comment about face-to-face communication skills. I just finished giving finals to my freshmen classes. Part of it was an oral presentation. Few students feel comfortable facing a group, even a group of their own peers. Chalk it up to the wired-in generation and texting.

  33. To be blunt from my own experience at a land grant university, I began a masters degree program at the age of 51 with a masters of public administration already in hand. After the second class, the graduate dean convinced me to pursue a doctoral program (sociology had none), and at the age of 52 I began a PhD study in natural resource management (my own choice). It took nearly 6 years to complete a fairly intense qualitative study and the prelims were brutal, but done. I am now beyond retirement age at the same university in academic affairs filling my ideal niche (for me) – academic advising and affiliate graduate faculty. I had no ambition of tenure on faculty – who wants to start all over at the bottom of the proverbial Marxist totem pole? Here is what I learned in my own lived experience and from working with many other older than average graduate students: (1) it is not the job of faculty to hand-hold; (2) it is not the responsibility of faculty to get graduating students a job; (3) it is the graduate student’s responsibility to network and understand the labor market (to include colleges and universities); (4) when graduate students behave as peers, faculty will treat them as peers; and finally (5) the majority of employers I speak with tell me that graduate students have great technical skills but often lack face-to-face communication skills – and that will kill job prospects.

    1. Bruce: You said it better than I did. Networking, understanding the labor market, and how one’s skills fit into that market are essential ingredients for anyone at any age finding a job. I never expected my professors to get me a job, rather I would put them in the “May I use your name as a reference” category. Hand-holding is a relative matter. The ageism and sexism (especially the latter) are blatant in my department. There are too many examples I and others have noted over the years. One senior librarian referred to the department as “That good ol’ boys’ campus club”.
      I would say that for an older student, your experience and your NETWORK will do you more good than a professor’s recommendation.

      1. Liz, I think we all appreciate your insight, and thank you for sharing them. I did at one point experience ageism from a much younger faculty member than I. I chose not to take it personally but to move on professionally. Not every university department is the same – some healthy and some toxic.

        Within my own department, we build group and individual oral presentations into the curricula, especially in upper-level classes. Now many of our students are getting hired before they graduate based on university and department reputation, internships, and career related part time work.

  34. I agree with you, and if I had it all to do again, I’m not sure I would go for the PhD — at least not at the University I attended. But, my options were limited at the time and I did not think that it would take me as long as it did. After two MAs I figured I could do it in 3 or 4 years. I should have taken the cue from several younger women who quit the program and did not look back. I hate not finishing what I have started. But, I have the degree now for what its worth and I have a job. I have spent my life networking — that is what landed me a job at my advanced age, along with experience and teaching credentials in three different areas of humanities. My professors were little help in getting any job. They were too focused on the junior PhD candidates finding plum research positions. I still say, if you want something go for it even if the path to the goal is uneven and unorthodox.

  35. Dear Toothbrush: Every one in a while I visit this website. True — I received my PhD after working on it part and full time for 15 years. I had a good job and received another OK job teaching at a Community College. I have held full-time teaching positions in a couple of colleges. But, unfortunately the reality is that Universities are interested in their own reputations as are professors in their respective departments. Age is not the only factor, but how much investment will the department — professors, etc. be willing to assume in a student if there is an assumption that you as a student do not have enough years left in your life to make a mark in your field. It is not about you as a student, but about the institution, the department and your advisor. What payback are they going to get from you? Granted, it is unfair. I will say this since I now have a job and it will probably be the last job I have, but my university is a well-known Catholic institution with an ingrained and systemic bias toward non-traditional students at least in some fields (Not all). Again, this seems to be the traditional attitude in many universities which pride themselves on research more than teaching. Of course, you can learn and of course a degree should depend on whether one can read, write, and think, regardless of age, but that is not the current reality. Case in point and I forget if I already stated this. A young female PhD student was complaining that her PhD advisor did not even know what her dissertation was about. This student is under 30. But, I had problems with my advisor even getting through my entire dissertation once written and I am over 60. I had blamed my problems on age, but sometimes the issues are more complicated. Once, more ( I forget again if I had said this) but a fellow student once said to me that if I was not young (under 30) Irish Catholic and male, I would have a hard time making it through the program. Well, I proved him wrong and He did not make it through, but this goes to show that there is more to getting through than ability and desire. The politics and the profile as to what constitutes the institutional portrayal of the ideal student is very important. But, you can do it if you want the degree bad enough.

    1. I agree to a certain extent but if they don’t want me I will make opportunities for myself. If I can get through the PhD I can make my own way. I have never allowed anyone to determine my income or my opportunities. I can only control myself not others.

  36. One is never too old to learn. The problem is availability, location, or those who decide whether or not you should enter “their” program. The question may be, are they willing to invest their time in you considering your age? Age is a factor like it or not, and importantly you must find an area a professor with your topic interest .

    As a divorced single parent I re-entered the academic arena later in life to earn a Masters degree. Learning was not a problem, my brain functioned as well as the younger students. One notably difference was the experience, which showed up in their reasoning.

    After acceptance to the PhD conference, gaining insight into strategies for successful entry, I tried “on and off” for years to gain entry into PhD Business in my state with no success. Either I could not find 3 professors alive or space availability. The PhD was not offered part time and relocation was not a choice, making it impossible to attain. Children were my priority and therefore work was necessary. Today it is offered part time but I am no longer 35, although my brain functions well; evident in the fact that I changed careers and successfully completed another master. Today, it is more difficult to meet some of the admissions criteria which has nothing to do with your ability to manage but whether or not you can find professors to support your application. Age, a factor makes it difficult to find more than one professor alive to provide references.

    Why can’t a person read/pursue a degree if they want? Why should there be age discrimination? If a person wants to study for a PhD the year before they die, then why not? Learning is lifelong and should not be limited to the ‘young’.

  37. Hi Terrance. I applied to undertake it through work and was turned down for funding (I can’t complain, they had already funded my Masters through a ‘refund of fees scheme’). Subsequently I researched scholarships and after identifying a suitable supervisor I approached them to see if it was feasible. They liked my research proposal and were kind enough to assist me through the scholarship application process. As I am very busy in work, I attended the School of Law in the University of Limerick in Ireland, but only when essential (supervision sessions etc). It was hard to manage my time, but I think by only attending the University when I had to it allowed me to concentrate on writing the thesis. For me the process is all about independent work, that is, the supervisors are there to guide you but it’s up to you to put your bum on a chair and start writing. I believe that the main requirement for successful completion is work ethic, good supervisors and old fashioned graft. It’s gruelling, but if you pick a research question you know is ‘answerable’ I believe most people who are good writers can achieve it. In saying all of that, as I work in a prison and my research topic was on prison officers, it was a labour of love and. Found the process enjoyable and fascinating. I hope that info is useful to you and I wish you well in your endeavours.

  38. I don’t know where to start with this. Firstly, it shouldn’t be age related. I’m 49 and undertook my PhD whilst working in a very busy managerial job. Secondly, to say it takes circa 6 years is nonsense. Granted, it will if you get distracted by squirrels. If you have average focus it should take no longer than 3-4 years. Seriously, we dress it up to be unachievable, perhaps to impress those who haven’t had the same opportunity? I’m not sure. Either way, it took me less than 3 years, part time, and I enjoyed every little bit of it.

    1. Hello Richard, did you complete your PhD online or on a campus and what discipline did you receive your PhD in. Also, were you able to find any free money?

  39. Hello! I deferred my admission into Brown, so that I could work in my Hawaii job. Thanks for all the advice.

    Now, University of Hawaii has a very generous tuition waiver option if you work there. I can easily get a well-paid job there (Hawaii is small, and I have developed a good rapport here). I can do the PhD part-time on the side (can take 6 credits per semester) and work full time with a great salary.

    Should I do this, or go full-time at Brown? I know University of Hawaii is not as prestigious, and it is a PhD in Sociology. So wondering how job prospects will change.

    Another big aspect is that my Significant Other would much prefer to stay in Hawaii, than go to Providence. We are warm-weather folk :)


  40. PhD # 1 — begun 1991 (age 47) finished in 1997 (age 53). No cost because I worked as a teacher from the adjunct faculty pool.

    PhD # 2 — begun 2003 (age 59) finished in 2014 (age 70). Low cost because I worked a deal and (hopefully) will eventually teach online for them.

    And now I would like to get into another PhD program. So much I want to learn!!!

  41. As the first in my family to graduate college, let alone go on for advanced degrees, I wandered through my 20s without much guidance (albeit managing to earn a B.A. and an M.A. [the latter from NYU], in five and six years each, respectively). 30 loomed as a deadline (Time to become a grownup, in other words). I entered my PhD program–in English–at 30, found I loved teaching, and finished in six years. At the time, CHE was calling seven years the average for finishing the doctorate, across all fields. I was hired to a tenure-track job at 37–and still have it 25 years later.

    Age is a peculiar thing. In those years I when I was writing my diss.–from 33 to 36–I felt ancient, older than everybody. I was aware that my diss. committee members each had his/her PhD at 26 or so, and were tenured or even full profs when they were about my age. When I started my first job, however, it all changed, and I felt 22 again. I’m now 62, have no plans to retire, and am at a point with my research and in my department where I feel like I’m starting a new stage. Academia can age you if you don’t keep up and stay fresh, or make you feel ageless if you do. It’s a wonderful profession that way. Being surrounded always by young people is a similar phenomenon. It can make you young if you keep learning and changing, or, I suppose, make you feel like a fossil who would rather rot if you just resist change. I teach (some) online courses; most in my age cohort shudder at the prospect. As a Film Studies professor, I could mourn “the death of cinema.” But what my students want me to teach them is Renoir and Hitchcock and the Hollywood Studio Era. It’s not as if we’re construction workers who can’t do the heavy lifting and the climbing at a certain point. I survived cancer at 46; in many professions I would have been applying for disability then. I also had gotten a job without great pay (to be sure) but with more than adequate health insurance–something to which I barely gave a thought when I was hired. This will sound cliched, but if you look ahead instead of back, and find new things to do, age doesn’t matter a whole lot.

  42. I never let my true age be known and some people still try to guess how old I am. None of their business and if anyone reads this blog, they’ll find out. If someone wants to know, fine – – look up my school records. I know of people in their 80s who go back to school for personal and professional reasons. Went for my 2nd master about 20 years ago and there was a man who was in his seventies who just finished a BA in history and was starting his MA. He eventually went on for the PhD. But, I was careful for years about my age (still am a little bit) since there really is ageism out there, ingrained in the system.

  43. Rebecca Butterworth…. I love your comment. You are exactly what I described in my post before even looking at yours. I knew a woman in my undergraduate class who was 40. She was getting her second bachelors. Everyone thought she was in her late 20’s……She never offered the information and why should she to people who really did not need to know…

  44. Everyone’s situation is different.Someone in their mid 40’s can go to even get a masters abroad with no problem in my opinion. If the person has no children, not married/or married with a flexible spouse. If the person looks young it may help with ageism among classmates. If the person has 2 bachelors one being very recent will help I feel with the stigma of the school administrative committee thinking you are out of touch with your industry. I like what Richard says “I have no desire to retire until I mentally of physically can no longer function.”

    A beautiful vibrant woman/man who is in shape, has a youthful attitude, and does things to keep mentally sharp CAN STUDY ABROAD PAST 40. I feel that you can keep a level of respect and dignity for yourself by not trying to socially hang out with the students as you are not in the same age group…. They can be immature BUT I would take the amazing experience of study abroad/plus travel included……. and run with it. Many of the abroad degrees are shorter as well so you can get in and get out quickly. I see many older women staying in Hostels while travelling in London and it’s OK.

    Age, drive , and your ambition have to do with you and the person you are inside. The nonsense about over 30’s everything is old and terribly outdated.

  45. I earned a BA in social psychology in 1986 and a Masters in Public Administration with a concentration in administrative and organizational behavior in 1988. I used the education and knowledge in the public sector and adjunct teaching, Much later, I discovered how I can merge my environmental interests with education and experience, and tackled a PhD program of study in natural resources management, with a focus on the human aspects. Because my research was qualitative and seasonal, it took eight years to complete (while I worked full time) in 2011 – at age 61. I saw the challenge as the successful climbing of a personal mountain. I am now at a major land grant university where I primarily advise and teach both graduate and undergraduate courses such as environmental sociology, environmental policy, and environmental health. I won’t even discuss tenure at my age and publish at my leisure. That did not happen in a vacuum but through departmental networking. Now that I am full retirement age according to Social Security, I have no desire to retire until I mentally of physically can no longer function.

    1. There is hope out there for everyone in their 60’s. I am just glad I have a decent teaching position. I think that constant networking and keeping up with your field is the key.

  46. In my country (central Europe) you actually get paid by the university as a PhD student, plus college is free, and since most people are able to work full time in their respective fields and do the PhD at the same time, they actually financialy benefit from their studies and don’t lose years working in their field. Of course you have to work hard, you have to sacrifice some evenings, weekends and vacation time to write papers, do research, study or attend conferences or seminars, but it’s feasible and a lot of people in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s make it happen.

  47. I am starting an MA this Fall at age 49 and then will eventually complete my PhD in IR when I will be 54 or 55. At first i was concerned about my age, but upon reading many of the contributing posts I feel that I have made the correct decision in returning to school and changing careers. I can’t thank everyone enough for their thoughtful comments regarding this matter.

    1. I am starting an MA program in accounting next week and then plan to obtain my PhD. I would like to hear some comments concerning on campus or online for PhD programs. Also, would welcome comments concerning sources of free money for MA and PhD programs.

  48. I will come back here to read all the postings, but for now, I need to say that I found this article very inspiring.

    Not sure if everyone has watched a video on TED about “Hiring a scrapper”, well, I do feel like I am one. I’m turning 45 this year, most of my work experience is in the Customer Service field, but I’ve been all over; I ended up finishing a B.Com. in International Business in 2013, recently got hired in part time base by a college to teach Customer Service & Sales and Communication Skills that made me conclude that I have finally found my true professional calling: Teaching.

    I do wanna go for my Masters in Sociology, and am considering a Ph.D. in the same area, but have to admit, am a bit undecided about the latter. I speak Portuguese, English, and Spanish fluently, am not sure whether this would help me in any way but am certain that if I wanna teach degree programs at the college, I’d have to have a Ph.D.

    The truth is I am a bit concerned because I have not accumulated any wealth throughout my life nor I have any retirement plan other than the public one. I’d have to get into student debt to pay for all my education, not to mention I do have anxiety as a condition.

    I’d appreciate it very much any response to my thoughts.

    Thank you

  49. Institution, not instruction…auto fill! Too bad I can’t edit it. That post will plague me until I die.

  50. I just completed at age 66. One is never too old and must simply have realistic expectations of what can be accomplished. I already work at an instruction of higher education so I’m not job hunting. I do have much more credibility in my field now and can better compete in the grant and contract world. I’m satisfied.

    1. Good for you. Like I said in a previous comment — I received my PhD at age 65. The prejudice in my department in terms of both ageism and sexism is astounding. I have worked in higher education and in high school for many years. I totally agree with your statement that one must have realistic expectations. Job Hunting is difficult and I have a job — don’t need to find one. But, one’s credibility is greatly affected when you can put PhD behind your name. That in itself is an unfortunate reality for I know many people in my field who are knowledgeable, but have not earned the doctorate.

  51. Hello Everyone!
    I’m Rabina and I’m 33 years. I completed my Masters in Sociology this January 2016. I want to study further. Will you please tell me where and how should I apply for PhD? Hope I can go straight for PhD after Masters. Or, do I need to do MPhill? (wanna go direct). I’m not financially strong and I don’t have any working experience too. I want to study Psychology (which one will be the best; sociology or psychology?). I have no idea whether it’s possible or not and if yes, how. Studying further i.e going for PhD is my dream. I have obtained very less marks except in the dissertation. Do I have any chances? As I went through all your comments, I found that everyone have lots of experiences (long term) and seem to be highly educated with top marks.

    Please help me!
    Thank you!

  52. Actually, if I don’t get all this crap done by August 15th – and that’s probably how much longer the PASSPORT alone will take as the Irish Embassy has a 12-week processing time these days – I could always either enroll at certain choices in Belgium ANYWAY (as an “auditor) and just take more pre-doctoral Calculus and Physics classes for an entire YEAR and start this mess all over again for NEXT fall — on some of Switzerland’s universities’ application forms the only problem was going to be that I was nowhere near having MOST of what they require in the ONE MONTH application opening period that they have. (Switzerland is more competitive than a lot of other European countries because it’s so popular, that’s why I focused on Belgium) … I mean, high school diploma and transcripts that I have to PAY to get all over again, and I’m currently 3,000 miles from where I went to high school and have no desire to drive that far just to yell at the transcript office for taking so far 3 months to even look at my request (!!) – having to PAY to take a French language level certification test or something and they’re only given in NEW YORK, etc. Then the CV and the “verification letters” for all the time since 1989/high school graduation….Belgium is cheap to live in, and initially “sounded too easy” but that crap is just ridiculous. The Scandinavian countries’ universities only require you to submit transcripts of your LAST degree earned, not all the way back to HIGH SCHOOL. All this administrative rubbish, I’m almost forgetting my subject matter!!

  53. Thanks for all the encouraging words. At 50, I’m starting my Masters in Accounting next month and plan to go straight into a Phd program afterwards. I was a little concerned about the age thing with the Phd but not anymore. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    1. I just got hooded from the Dept. of History and I am 65. Another 65-year- old also walked in May — a PhD in public policy. I have always worked in my field — teaching. With a PhD in Early Modern European History, I hold no illusions. I have been a music teacher and Latin teacher for years and I do translations for pay. But, I also hold a couple of state teaching certificates and I have a background in music education (B.S. and a first MA). Strictly a research tenure track job in the humanities is tough even for the very young PhD (few and far between and they don’t pay well, at least in the beginning). If you can’t move or have family obligations it is almost impossible to find an academic job in the humanities. But in a math or science field, a tech field that is needed and/or if you already have a job and the school and program can accommodate you, it may be easier. But, anything can be done if you are determined enough to forge ahead. Accountants are needed at any age. And, here is another point. Some folks prefer to deal professionally with people close to their own age, so there is a special place for the recent but older graduate. Finally, there is no price you can put on the experience that only life can teach you. It is a selling point. GOOD LUCK!

  54. You’re never too old! I did a science PhD at the usual early-mid 20’s age and in my mid-40’s I started a part time mathematics degree for interest and because it helped my research (in industry) and I have learned so much and applied it to my job and my consulting. Now I’m 50 and I’m going to do a masters or a PhD in statistics. Finances are important and can be an obstacle but if you can find the means and you have the drive, do it and enjoy it.

  55. At age 54, and with 30 years of experience working in the energy and environmental consulting fields, I returned for a Masters in Public Policy at George Mason Univ in Northern Virginia near WDC. It was time to “sharpen the saw”, learn some new approaches, stimulate some different ways of thinking by reading a wider span of authors, and some of the best thinkers. GMU caters to working professionals and I enjoy a student body that isn’t all students — most are working and doing interesting things. I finished the Masters in 2015 and rolled into the PhD in Public Policy program at GMU after being awarded Scholar of the year in 2013.
    Some important notes: 1) I did not go back to graduate school to work my way into an academic career; I returned to gain perspective, interact with bright people again, and learn more about how Millennials see the world, plus more international students; 2) Because I had already worked in the agency (Dept. of Energy) most sought after leaving, I brought tremendously useful insight to class discussions — I had practiced policy, now I needed deeper theory. I brought more experience than several professors, but lacked their understanding of theory and methodologies. 3) I structured my work so that most papers and analysis in graduate school fed my consulting work; I recognize not as many PhDs can do this, but I could in Public Policy. My academic work paid for itself through consulting work and new engagements with clients, some of it by publishing some of my work.
    ADP, age 59 — hope to finish my PhD by 2020 in National Nuclear Energy Strategies and Sovereignty

  56. Came back here after someone checked me out from my post way back when and is great fun to see where everyone is at. Voice of Wisdom, sadly, is a troll. Love Kiffy’s comment RE: prophet of doom. ROFL

    Again, I got my PhD and it ends up being my fifth degree. I know, I’m whack. Not going for another though I know dual PhDs are all the rage. But I’m committed to lifelong learning and a lot of doors have opened since getting the doctorate. Feel free to check out my other comment on this board here:

    I admit, I had a full life before the PhD so getting one was just icing. Once you get it, aim high, real high (someone has to get those jobs and you never know who might find you attractive for whatever reason). “The lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord.” Some Proverbs 16:33 for the ‘Voice of Wisdom.’

    Very inspiring to see so many people go for their dreams in the face of debilitating illness and chronic distress when I know I could not do so. There’s more strength in this thread than we realize!

    Thanks for continuing the conversation, Dr. Blattman. Peace, out.

  57. Pamela: I never thought of combining everything I did into a consulting position. I guess I always thought that I would have to give a name of a boss, or company. I could just say that I worked for myself, which in many instances I did. Good idea — the consultant. Thanks.

  58. @Pamela Kennedy
    You could combine all of your temporary, sporadic jobs into one long career as a consultant. I have friends who have done this kind of project-to-project work in international development and on their resumes it just says “20 years experience as a consultant in blah blah blah” It also would look more like you chose the flexibility of the freelancing life. Good luck!

  59. I have found out, at least at my institution, that not every minute of your working life needs to be cited. I combined jobs, abbreviated what I did, and only included what was appropriate or what would make me look good. I did not include everything I ever did. Not too long ago (this year) I took a survey for grad. students and those who had recently graduated. It seems that my department is being audited for efficiency. The survey wanted to know how many papers I had given, published, books published, conferences attended and organized, grants received, etc. Well, I know there are some who have done more — but I have some papers to my name — no books yet. But, I capitalized on my work experience, adjunct experience, full-time employment especially where I could say that I directed something or headed up a committee. I can say that in my life I had very little down time. I don’t know how Great Britain organizes their collegiate processes. But, I have heard that it is considerably different than in the US. I have two friends who received their PhDs from Cambridge, and to hear them talk, the expectations are quite different than in the Midwest, US. They both feel that getting the PhD in England is much more difficult than what is encountered in the US. I still say that much depends on your institution, your department, your advisor, and what you expect of yourself. I am not above a few white lies about what I’ve done or massaging the truth if necessary. Lets just say, I don’t put everything down in applications or surveys.

  60. @Vanessa:
    Regarding your friend who took his PhD in Wales at the age of 70 – how the hell did he get past the part where they require you to account for every thing you’ve done and everywhere you’ve been since HIGH SCHOOL – presumably the age of 18??

    Or maybe your friend was not like me, getting kicked in the head around the country (US, Canada, and the UK) on temporary sporadic jobs that never last more than a few weeks or months, over and over again, for the amount of years between the ages of 18 and 70. Hell, if you can keep one job in the same place for 10 years at a time then that CV thing is easier to do, now isn’t it.

  61. I’m finding that even getting through the application process in my mid-40’s after getting my Master’s and law degrees in my late 20’s, is so awful that I’m wondering if I’m ever going to do anything else with my life EVER. And thinking that I’ve overstayed my welcome ON THIS PLANET. Yes, I’ve found PhD programs in Mathematical Computational Physics in countries in Europe that don’t require that you get recommendations from your undergrad professors, who, after all, by now are probably DEAD. Or wouldn’t remember you from Adam because it’s been over 20 years since they last saw you. That one alone was the reason I looked to Europe in the first place. Then I get to the actual applications and they’re starting to do this thing: they make me put my date of high school graduation down and then make me recount where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing since that time. You know. NINETEEN EIGHTY-NINE. After looking up every curse word I could think of in the French dictionary, I slog through ONE of those and then I get a letter from admissions asking for my high school transcripts/diploma and everything since then, also a CV accounting for all that time. Yeah, I’m too old to do ANYTHING. And I was only even looking to get a PhD because I’ve found that I can’t get any job doing anything at all without one, also because of my age (which people “guess at” on my applications due to when I graduated high school and college.) Also, the times being what they have been for the past decade and a half, my “career” has been gradually going into the TOILET over the years. I’ve got to find a COUNTRY in which a brown-skinned minority woman can get a job with “just” a Masters earned 20 years ago, without having to account for all the years since high school on a CV!!! Either that or lay down and DIE in my 24-year old PAID-FOR car.

    I mean, the university applications are requiring a “letter of motivation” my MOTIVATION is that I can’t find a damn JOB anymore!! (Combination age and skin colour.)

  62. So sorry — Seniors do waiver: The name is Arthur Schopenhauer.(d. circa 1860) I knew after I wrote “Jacob” that it was the wrong first name. There is a Jacob in literature but not nearly as well known. Oh well, Schopenhauer was a devotee of Plato. Schopenhauer, I believe, also felt that angry or dissatisfied people represented unfilled will.

  63. Dear Voice of Wisdom: Who are you? No, wait — don’t tell me, I may actually know you. I have been in academia and in teaching for years. I will not tell you how many credentials and positions I have held sans the PhD that I will soon get. And, I am VERY WELL over 40. How do you like that for a near Ciceronian praeteritio? I have never had a problem finding and/or keeping a job in academia, provided that one includes the teaching field as part of academia. I choose to define the term “academia” rather broadly. Achieving and maintaining employment with a PhD depends on what field of endeavor one has pursued; and no, not all of us grayed-haired types look or act grayed-haired, nor do we seek to stave off dementia. One should not count a life in terms of decades of employment. One also should patently ignore what I was once told by a professor prior to not being accepted into a program. He said, “We question whether you have a sufficient number of years left in your career field to warrant a significant contribution to research.” I was taken aback, cried a lot, and then mustered up some determination to tell that person what I thought. By the way, I was 35 years old when that happened and I will always remember the incredibly elitist ego that accompanied that prediction. Like the philosopher Jacob Schopenhaur once said, and I paraphrase since this senior’s memory may waver — it is better to have fewer books and better books in one’s library than to have many books. Unfortunately, there are more than many academics who are forced to publish to keep their jobs — a sad state of affairs since not all books are worthy of publishing much less reading and moving from shelf to shelf. I champion any and all who wish to pursue higher education for whatever reason. There is no just reason to defend one’s position to anyone. Keep trying until you get it!

  64. VW
    I see two things going on here.

    1. You are distressed that there are people who do not want to follow what you deem to be age-appropriate behavior and you feel it is your responsibility to urge them to conform to perceived norms and expectations.

    2. You are assuming that everyone who gets a Phd is seeking an academic career. Have a look at this Stanford website which shows post-Phd employment for their graduates.

    While the data is not perfect it shows that only 45% of their Phd graduates are working in academia with the rest in government, industry, non-profit or other.

    I did not pursue an academic career earlier because I wanted to make money. In my field, government and industry pay several times what academia does. I have always known that research informs practice and am now in a position to pursue research. The Phd is simply the best way to develop those skills.

    A parting shot: clearly you don’t travel much because you will see plenty of sweaty, gray-haired types (usually men) discoing away with the young in nightclubs all over the world from Cancun to Phuket.

    1. How is pursuing a doctorate an “ego-trip?” It is true getting educated early helps to rise up the ladder, but it sounds like you think it actually hurts a person. I was speaking to my friend yesterday who just finished his PhD at 54. He is financially secure and one of the smartest people I know. There is not doubt he could have had a PhD at 30.

      Now, if you want to say he SHOULD have pursued his PhD by 30, I may be inclined to agree with you. Are you bitter about something? If you are incredibly successful as a young PhD I do not begrudge you for it, good on you.

  65. Melissa

    You said that @35 you (and your ilk-) were juggling parenting and busy careers. Precisely! Except, why weren’t you busy juggling academic career at that time like it is a widely expected, gasp, norm? Get it? Your “tremendous obligations that come with early adulthood” are the norm everywhere including academia, so get off of your pedestal. You aren’t that special. Academia is not a “last train” that exists just so those timewasters, who originally lacked maturity and/or foresight and/or strategic skills to get into it in the first place, could hop on it at their leisure and convenience.

    Also, my advice is for those who are serious about getting into academic careers, and not for those who are pursuing PhD for the sake of it (or for cute reasons like staving off potential dementia and what have you).

    If you are not PhD-in-hand and on the academic market by 40 – forget it. Like everything else in life, there’s time and place for everything. And academia for newbies in their 50s or 60s is not that place.You don’t see (m)any double-chinned, gray, wrinkled 50+ people in trendy night clubs hobnobbing (and looking to score) with young people in their 20s and 30s; so what makes you think that academia is different?

    People, save your dignity, and look for your ego kicks someplace else.

  66. Dear Voice of Wisdom,
    I agree with you about deferring admission for one year, a vesting allowance is always worth it and sometimes allows the retiree to opt-in to the employer health care plan – far more valuable than the allowance for sure.

    I disagree with just about everything else you said. I do not know who you are describing but many who return for a Phd later in life,myself included, are financially secure with solid careers who have reached a place in their intellectual development where pursuing research is the natural next step. There are many part-time Phd programs in the UK that accommodate just this type of learner.

    We either have no intention of working in the low-paid, low-benefit world of academia or we work in applied fields that are always short of Phd trained teaching faculty like computer science or nursing.

    I also disagree with your assumption that satisfaction at age 55 is not as sweet as when one is 35. I would argue that it is the opposite. At 35,I and many like me were juggling parenting and busy careers – we had no time for satisfaction – we just wanted to get a good night’s sleep. Now with kids out of the house and finances in place, we can afford to pursue a life of the mind without the tremendous obligations that come with early adulthood.

    A lifelong career is no longer the norm. There no rules that must be followed.

    Last, if you are going to insult and ridicule please be brave and sign with your own name. I do.

  67. Voice of Wisdom: you sound more like a prophet of doom than a wisely balanced guardian. There are various motives people go for PhD at a later stage than just capitilizing on it as single source of hope and hapiness in life – even for so, it always ones choice. Also, illness can be of varied sources and can strike at anytime of ones life. Finally, the academia is one of the rare areas that people retire formally but continue produzing and being useful to sociedade even from a will chair. So, I don’t I consider your negatively loaded emphasis on age and ailments sufficient factor for dissuading anyone from choosing at any time convenient to do PhD.

  68. Sabrina,


    Life is a strategic game of chess.

    Get that pension if you can (even if “only” $500) because in the great scheme of things one year doesn’t make any difference in academia.

    As long as you finish your PhD by 40 (even better if by 35-) you will still be academically OK, especially if coming from a place like Brown.

    This goes for the rest of you:

    It is not enough to just finish PhD; it’s not even about getting a job — those are given. The bigger issue is how much meaningful and productive time, while at reasonable physical robustness/health, will you have after your PhD? What will be your inner satisfaction. Will you be constantly miserable and self-destructive that you haven’t started that endeavor earlier in life? Because, make no mistake, satisfaction at 55 is just not the same like it is at 35.

    For those who are interested in academic career, my strong advice is to not embark on this path unless you can complete your PhD and be employed (even if adjunct) by 40.

    40 is absolutely last age for embarking on a full and meaningful three-decade career. The rest of you are just lost, insecure souls frightened with diminishing professional prospects, failing health, and increasing social irrelevancy, and so you are desperately invested in the idea that by running into academia you will find a safe haven that will magically erase all those difficult things from your life. It won’t.

    So if you recognize yourself in these descriptions do not throw the rest of your life away pursuing something so fickle. There are many other more dignified/more worthy pursuits outthere.

    Turn around and never look back.

    Academia also plays by the same rules as the greater society — they may just be more cunning about it. They don’t give a shit about you. There’s no “life of the mind”. There’s business as usual: egoism, careerism, nepotism, ageism, classism, politics, gossip, backstabbing, prejudice, snobbery, fluff, etc. etc.

    Turn around. And never look back.

  69. Dear Ken & Joy,

    Thank-you for the insightful comments! It definitely helps ease the twinge of pain I still feel about the rejection, but makes me hopeful, in case I have to apply again next year. Thank-you again for the sound advice and direction regarding your own PhD/MA experiences.

  70. I’m 26, just got rejected from a PhD program, applied to another Master’s program as well, waiting for the results. Because I work full-time, and have consistently decided to apply last minute to these programs I feel my applications haven’t been as strong as they could have. I’m turning 27 this year, if I don’t get into any programs I’m already getting anxiety about applying again/potentially entering a grad program at 28…age is definitely a reality I didn’t consider a few years ago, until a PhD friend of mine recently told me not to wait to apply as the reaction to older grad students is a little non-accepting. Fingers crossed that the other application goes okay, I really don’t want to wait to start school again…

    1. Zoe,

      I completed my Master’s Degree at 46 after basically failing at it when I was 25. This is due to selecting the correct major as well as your maturity level I admit, I was reluctant to go back to school 20 years after my BA, but I am so happy that I did.
      I am not sure about the older grad students comment. I felt far ahead of the younger students because I had real life experiences. Also, they respected the fact that maybe I had learned a thing or two in 20 years.
      If you are doing it for a specific job or field, they may have prejudice, but individuals and schools do not seem to.

      1. I agree with Ken. I started my accelerated PhD at 53, graduating at 56 (this year). I received a full fellowship and full salary and many very low interest or forgiven loans. My cohort of 6 ranged from ages 32 to 53! I don’t plan on retiring!

  71. I finished my BSc. in physics 8 years ago and my MSc. in Space Eng. 3 years ago. I work as a flight dynamics engineer and soon i’ll get promoted, however, I miss my physics lectures, my physics background and I was thinking to apply for a part-time PhD in theoretical physics.

    In 2 years I’ll be 40 and honestly, I’ll do my PhD just to have fun (yeah… fun) and because I love physics. I don’t think I’ll get any troubles to apply with my background and I don’t think as well I’ll have problems with my age… What if I finish my PhD at my 50’s? Still I have 30 years to give something to the community.


  72. This comment is for Carole. I hope you finish your PhD and I wish you all the luck in the world. It is a tough go, but if you want it bad enough you will do it. There are so many hoops to jump through, I can’t even remember all of them. But, you have my best wishes and as I said in my first comment — Go for it!

    1. Liz, thank you so much for encouragement and the reminder that it is certainly going to take a lot of determination to finish. I will finish my course work next year and then on the the dissertation.
      I must admit that I am finding the process both challenging and requiring adaptation in study habits. I can almost remember when I had short term memory, unfortunately I no longer have it. This has been and continues to evolve my note taking and info filing strategies. I haven’t solved the issue yet but continue to engage the process. Reading for more than an hour at a time is impossible but that just means I get to take more breaks.
      I must be clear though, this is the most fun I have had in decades..I wouldn’t give it up for anything. I do suppose that a lot depends upon the program you are in and the passion you bring to the project.
      Thanks for your good wishes, my I offer mine in return for you in whatever passion you are following.

  73. I have a young friend who gave up a good job — a high salary — to start her PhD. One year into it, she decided that she hated academia. Fortunately, she got her old job back. My advice to starting a PhD at any age (and I started mine very late in life) is to realistically balance living in the present with planning for the future. Where do you see yourself in five years — in 10 years? Do you think it is feasible and do you like what you see? What will you be sacrificing? If you are a woman, you may be sacrificing a lot. You must search carefully your own values.

  74. Thanks for the feedback!

    I should have mentioned that since I only worked for a few years in the government (5 years vesting period), my pension will be around $500/month (w/increase for inflation).

    Is $500/month in today’s dollars worth me waiting a year and deferring my PhD program?

    Brown is the program that I would want to go to, because of its focus on development studies/globalization. University of Hawaii does not compare.

    1. If you heart is set on Brown, you are young enough to “go for it.” Just check out your options that you are confident you can get a good job like your current one when you finish your PhD.

  75. Thanks for the feedback!

    I should have mentioned that since I only worked for a few years in the government (5 years vesting period), my pension will be around $500/month (w/increase for inflation).

    Is $500/month in today’s dollars worth me waiting a year and deferring my PhD program?

  76. Hello! I love this blog.

    I am at a difficult decision.

    I am 28 years old, and got accepted into the Brown Sociology PhD program with full funding, excellent advisors, etc.

    I currently work for the government in Hawaii and if I wait one more year in my current job, I will be “vested” into the pension system and get a government pension when I retire.

    I am so excited about the PhD that I do not want to defer. (Brown allows you to defer for a year). But I wonder if I should wait for financial reasons (plus, I earn close to a six figure salary in my current job which doesn’t hurt building my savings).

    If I wait a year, I will start the program when I am about to turn 30.

    Not sure if that is too old?!

    1. Sabrina,

      You are only 28 years old. I will be 47 tomorrow and I just received my MA last April 2015. I understand that a PhD is important to you, but if you keep your current job and invest wisely you will be set for life before you are my age. You may not have full funding through a university, but you will have a fuller pension. Especially if you will be vested in a year earning six figures and not even 30 years old. Check out PhD programs in Hawaii. So, you do not go full-time, you will still have a PhD before you are 40 and you will not be hurting for money.

  77. I was in a Ph.D. program that I start at the age of 40 and finished all my course work successfully. I was sidetracked by being misdiagnosed as being terminally ill. Now I am 58-year-old single parent with a chronically ill child. I have done some major things – I have been recognized by a CEO of a major fortune 500 organization. I miss the mental stimulation of the Ph.D. program and my Ph.D. colleagues. I still long for the Ph.D. but I think the door has closed.

    1. Go for it! It will take a lot of time but the rewards are immense both intellectually and socially. I am 71, in my second year of a PhD program in transdisciplinarity, and I love it. You have my best wishes.

  78. I find it surprising that 60-80 hour weeks are required to train an anthropologist. Even in medicine, we are questioning if the grueling hours produce better doctors or just more tired ones. I think in the clinical sciences this is accepted as part of the socialization process that readies you for the great responsibilities you must take on. I suppose your professors are trying to achieve the same thing without having reflected on the effect of overwork on student performance. Maybe your student cohort should share with them the findings from the medical literature about this.

    I disagree that self-education is possible if research is your primary goal. The resources and networking that a university provides cannot be found elsewhere. As someone making a late life career switch from family medicine to environmental sciences, I naively thought I could show up and be embraced. Now I am studying for the GRE and taking graduate classes in ecology to prove I am worthy of a research doctorate.

    I don’t expect to make a living from a Phd but I do hope to find an intellectually stimulating community of like-minded scholars. Does such a thing exist in academia or is it just brutal competition and one-upmanship? If one is not seeking a traditional academic career is age-discrimination less prominent?

  79. A very interesting post that I could address from the other side of the coin. I’m 26 right now and I’m in the second year of a PhD program in Anthropology (in the US). For myself personally, I couldn’t envision taking all of this on in my later years, particularly if I had children. I think that if you’re going to go back, you have to consider how much of a time commitment is involved and what you are willing to invest. During my first year, I had to work 60 to 80 hour weeks and I had a hell of a time. I did this side by side with a woman who entered the program in her late forties with a child. She was an incredible student but just could not keep up with the huge amount of things that we had to do to stay afloat. She had a life outside of school, which seems to be a “cardinal sin” from the perspective of academia. To me, this is shameful.

    Beyond this, I would also consider if you are able to take a large pay cut. My tuition is covered, but my stipend is only about 15K a year. I live in a rural area that offers affordable housing and I commute to campus. My lifestyle is not glamorous and I go without a lot of the time.

    Perhaps this is just my perspective from the social sciences, but these were my honest reflections. I completely respect anyone over 35 who wants to go back, but I also know the challenges that await them, particularly the various degrees of discrimination that I have witnessed. At times, even I have been made to feel “older” at 26! Crazy, right?

    I also believe that a PhD is not an end all be all in terms of education. You could still feasibly educate yourself at any age without formally enrolling into a academy. There are a lot of different ways to learn that don’t necessary fit neatly into this one, tiny little box.

  80. Started mine in the social sciences at 27 and finished at 32 (1983). Through poor planning had done no networking and my field was not doing well in the job market anyway. Did get a government job for a year but was kicked out (too liberal in a very conservative state) and then had years of unemployment/minimum wage work. Finally got on a tenure track at a small university, but guess I’m a slower learner–thought schools wanted open discussion of topics outside the (conservative) students’ comfort zone (and the chair liked Nixon too). At this point I discovered that a bad work history, being in one’s late 30s, and having an obsolete Ph.D. (+2 masters’) in a dead field was not a ticket to success. After 7 awful years ended at a for-profit for 23 more. At least it was teaching and nobody gave a damn what I said. The place was finally put out of its misery after 1 lawsuit too many. Moral is to pick your field carefully, plan your career, expect the unexpected, and don’t diddle around. Yes tenure track academia is a dying option, but older Ph.D.s can certainly make it in some fields, and you’ll have the fun and sense of achievement of doing it. But know what you are getting in to. And try to get some practical experience too; if you want to teach know how before you get up in front of a class. If you expect to work with other people understand something about group dynamics and socialization–some folks get this intuitively but as a group I think doctorate holders find these areas more difficult. Give yourself every advantage possible.

  81. I am over over 50 and just now finishing my PhD. And, I have a job teaching — a good job. it is never too late. I have a friend of mine who started a PhD over the age of 70. He is very bright and everyone loves him and he is not looked down upon. Another woman I know received her law degree at 84. She will not use it — but then again, as long as she wanted it and paid for it, who cares. If you love the process and love learning — go for it

  82. Hi there, very interesting comments. One question: can someone share experiences of late started (>40 years old) phd in scientific disciplines like applied physics or math?

  83. If someone has a dream to attain the highest level of education then age should not matter. The legacy left behind is what matters. If someone is healthy and intelligent with the passion to work towards a PhD then no one should stand in their way! My motto is that it’s never too late to educate!

  84. Hi all, I’m 49 years and am considering a Phd in Accounting. Having spent over 20 years in public accounting and industry, and having a law degree as well, I realize that I have a passion for teaching and research. I was doubting myself whether I should pursue the Phd, but having read your posts, I’m going for it! Thanks for the encouragement!

  85. It is true that the earlier you start, the better! But for many of us, the PhD wasn’t on our radar in our 20s. I know that after I finished my Master’s degree in my mid-20s, I wanted to make my mark in the professional world, which I like to think I did. At 40, with the satisfaction of senior level work experience and some earnings under my belt, I returned to academia for the PhD. I’ve loved it. Fortunately, I don’t feel isolated in my program at all. We have folks in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s, though the majority are probably late 20s or early 30s. There is one individual who is over 50, and this person is an incredible scholar, in addition to being a highly valued member of our cohort. We also have some incredibly smart and prolific twenty-somethings. The bottom line is that once you enter the graduate seminar, or the research conference, or the publication process, you are all equals. That said, it takes a few years to figure things out. Older students have less time to waste. They need to hit the ground running HARD from day one. However, for those of us who have endured the hectic life a management job (or whatever else) the opportunity to study deep theory or conduct meaningful research is an absolute dream — and the politics of academia are often no worse than any other job.

    As for the post-PhD job market, be open to any and all outcomes. An academic career might be ideal, but a PhD also lends itself well to a number of high-level positions in industry and government. So — provided that you can afford the drop in income during the time it takes to earn the degree, AND provided that you have the support of your immediate family, AND assuming that you have the pedigree, grades and CV to be accepted into a program or several — just go for it!

  86. It is never too late for learning. I am 40, and I just started my Ph.D., and love it. Also, you mentioned that faculty people may get wondering if it’s “too late” for contributing to the body of knowledge. It isn’t because we are living approximately 90 years, and so we still have plenty of times ahead to contribute. Don’t you think that life becomes boring if we continue the same path for so many years! So, cheers to everyone who wants to start a Ph.D. at any age

  87. I am 57 and will be submitting my final thesis next week. I joined for the PhD programme after clearing an entrance test five years ago along with 25 year olds. It has been a learning experience . My 29 years of experience in the corporate world gave me contacts and insights which gave me an edge for my depth interviews (mine was a mixed methods research in social sciences) . Financially it has not been a burden as I was a full time faculty. I had registered as a part time scholar. I have since left my teaching job for personal reasons but plan to reenter after a year’s sabbatical when I also hope to complete the PhD process. I am optimistic. The 5 years has been very challenging and required a fine balancing between teaching and research . I recommend it to anyone interested in an intellectual stimulating life . I presented papers at conferences, got papers published, the works ! Very very different from a corporate world !

  88. Dear All

    I have a DBA, but found this was not fully appreciated by my colleagues who has a PhD or the institute I worked, so at the young and tender age of 44 years old, married for 12 years and have a bouncing boy of 2 years old, I am going to start my PhD in Management with a UK university via distance learning and will probably graduate 5 years later in 2020, but what the heck, I will still have 15 years left of the working life before retirement and should be able to recuperate the funds I will be spending on the PhD. But for me its the achievement that when I complete the PhD, I will have two doctorates to my name and a HERO to myself:). So all those who have written the posts above and in my age bracket, its true you never too old to learn and the more I learn the less I know. All the posts has inspired me to want to move ahead with the PhD and lets see about all those who posted this year and in the early or later years, how they are doing when they have completed their studies…Good Luck all and once again thank you for INSPIRING and MOTIVATING to want to continue.

    1. Don:
      That is wonderful! I will be 56 next year when I graduate with my PhD in nursing. I don’t plan to retire, I figure that as long as my mind works I will work. I am guaranteed a tenure track position upon graduation and if I want to work hard I can obtain tenure by my 65th birthday. I can also develop my own consulting firm and then maybe only work at the university 9 months out of the year! With the world being so unstable I don’t trust retirement accounts so might as well do something that you can do in your golden years and get respectable pay and great benefits! Remember, we are living long and healthier than ever before and academia keeps your mind sharp!

  89. I will be turning 40 next month. I completed my under graduate in 1996. After working in different support level jobs for 19 years, I have decided to pursue a regular post graduate programme (MBA) followed by Ph.D to try my luck in teaching/research. I will be 46 at the time of receiving my Ph.D. I too was concerned about my age. I felt I would be too old for a teaching job at 46. After reading the posts of many people here, I am confident that passion and hard work will give us the desired results and age will only be a number. Thanks to all those who have inspired me!


  90. Im 37 and had cold feet about taking on a PHD. For all the right Reasons, wanting to contribute to Science. I went ahead.
    After reading the many of comments posted i feel uplifted. There is room for success and room for failure.
    Thus far on my road to a PHD i have found my most useful asset has been my socialism skills.
    Forget my shiny white beard, my class mates enjoy listening to my many life stories.. Zero age discrimination (thus far!)
    I’ll be doing my PHD with total confidence of a fruitful long career.

  91. I guess I am getting a mixed feeling from reading everything – but more positive rather than negative.

    I do think older students can bring a lot to the program – I hope all adcom will give ignore the age factor.

    I am just starting the PhD journey myself….and I am old also older than then the average PhD students..

  92. I am 38 and wondering if I am too old to start a PhD – but then someone told me of a woman of 86 who is very proud to have just got hers. I reckon if you want to do something just do it! Don’t get hung up on age.

  93. Wow.

    You are some of the most self-absorbed people I’ve ever read comments from.

    Go study. Study to learn, not to get your PhD. Help other people just for the sake of helping them. Stop being so self-important.

  94. Apparently there are scholarships specifically for elders. I can’t find me source right now but I will look and post later if I can find it.

  95. I’ve just read the majority of the posts, they are all so inspiring, and I’m 47 YOUNG and going for it!! Thank you all.

    1. Think my real question, in all of this, actually is: does age matter in terms of getting a FUNDED PhD? It is evident that it doesn’t necessarily count much in terms of doing a PhD you can fund yourself, luckily.. but is it the same with funded PhDs? I wanna hope that what counts the most in the decision is your academic value/research potential but.. I do wanna know from you lot. I don’t think I’ll start a PhD before 34/35 years old

      1. Depending upon your circumstances you are eligible for a student loan and there are scholarships out there as well. You just have to hunt for them. Good luck

      2. Yes, absolutely… I was just wondering whether age is often an eligibility criterium for those scholarships/funds. It often doesn’t seem to be but you know.. Fear, psychosis and all, haha

    2. Age was NEVER a factor for me. I received a full fellowship, $ 60,000/yr for 3 yrs (under contract to complete the PhD in 3 years plus have to teach at a gulf coast 4 yr nursing school for 3 years) plus last year I received a $ 20,000 Jonas scholarship plus nurse teacher loans that are 80% forgiven! In admission interviews, scholarship talks etc. age was never mentioned, it didn’t matter. We have professors in their 80’s still teaching and doing seminal research! I will be 56 when I graduate next year! Doing my candidacy exam this summer!

  96. As a 48 year old preparing for admission to a PhD program I find this post and comments inspiring. But what is the best strategy for admission in middle age? I am torn between applying now to a low-residency PhD at Antioch university that is not a good fit for my research interests but where I could continue to work or wait another year , get my government pension and apply to traditional programs where my interests are allied with the program. I feel like one year makes a difference when you are starting at my age and am tempted to do a program that while not very prestigious will allow me to make to keep job at least initially.

    Also, I will not need funding of any kind. Can I say that up front in my statement? I don’t want any school to think that I will burden the budget.

  97. I came on the internet looking for some kind of reassurance I wasn’t too old for a PhD, I was doubting myself, but thank you to the older people who have posted , who are doing theirs, gives me the courage to do mine, thank you

  98. I am 46 and am finishing my Master’s Degree tomorrow. It will not be official until 15 May 2015. I received a BA in English on 15 May 1992 at 23 and 23 years later my Master’s. I did much better this time for many reasons, mostly because I wanted to do well. I am graduating with honors. I want a Ph.D. for the accomplishment, but I would also like another career. The nice thing is that I will have another retirement coming so there is not the same pressure. I plan on taking it slow and ten years is fine with me. I even plan to take a short break of up to two years before I start.

  99. I’m 43 and I can tell you from experience that age is discriminated against. I’ve been applying for a long time and have an excellent research track. This year the department where I work (at a top tier university) admitted my intern from last year for the exact same PhD student position as I was applying for. The only difference in qualification was age.

  100. Do it now, Vandu, there is a very real difference between 60 and my surprise. But no matter when, if you still feel deeply curious and are drawn to it then do it. We need more ‘older’ students to bring our perspective to the evolution of thought.

  101. Here’s the bottom line: YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE!!! So, if you still want a doctoral degree and are “older”, SO WHAT?!?! Do it anyways! There’s no cap to learning and growing!!

  102. This last bit by Carole sounds encouraging. I am just past sixty and contemplating starting a PhD programme. I think it’s worthwhile.

  103. I just started my PhD program last year and am now 70 years old. I received my masters in 1971, so it has been a while since I have participated in academia. Thus far it has been a daunting, terrifying, exciting and reaffirming experience. I would love to contact anyone else my age who is going through this process. I still have high hopes of finishing and publishing.

  104. I started mine aged 44 at what would be described as one of Britain’s best universities. I’m now halfway through. My topic relates strongly to the career that I spent 20 years and I’ve been able to draw on a lot of experience. I’m financially independent so have been able to fund myself. The overwhelming positive has been the intellectual stimulation. I’ve truly found it a journey of the mind. An incredible experience. Assuming I pass I’ll really feel that I’ve earned it. But….there have been a lot of things that I’ve struggled with. Universities are extremely hierarchical and as a humble student I’ve often found myself in meetings where I could actually contribute far more than I do, but I don’t want to tread on the Prof’s toes. I’ve also found far more patch protection than I am used to. I’m used to working in teams and academics don’t seem to be that way inclined. It’s also hard to deal with egos – naturally I’m not as subserviant as a 20 year old would be, expecially in the case where the person is my age or younger. Graduate students are expected to be extremely reverential and that’s not easy approaching 50. Also I’m not willing to be ‘dumped on’ in terms of being given work; the younger ones put up with it as they’re trying to forge a career. But the hardest thing has been the hostility from some of the PhD students in their 20s….they’ve not been that friendly…the older PhD students on the other hand have been great. As to what I’m going to do with the degree if I get it? Truth is I don’t know but I suspect I won’t remain in academia. I also suspect finding a job in academia would be hard. For all the noise about welcoming older people it is a conservative industry.

    I’d say ‘go for it’. It’s a good experience and you learn humility too which can never hurt. And….conversely….I heard the other day that a 24 year old had finished her doctorate in record time and my reaction was…. how can a kid that age have any wisdom…. it is supposed to be a philosophy degree after all. So turn the question around….when are you too young? I think you get much more from it when you’re older. But be aware of some of the emotional challenges.

  105. I am so happy and inspired by reading all those articles in which people have entered in Ph.D program late in life. I am 47 and want to start my Ph.D. I was hesitant to even think about it due to my age, but now i am confident about joining the program if i get accepted.

  106. I began mine at 53, will finish at 56 and I was the first one accepted into an elite program with only 6 available seats. This is a second career for me and it totally opposite my first. I received a full fellowship of $ 60,000/year with additional $ 20,000’s in scholarships. I am obligated to teach for 3 years and after that I can do what I want and either stay in academia or go into industry. I am finding that being older is an advantage. My current PhD will be in nursing, my prior career was in international business with an MBA so go figure!

    1. You’re lucky and blessed Gioia! Keep the luck and blessing enhanced by redistributing knowledge and understanding – it helps to grease the wheels that make the world rotate with less frictions..

      1. I plan to Henri and thank you for the encouragement! Will be graduating Aug 2016, must complete in 3 years, its part of the contract!

  107. Dear I have completed my bachelor degree(I have no study gap but we have completed our 4 years hons course in 6 year and 1 years masters course in 2.5 years due to our university session concession) when I was 27……I am now near 30 just finished my course based master degree but no job experience yet and I am going to do second research master degree(3 years master program in China) with scholarship in medical image processing and after finished my second masters I have desired to do PhD in Medical imaging and I am so disappoint about my carrier because I will be too old if I do begin my PhD and my frustration is I have no job experience yet and going to be older……..when I will finished my PhD my age will be then 36 or 37…..Is this too old for Academia without job experience?

  108. I am in late 40’s and considering PhD in Computer Science/IT Business Management. It seems that only feasible option for me at this point is online PhD. What are your opinions on credibility and quality of online programs. By the way, my goals are mainly educational, progressing the field and have somewhat a competitive edge in otherwise relatively successful career. Of course, I would like an opportunity to teach in the future, but that is a “nicety” not a primary goal. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  109. Hello. I think I read this post sometime back and came across it again when Googling today: Is it too late to pursue a PhD in your 40s? I started college a little over four years ago to pursue a long time passion, evolutionary anthropology/archaeology. I’m now 42, my bachelors requirements fulfilled. I have driven many professors crazy asking all sorts of questions regarding pursuing a PhD as an adult in your 40s, therefore I think I can contribute a little to this post.

    I literally started out by walking to the nearest college thinking you can just stay until you’ve reached a PhD. That’s not the case. I discovered that graduate programs aren’t keen in taking their own undergraduates. It can happen, but you would have to really “wow” a professor and/or did some outstanding research. So of course, one would have to look at other graduate programs. This is where it may be problematic for some, because it literally means packing up and moving to a distant state/country. In a sense, you are re-establishing your life from square one.

    I think it REALLY matters what type of PhD program you are pursuing. I think that the more advanced a PhD program is (biochemistry engineering, medical, etc), it will become more difficult for an older student. However, not saying it cannot be done.

    There are advantages to being an older student and many professors also remarked the same thing: older students tend to be more serious, mature, less-partying, more focused, and most importantly, have a mission in mind. One professor mentioned an older “successful” student, who came in, funded his own research, and did a stellar job.

    The best advice that I can dispense is 1. in whatever you are doing, do WELL, 2. ask your professors if you can help them in any of their research, 3. do a senior honors thesis (if in your undergrad years), 4. accumulate as much experience doing internships (whether paid/unpaid, a week or 2 months), 5. KNOW WHAT YOU WANT TO DO!! This is probably number 1!! Don’t just pursue a PhD because you want to be ‘distinguished,’ know what you want to do and why 6. Understand that this will consume lots of time and you won’t be living luxuriously (unless you have a healthy bank account). 7. My professors have all said one universal thing, grad school is not about grades, but about how well you can get along. I have slowly discovered this fact to be true.If you are an introvert, or don’t have people skills, consider brushing up social interaction techniques. 8. A lot of where you go in your graduate studies is not really about grades, but who you know and how well you get along with others. 9. Accrue as much field work (if applicable in your field) as you can. In my case, I volunteered for months doing archaeological work. 10. Research. A big factor faculty look at is what research have you done. This can be accomplished by doing an honors thesis, asking a professor to volunteer in their lab, etc.

    You ultimately want to create a CV that you will tack on all experiences, all research, all internships, all fieldwork, etc -everything that you can add on to show that you are serious and experienced. Many professors admit to me that they look through stacks of applications from students with good grades and/or good universities, but what they look for is experience and what research, what skills, what have they done with their time. You’ll want to authentically paint yourself as the best possible applicant.

    Oh, GREs. This seems to be of importance when applying to gradschool. Most require them. It is important you do well on them (it’s like an SAT but for gradschool). Again, professors stated that although they look at GREs, what is more important is what you bring to the table (see above).

    Originally started out with extreme joy pursuing a BS in the last four years, but I must admit, I feel a bit uncertain. I have met many PhD and other grad students who are literally living on the edge. Meaning getting by with bare minimum: tiny apartment with just a bed/books, ramen noodles, etc. Some are lucky to have great parents. Some aren’t. I myself have sacrificed lots of things and live sort of on the edge. It is no joke going fulltime, doing lab research, and volunteering your time to accrue experience. Keep this in mind.

    I have met some older students who are military veterans that use their GI Bill to fund their studies. Some are single parents. You must know what you want to do and why. Professors have told me that some students come but don’t really have a passion for what they are doing. You get a certain amount of time to complete a PhD (I think 7yrs max for my university). You can get kicked out of the program if you have produced nothing. Keep this in mind.

    If you are pursuing a Phd/Grad in something else, do your best to fuse your talents and/or past experience into the new. Example, I met a former IT guy who also pursued archaeology and he used his tech skills in archaeology by creating a remote archaeological lab, archaeological scanning utility, a database, and other cool stuff. People really look for this.

    Hope my tidbits are useful.

  110. I could have agreed intoto with you if not that the world out there does not admit a perfect Prince simply because the real world is full of imperfections, once said Nichole Machiavelle. It is a capitalist world that demands results and profit, leaving many if not all without lovelier options. Under this circumstance, doing PhD at retirement seems more suitable for learning with love and for the sake of love than learning under materialist pressures.

  111. I say it is never too old to study for a PhD. Of course, it depends on the reason you want it. However, I do feel the world of learning has moved too much towards “vocational” qualifications and away from learning for the love of learning. I love learning. I would love the challenge and the discipline in taking a PhD purely for the pleasure of learning when I retire.However, looking at the comments here, it would appear I will need to return to my home country (UK) to get the best opportunity and the best experience. (I do not like the sound of the way the Americans organise these courses). A friend of mine took his PhD through a University in Wales (UK) upon retiring at the age of 70 – the fees were a retirement gift from his colleagues. he loved it, and did extremely well. People who are continually excited to learn are very good for society, and a great example to their children and grandchildren. Indeed, it is a shame that our curiosity as children is so quickly corrupted into learning for results and profit.

  112. When I got my MS at 52, many suggested I’d make a good college professor. It’s very hard to do that with just an MS, and the length of time to get the PhD would leave me at 57 – 59, hardly enough time to find work for any reasonable length of time (20+ years would bring me to almost 80). Not saying I couldn’t do it intellectually, but with two kids in college that would give my family 3 people of 4 not working and trying to pay for undergrad and grad school for several years. If it was only me, I’d probably go for it, since my thought processes work best in academia… but my family has to count for something.

    Nice article, though; thanks for sharing your opinion.

  113. As a 64 year old returning to the job market after many years raising my children whom I had later in life, I found that I needed an advanced degree to re-enter with ANY hope of getting a job. Degree inflation is real. A BA no longer cuts it. It really wasn’t that difficult getting back into the swing of school (not having children at home made it much easier), but I really don’t think that I want to spend the additional 4-6 years getting a PhD.

  114. I started my PhD (Kinesiology) at age 30. I am almost 32 now. It’s very hard.

    The most important advice comes after answering 1 simple question:

    Do you have what it takes to complete a PhD?

    If you think you do, and you KNOW it’s right for you, do it. If you hesitate, or think that maybe you won’t finish, or that you are not smart enough, or you just deep down on the inside don’t think you have what it takes, don’t do it.

  115. This a very usefull and thoughtfull post, and I personally thank you for it since I am exactly 28 and I am thinking about applying for a PhD.

    I have some complementary thoughts though, regarding an applicant context and nationality. For instance, I am from Nicaragua, and here not many people have the opportunity to study graduate programs, and those who do are either very very previledged young people (meaning a 1%) or are professionals over 30 yearsold, who have develop a special interest in research and academia (which is pretty rare here, believe me), especially in the field of Humanities (including Economics and Political Sciences).

    So, there are two options for these people: (1) apply for a scholarship abroad, either in the US, Europe, or any country worldwide that offered funding; or (2) do a PhD here (at home) which follows a completely different logic, since it is not fulltime, not even part time. Here, PhDs are done by meeting twice a month or during weekends, so PhD candidates can work and pay attention to their family and domestic obligations. My guess is that responds to a large demand of 40+ years old university professors and private sector proffesionals who did not get any graduate degrees before (cause it wasn’t necessary workwise) but now see it as important.

    In my particular case, I did my bachelors in Canada (International Development Studies and Anthropology) but I always knew I wanted to work and live home. During the past years I have done research and taught at three Universities. This helped me get a better understading of what I wanted to do for my graduate studies. However, I want to do it abroad, since I like the academic logic of US and European academias.

    So I feel I am in the middle of two very different academic worlds (kind of north vs south) with different admissions requirements and working logics. Therefore I wonder if the suggestions and thoughts you express about PhD applications apply equally to international applicants, especially those from the global south (it can pass as a Development topic too hehehe).

    My guess is that I might be equally evaluated by Admisions committees as locals, this might include considerations about my age, and of course my carreer path so far, just as you highlight. But I also hope that there are some considerations about my context too, and its particular circumstances.

    I would like to know if other Internationa Applicants relate to this situation, or is it just Central American.

    Thank you again, and I hope to hear if you have any futher thoughts.

    HAPPY 2015 :)

  116. I started my PhD at 30 but had to immediately take a leave of absence when I was diagnosed with breast cancer about a month after starting classes. One advantage of starting later was the time to fully consider and explore my career choices, as well as what getting a PhD would mean for those choices. It also meant that I had the opportunity to live abroad and travel extensively for several years. The two biggest challenges, however, have been health issues and children. Although 30 is extremely young to be diagnosed with breast cancer, the older you are, the greater the chances of having a serious medical issue. Unfortunately there is no concept of “medical leave” at most graduate programs, and complications due to my lengthy absence almost forced me out of the program. As for children, due to my age it simply wasn’t an option to wait until getting a job or tenure. Not only do graduate programs typically not offer “medical leave,” but there is no option for “maternity leave” as well. The clock to complete the program on time and in good standing doesn’t pause for these life issues either. I don’t regret the age I began my PhD, but the lack of medical and maternity options do make it harder for older students.

  117. I took a variety of PhD level courses at Harvard econ as a special student on leave from UK Treasury aged 25 but kept asking myself whether any of it would be useful in the policy world so I went back to policy work. 10 years later I was finally ready. I knew exactly what I wanted to do my thesis on, had all the data from my work at the IMF and was lucky to find a loophole in the UK system which meant I did not have to retake the course work I had done for my masters. I wrote my thesis on a 9 month leave from IMF. My PhD has proved useful in my current job but I never wanted to be an academic (see my blog on academic vs policy work

  118. I started mine at 37 and finished at 42. I’d say age is the last thing you should worry about.

    The best bit of advice I got before going for the PhD was this: getting a PhD is like getting married – you have to love the subject. If you like the subject, it’s going to be a living hell. If you love the subject, it just might work out.

  119. I’m tempted to counter, when are you too young? I started my PhD at 46, and hope to complete by the time I am 50 (ambitious but feasible because I am not starting from scratch). I sit in classes with some very young souls – all smart and curious but with so much experience still to acquire to help them understand what matters and what doesn’t. I also have to note that the majority of grad students I meet are on a scale of somewhat to very dissatisfied – no one finds a PhD easy, but do so many have to find it so hard? I think a bit more life experience would help put the agony into perspective. Though of course, there may be selection bias at work, too. It is a very (very) small subset of the population that embarks on a PhD in the first place.

    The PhD in mid-career was a personal decision – intellectual curiosity, dissatisfaction with the policy loops I observed (and the dialogue of the deaf among the ministries/disciplines/constituencies that I wanted to break out of), living in a new place and needing an intellectual community, a desire for new career challenges after 20 very satisfying years in mostly NGO-based policy work. I do not find it easy, and have had to adjust my self-image as “good at school” (with kids and a long commute, as well as a few continuing professional obligations, I don’t have all the hours in the day most students have and I am not as focused either). Yet I have found it tremendously satisfying to be able to read, think, and argue about ideas without having to jump immediately to the policy-relevance, or the campaign design, or the funding proposal. It’s precious not to have to do something about everything you touch upon, but just to think about the issue for a while. Which is something I can appreciate from my vantage point, but that my younger colleagues, who have yet to experience the applied policy world, can find frustrating.

    Like another commentator, I have found it easy to get funding, too – I cannot tick all the boxes required, but I do know how to write a proposal. And I know a lot about how what I investigate could make a difference. The big test will come this year and next – can I design and implement research to create new knowledge? I am looking forward to the challenge.

    And after? I think I could probably get an academic post, but probably not in a traditional department in a traditional school – I am doing an inter-disciplinary degree, so age is not the only thing against me (nor the biggest). But there are lots and lots of kinds of jobs out there, and I didn’t start on this to become a professor anyway, wonderful as aspects of that life are. I wanted to learn how to learn in a more informed way, I wanted time to read and consider other perspectives, and a chance to ask a lot of questions. There simply is no age at which such a project could not have value, and no age at which such skills won’t be relevant to what comes next.

  120. I finished a Ph.D at the age of 37. When I returned from an eight year assignment with FAO and the Dutch government in Nicaragua and had a valuable experience to report on, lots of data collected in research during action and in action and theoretical reflections that contributed to the theories of economic development and the role of agricultural producers.

    Those to elements, experience and new contributions to theory are the two important elements that make a Ph.D study a valuable one and it takes more years of research and thinking. Therefore good Ph.Ds are produced by elder persons.

    I do not think the argument for a Ph.D and the moment to produce it should be measured by the career opportunities of the student. The state of the Art and the possibilities to contribute to its progress is the only relevant measurement.

  121. I started my PhD in architecture at 57 and finished at 63. Might have been slowing down a little….. To be honest, I’ve not really looked for work afterwards – just took up my supervisor’s offer of temporary contracts as a research associate. May be assistant supervisor to a new PhD student soon.

  122. At age 37, I went back full-time to the same university I dropped out of 18 years earlier (Penn State). Got two BA degrees at age 42 and more than one funded Masters degree offer; dropped out of the first one (Pepperdine) and graduated from the second one (Indiana) at age 48 with an MS. Had more than one offer and went into a fully-funded PhD program at 49 (Clemson), got the degree at 53 and during that time traveled to three continents and over 15 countries presenting research.

    Challenges as a returning adult are real but so are the opportunities. I definitely have gotten age discrimination since getting the PhD but am fortunate to have also had amazing opportunities including visiting assistant professorships and teaching in renown graduate programs. I’ve taught at Johns Hopkins, been hired by NYU, and currently teach online with a university, and am on faculty at an ivy-league college.

    Tenure-track doesn’t have much draw at this age apart from the obvious stability earning it. I’m far more interesting in grants (NSF grants are mostly awarded to older candidates) and collaboration (authoring and editing books), as well as keeping my research interests alive while teaching. My experience, while not typical, leaves me to believe the better question posed by this forum would be, “When are you too young for a PhD?” And my answer would be when you choose to go into a PhD program before you’ve lived your life to its fullest outside of academe.

    We’re all different. Most worthwhile programs have admissions committees that encourage diversity and if your GPA, GREs, and entrance essay are attractive and compelling, they are not going to refuse you admission for a higher degree just because of your age. I once had an administrator at Penn State tell me the best higher degree programs don’t want you if you are over 35 because you are not malleable (I was 38 at the time). As with everything in life, you don’t let others pee on your parade but let their negativity be impetus to push you to prove them wrong.

  123. Hi! Sorry for the intromission, I’ve read your posts with great interest, because I’d want to start a PhD too. I’m 24 yrs old, I’m italian and I’m up to graduate here in Italy. I know I have to pass lots of exams in order to get admitted (and I’m sorely aware that I have to improve my english before XD). I hope I’ll have a chance since I’d want to join a PhD in Italian Studies, but I think it’ll take a bit long until I’ll be ready to put in for admission. Maybe I’ll be 27 until then. Will I be too old to start as a foreign student? And what do you suggest me to do, in the meantime, in order to get more chances? What kind of experiences are most valuable and considered?
    Thanks you for the attention :D

    1. 27 is a perfectly normal age at which to atart a PhD, why on earth should that be late??? As you might have realised from the answers, plenty of people start it even later. Personally, I am not in favour of starting it too early, as one tends to know less what one wants, but that’s just my opinion. Maybe doing a master abroad would help you figure out more about research aims and would improve your academic english. As for requirements… apart from language, all you really need to gain access to a PhD is a good academic career… and a well-written research project a professor might be interested in supervising and working on later with you. You might have zero work experience and still be a very suitable PhD candidate. Many I know followed that path, in fact.

  124. @BrandPhD
    Hello, it was a pleasure to read your post. I am 31 and thinking to “go back to school” after 6 years in the industry, but I am a bit scared about the financial part of it. I mean, at the moment I have a very good income and I don’t know if I would manage to support my current lifestyle (rent, car, private pension, etc) as a full-time student.
    If I decide to keep my job and try for a part-time PhD, then I’m afraid that I will be stuck every day with either my job or my PhD research and neglect my wife (we are hoping to have children soon as well).
    I just don’t want to take a selfish decision, but in the same time I really feel that I could do more.

    1. Dan
      Take the issue up with your wife by discussing frankly about it.The more she embarks on the project with you, the better. That is, table it down as something good not just for you but the family building. The idea that it implies collective improvement with collective sacrifice is worth noting.

  125. Hi there,

    Great reading this thread and some really inspiring posts.

    I started my PhD in marketing in my late 30s. I will be 43 when I finish. I am doing the PhD part-time – a luxury as I am able to work and have a respectable income while pursuing my academic goals. It is not for the faint of heart and it’s definitely not easy. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve woken up on a Saturday morning looking for that weekend’s motivation to work. One has to have a strong, inner motivation to proceed and finish (not unlike what full-time students feel – just exacerbated).
    I too was worried when I first started that my age would be a factor. Honestly, it’s not and no one cares. There are quite a few students who are quite a bit older than me in my business school. I’ve also attended conferences and met PhD students of all ages (oldest I recall was in their 60s).

    I chose to do a PhD after completing my MBA and wanting something ‘more’. I took a good look at my counterparts in industry and wondered ‘is this all there is’? I wanted something more for my future. With a PhD, I can continually learn, meet new, interesting and like-minded people and most importantly – help others. Helping others could be in the form of consulting companies, teaching students, writing books and contributing to knowledge. I would like to move to a role in academia upon completion – and I know it will be a challenge. If for some reason the job market proves to be too tough – there are SO many more roads open to me with this qualification and the personal branding that will come with it. I can consult, teach MBA classes, write books, give commentary to media outlets, etc. The list goes on and on.

    Something I learned when very close to death due to an illness a few years ago is to not let others dictate your future. Life is precious – if you want something – go and get it – don’t wait for others permission or acceptance to do so.

  126. Thank you all of you for this beautiful conversation over the connection between age and tertiary education. I am 36 years old now…and have just completed my school diploma from one of the remote schools in Africa. I will enroll in an undergrad program in January, and will study for five years to earn my BSc Degree in Engineering.. The Kuliche University ( name altered for this story) has never felt bad about my age, I do not think they look at it at all. Following that i have a plan to cross over those famous countries, which I only heard about, such as USA or Australia, or UK or Germany or Honollulu to study for my masters and phd study in science.

  127. I’m currently going to school for my Bachelors. I’ll be roughly 35 by the time I start working on my Psy.D. I know I’ll be closer to 40 when I finish, but I think it’ll be worth it.

  128. Hi all,
    I’m from Mumbai, India, damn inspired by the post of you all, especially, Karen, Iris et al; as am 47 now with 25 yrs industry experience in sales/mktg and MBA degree. Wishing to pursue my PhD from overseas in marketing strategy.

    I have an issue related to maths & operations research ad am weak in these areas. Can someone guide me as to whether my average past academic record with maths being weak will prove to be an impediment in getting admitted to PhD? I have an immense drive, patience and a will to pursue though, finance would be another issue.

    I seek mentoring from my friends on this platform. Rgds.

  129. It’s never too late to create a life you love. You must be prepared to hear, “How old will you be when you finish?” a number of times. I learned to answer this one with a quip, “The same age I’ll be if I don’t finish!”

  130. Thanks Alexandra. Pleased to meet you. I started out in law but moved across to criminology. I won’t name the organisation where I did my masters but it is world famous. Many of the PhDs are early to mid 30s with a couple being ex-prisoners who turned their lives around. One of them has just finished aged 43 and got a lectureship. I supposed to finish this masters in my mid 20s and I actually felt intimidated by them. I don’t find early to mid-30s too late at all, especially if one is left working until age 70.

  131. Hi Laura, I have a very similar experience to yours, and I, too, will be starting my PhD at around that age / 34, for pretty much the same reason. To be perfectly honest, I don’t think it matters a lot, in most cases. Judging by a friend of mine who’s a PhD graduate in Financial Mathematics, it probably does in a field like hers, but it doesn’t in most others, if I look at the patterns followed by other friends in prestigious institutions – and yes, they did start their PhD’s in their 30s. I think all that really matters here is the drive. Competition, in sane environments, is essentially based around that. I also think that coming out of a depression and still being determined and dedicated to one’s own project says a lot about the temperament and endeavour of a person, and I think that counts in positive terms :)

  132. I’ll probably be starting my PhD aged 32-33. Basically I have no choice. I graduated top of my class and won a scholarship for a masters at one of the best universities in the world. I had an awful time there – something serious happened to me. I spent much of my 20s severely depressed. The only serious work experience I have is an as research assistant for a few months with publications before things got massively out of hand. I am just about to graduate from a 2nd masters with very good grades this time. I am sad for the years I’ve lost but I am still alive and a friend was murdered.

  133. I am coming to the end of my first year PhD in biomedical science and I am 55. I went to university to do my degree at the age of 48 after a long career as a theatre sister. I agree with William that your age is irrelevant. I could never envisage myself reaching retiral age as a nurse, but I can foresee myself in the research/teaching role for as long as I am able.

  134. I finished a Master’s degree at 57 and started in a PhD program at 58, I will be in my 60’s when I finish my dissertation. How old you are when you start is irrelevant, what is relevant is that you continue learning. “Once you stop learning, you start dying” (Albert Einstein).

  135. Great topic. I am 37 and looking at PhD programs. I currently hold a f/t staff position at a college and I am an adjunct instructor. The challenge is finding a way to make it all work together. I’ll be applying for the Fall 2015 and I’ll be 38 by then. I have a great deal of passion for this pursuit, but I am trying to be as logical and deliberate as possible for my family’s sake. I appreciate all of the information in this discussion.

    1. I think it´s better to bring the family behind you, especially if you are the homely guy and don´t desire any squables with any member of or all your family during and after your PhD. The spur, however, can be more emotional than rational. The choice is always yours.

  136. Thanks to all your comments. I’m 45 and considering to apply for a PhD in public health. it’s been inspiring to read all your experiences. Many thanks!

  137. The issue has been the feasibility of opting for PhD at a considerably later stage in life. By the way, I don’t consider 28 as a very advanced age. But if it is assumed to be, what I believe is basically needed beyond a soundly rounded up master degree course (where required) is a competitive and enduring PhD project. If you are able, possibly through facullty contacts, to secure a supervisor before hand, that is, one that identifies with your project in terms of interest and supervisory capacity, I don´t think you´ll encounter outright rejection. In other words, what matters here is the differential contribution you will be making through your PhD knowledge or experiences.

  138. What if you are applying for a PhD program at 28 and don’t have any work experience to use as a reason for applying this late in life? It took me awhile to finish my BA simply due to immaturity (though I eventually graduated with honors and ended up in Phi Beta Kappa).

  139. At my late 40s, I started a fulltime PhD course with a fellowship grant from one of the leading universities in western Europe. I finished up in early 50s. The only problem I encountered was supervisory laxity from the first order supervisor. Unexpectedly and happily, though at an advanced stage, the second order supervisor took over in a more efficient manner. I remember there was an Asian colleague over 70 years that successfully defended his thesis. My observations are that age is no serious barrier. With objetivity, focus and determination you can go through the rigors of doing a PhD with others. Moreover, publications in mostly first order international journals boost post-doc job placings. I’m delighted I’m increasingly gaining ground in the research and teaching profession. As regards securing funding, particularly, scholarships, there are many institutions or organizations worldwide that offer financial assistance for PhD students, sometimes, independent of age. In short, some emphasize postgraduate work experience as an added advantage for admission. Sometimes, the internet can be source of information for institutions that offer financial support.

  140. I completed my master’s degree in Anthropology at age 32, but then I got married and had 2 kids. I couldn’t afford to continue my education at that time. I worked as a research coordinator and research project manager for the next 20 years. Finally, at age 52, I had the time and money to enter a doctoral program. I will graduate next year at the age of 60! I know that I probably won’t get a high-powered academic position at an R01 university, but I’m looking forward to getting a teaching or reaching position somewhere. Don’t put off your dreams; if you can’t go full-time, try working a few classes in here and there. If you are older and still want to complete your doctorate, DO IT! You only live once! You might not get the job of your dreams, but I bet you’ll get a good position somewhere! GO FOR IT!!!

  141. Started my PhD at 28 (in statistics). Before that, I was a high school teacher. I love my field and I love my work. If you’re passionate about it, you should do it.

  142. I started my PhD in Computational Biology at age 50 and I should be completed by the end of this year (age 55). I know that students who have worked in industry for at least a couple of years are more likely to be accepted into programs in my discipline. I have already spent 35 years in the computer industry and wanted to expand my horizon. The real question is not the age of the person, but the desire and commitment of that person to completing the grueling process of research and publication. You must also look at the job market for your desired field of study. If there are many students graduating in the field, it becomes less likely that you will receive an offer when they can select someone with lower salary requirements or expectations (older students often have greater responsibilities and therefor cost more to hire). My goal is to teach at the college level, but I do not need to find a tenured position. I am not looking to build another career. Most of the graduate students that I am associated with, are in their late 20s and early 30s. Most of the ones that have completed postdoc positions and accepted tenured teaching positions are early to mid 30s.
    Receiving a PhD is not the final test into the hall of academia, but only pass that allows you to enter the competition of finding a paying position. No one is going to hand you a PhD, you must dedicate yourself and work hard to find a complete that journey. Likewise, you must dedicate yourself with the same passion and hard work to obtain a position.

  143. I wished that I had seen earlier the post on this blog. Age does matter, not so much in terms of entering a PhD program, but after receiving your PhD and trying to procure a job. Usually I exude a positive attitude, but in this respect I apologize for being the “Debby Downer” of the group. Here is my lengthy narrative in hopes that people might learn from my experience. BTW, I am planning on presenting a paper on ageism in academe if anyone is interested in providing narratives, please contact me at :
    At age 48 I entered a PhD program in international and intercultural education at the Rossier School of Education, University of Southern California. At age 55 I received my PhD in May 2009. At age 60, after applying to 60 universities, I only received 3 interviews and yet no permanent job. I worked one semester as an emergency hire professor at the Department of American Studies and Ethnicity at USC in Fall 2010 (because of my research interests and publications I can teach in both depts., Education and American Studies and Ethnicity). For three spring semesters, 2010-2013 I taught American Studies/Ethnicity at Al Azhar University in Gaza Strip. Yes, my luck of finding a job I was obliged to teach in a war conflict zone—I am of Lebanese descent and speak Arabic so the cultural affinity helped in teaching there. I also speak, write, and read fluently four languages, French, Spanish, Arabic, and English.

    My grey hair albeit flawless unwrinkled skin has something to do with it, but if you are honest and list the year of graduation from college, Search Committee can do the math. Don’t ask me to dye my hair, won’t work I have terrible allergies, stopped dyeing my hair when I entered the PhD program at age 48.

    I had received my BA in psychology from Pitzer College, one of the esteemed Claremont Colleges, and had completed my master’s coursework in cultural anthropology, along with submitting my master’s thesis proposal. I decided to make a change in my career trajectory while still in the MA program Bullocks Dept. Stores, now Macy’s Corporate, recruited me into their executive training program. Circa late 70s early 80s Federated Dept. Stores prided themselves in recruiting employees who had graduated from college and better yet pursuing a MA degree, unlike in the past who were high school graduate recruitees–no classicism intended. In my case, the recruiters favored my strengths in statistical analysis that would easily transfer to analyze financial statements as well as my background promised potential managerial skills. I state this fact as it relates to a comment by a former poster that Search Committees, whether you are applying for an assistant professorship or entrance in a PhD program, are interested in how your previous work experience fits in with your present interests.
    In reading my narrative thus far, a few of you might be asking why I made the change–simply I did not see a future career in anthropology (regrettably at the present anthropology departments have reduced in size and have become antediluvian).
    After working 3 years for Federated Dept. Stores, I opened up three retail stores for 20 years, and the last 12 years started a footwear line that plastered the front pages of most young fashion magazines (Marie Claire, Elle). My largest clients were Nordstrom and Macy’s with 300 independent shoe and specialty stores in US, UK, and Central America. In 2001 I was met with not only the 9/11 crisis but also my father at age 86 developed lung cancer (non smoker) and my mother, who played a key role in my business, had to not only care for him, but our well established new car dealerships. In addition, for the last 5 years of my 20 year business, I wanted to return to academia and pursue my PhD.
    I chose the field of education as it was a professional field and felt that my previous global experience, travelling quite a bit and speaking four languages would fit in with the international/intercultural education program at USC, and acceptance in the program would be easier.
    As a past academic, I had a strong theoretical foundation in the social sciences, and I probably would have been more well suited in the departments of sociology and psychology–and a high GPA.
    Upon the recommendation of the career center at USC, I do not list my work history in the 80s and 90s, unless during an interview the Search Committee person asks.
    With respect to the three interviews granted 1) two were for post doctoral fellowships, and 2) a lower level research analyst, coincidentally from my undergrad alma mater, Pitzer College. The first post doctoral fellowship position, the Chair of the Search Committee seemed intrigued by my research interests and one of my publications. She also was acquainted with the prodigious, awarding winning research of one of my Dissertation Committee members. Then the following comment slipped out of her mouth, “Oh, I noticed that you attended a PhD program at a later age like myself”. Our interview ended amicably, but I did not make the finals. The second interview, the Chair of the Search Committee invited two young international PhD students (in their twenties). One asked me a question about the types of theories that I apply to my research. Having a stronger theoretical foundation in the social sciences than most PhDs in education, she apparently did not like my response. Most educational theories are water downed sociological and psychological theories, and while I am eclectic, I tend to use the purer versions of sociological and psychological theories. Again, did not make the finalist list. Third job interview, I knew that I might be overqualified, but put forward a positive attitude and told them that I was able to help them out with part-time work especially for my alma mater. The interviewer was 30ish, an adjunct lecturer in education at a local Cal State University, and Afghani born, but matriculated in U.S. universities. As I left the interview, he popped the question, oh, what date did you graduate from Pitzer? I found out later that he was unskilled as an interviewer and the college profusely apologized.
    Okay, some of you might ask, how about your publishing record. Good question. I have 2 research publications, one that is cited by prominent scholars in education, who publish on the topic of diversity, campus climate, discrimination. My specialization is Arab American and Muslim Americans. I am known for conducting the first large scale study in an educational setting– post-9/11 Arab Americans and Muslim American community college students along with a comparison group of non-Arab and non-Muslim students (African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and Whites). In addition, I had a qualitative component to my student, focus groups. I have three manuscripts, one collaborative effort and two other in international education, that are being submitted to journals.
    I realize that I should have more publications, but at an older age in entry to the PhD program at USC, they placed me with an associate professor as my doctoral advisor. He was 20 years my senior. He was not a grant producer, had published just enough articles to obtain tenure, and rode on the coattails of grant producing professors. Outcome: he did not have teaching assistants–so any teaching experience I had to find on my own–no research assistants as he was not the primary investigator on the research grants. From the outset he was honest, I do not want to work hard. Therefore, I took the initiative to ask him that I would like to be included in some of his research and publish, which we did one article. I tried to change doctoral advisors but one in particular told me we had overlapping interests, but not on the specific topic as my doctoral advisor. The end result I was not properly socialized in my PhD program—that is I was not part of a research team, who as a PhD student all you have to do is write a few lines along with your colleagues, who write another few lines, and your doctoral advisor puts all of you on their publications. By the time you have completed your PhD and looking for a job, you have 6 publications or more. In addition, your advisor knows the jobs, and most of my colleagues had a job in hand after passing their defenses. Answering cold call applications get you nowhere. Even in my humble position, all of my two teaching positions are because I knew the Chair of the Department.
    Within the education field there is this unspoken snobbery about those who receive an EdD (Doctorate of Education) and PhD. Other than Columbia and a few high brow universities, who offer only an EdD, the PhD is considered the best degree to land a professorship in a research university. With the exception of a friend of mine, who is a tenured elementary school teacher and whose advisor in a master’s program got her a position teaching on short term contracts at a local California state university.
    So what am I doing to market myself. Well, on the downside I have stopped as of last month applying for any teaching, lecture or tenure track position, I am concentrating on churning out journal publications. I attend educational conferences and present papers. I have given up on mentor programs at these educational conferences. I met an assistant professor now after receiving tenure has put our collaborative paper (that we presented at one educational conference) on the back burner to pursue research projects with her present doctoral students. So what did this mentor do for me, she offered me to present a paper to an ed conference she could not attend due to Storm Sandy. Then for a year I worked on her research beefing up a weak theoretical framework with even weaker findings. She chose the stronger of her findings to publish her own paper. Now she is saying that she has to reanalyze her findings and I should improve the theoretical framework. The truth being my part of the paper presented at last year’s conference was praised over her findings. Being taken advantage of for my research abilities but having no job is not the first time. In the Gaza Strip I worked for a prominent ngo, I edited twice manuscripts for psychiatrists to publish in community health publications and at the last moment they decided not to publish the manuscript or cut me out of co-authorship.
    My recommendation to those listening to my narrative, working with a research team is preferable, but if it doesn’t work out, publish your own work. You then have choice over your destiny.
    One more thing, the program advisor at USC always supported me during the tenure of my PhD program. At one of the ed conferences, learning that I did not have a job, she retorted, “oh, this is funny, all of our PhDs have found jobs”. I won’t let her deter me. My mother just passed away at 93 years and a half , ran our businesses, and still drove a car. Longevity on both of my parents’ side, do you think I will give up at 60 years old. No way! And employers should think the same way.
    My final advice, if you want to pursue a PhD, be prepared for a lot of disappointments. Bitchy colleagues are found not only in the corporate world, but academe. All political. If you cannot find a kindred spirit do it on your own, and when you succeed then just well, too polite to say it here, tell them to have a nice day!!!

  144. Iris, Karen, thank you for your comments.
    I am 37 now but won’t be able to join a phd program until my 50s. Do you think I will be out of competition by that time?? Was it harder for you to be accepted due to the age??

    1. I only applied to one institution, and I was accepted, so I’m not sure if it was hard or not. Doesn’t feel like it was. :) But I honestly don’t know if this particular institution reacted differently than others would have to my age or not.

  145. Thank you all for your comments. I’ve started my PhD at 52 this Jan 2014. I have someone telling me that I can’t recoup the money I will spend on getting the PhD. This person doesn’t know my future, I have faith that I will make a contribution that will take care of me until I leave this life. Yet, I felt the need to google the question, how old is too old to economically benefit from a PhD. Art and Karen thank you both I believe it’s a balancing act of both your comments. Best Wishes! Pray for me that I will successfully reach my goals! I send the same prayers to all of you!

  146. I think the question some might want to consider is “When is it not economically sound to get a PhD?” and the answer will depend on whether you will borrow money. I’m 52 and woke up to the fact that it’s too late for me because I would have to borrow the money to get the degree and not live long enough to pay it back (it would be in counseling psychology and the salaries are not high enough to make it work unless you start at 22). You need to look at several things here like 1) what’s the growth potential in the industry, 2) what are the salaries like, 3) when do you want to retire, 4) do you have a second income, 5) how much do you have to borrow, etc.

  147. I will finish my PhD this year at 57. I have been fortunate to have had a full graduate assistantship at a flagship university. I have not experienced ageism and have been treated with respect. I am beginning the job search now, so I guess we’ll see how that goes, but I don’t feel worried. Everyone tells me I don’t look 57, but I find that annoying. I don’t think it should matter if I did. And frankly, I don’t think it does matter. I think I will get a job. I was a widow with young children for many years and when they were grown, I took the opportunity to pursue the PhD. I’m glad I did. Think positively, believe in yourself, and go out and make a contribution. Most age barriers are in our own minds.

  148. Well, I think that admissions comittee will pay more attention at your skills to do research not to your age. I think by worrying about your age you are cutting yourself. Robert Morris started Phd at 30 and at 33 got a professorship position at MIT.

  149. I’m starting my PhD at age 34 while wife starts hers at 32. Both our topics are substantial because of the work experience we’ve gained over the past 12 years since our undergrads.

    The idea of people in their 20’s talking about (I) their age as too old (ii) their returns on investment (iii) employability as a gauge of whether to do a PhD or not (iv) the power admission committees seem to be afforded over applicant’s own future and fortunes is kinda disheartening. To me it speaks to a fundamentally broken system and a definite misinterpretation of the role of academia and indeed the PhD in society.

    I digress. While 10 years ago it was just easier for us to get hot jobs and get wasted every night (I remember typing my masters thesis up in a night club over a mojito), I find that today we have a different level of commitment, maturity, insight and capability.

    In summary, no, you are still very young, by all means do go foe your PhD.

  150. I started my Ph.D. program at 40, in sociology. I think the benefits of advanced age (at least in Ph.D. terms) far outweigh the challenges. For one, I felt it was much easier to stay apart from much of the inter-departmental drama that tend to grip graduate students. For another, my various work experiences provided a trusty reserve of material to which I could connect theory and other headier ideas. These two advantages count for A LOT. And, for purposes of supporting my position (not bragging), I received a major government grant in support of my fieldwork which starts this month. I don’t think I would’ve have been a good candidate without all the experiences and (relative) maturity I brought to my studies. And I hardly think my enthusiasm was any less than my younger classmates. In fact, I think my advanced age bolstered my work ethic (no time to waste!).

  151. On the other hand, I overheard a mother of a friend once saying “He’s only 25 and he’s starting a PhD?” I’m from the Philippines and I suppose this could be too young for them.

  152. In my case I was 49 and 52 respectively when I made my attempts at admission to a PhD (on finding a framework for enabling entrepreneurship in a significant manner). Afte 21 years working for large corporates I changed careers and focused on enabling entrepreneurship. At the first attempt I was still working for a Corporate. At 52 I had spent 2 years on entrepreneurship and come up with an idea that I felt was worth doing a PhD for. Way I perceived it, a PhD at the right place with the right advisor would help bring the idea to fruition or lay good ground work at the least. It was more to get the idea to work, than for the letters after my name, or job prospects (I now work pro-bono).
    Both times I first asked the University if my age was an issue. I was assured it was not. The first time I got a polite form letter of rejection. The second time I was told that I was being rejected because my MBA was not in the same field my B.Engg (Mech). The fact that I did a MSc in ECommerce Management at the age of 42 when working full time and graduated Beta Gamma Sigma obviously meant nothing.
    I understand the arguments noted by others above (my wife has supervised some 20+ PhD’s as a Professor) but in my mind, I was not expecting anything more than a stipend and fees in return for which I would have worked flat out and, if my idea did prove useful, the University and society, would benefit.
    The only argument against (IMO), is that by choosing me, a younger candidate would lose his/her place. I think that is ageist. A person should be judged based on ability, capacity, passion, and the potential impact on society should the idea come to fruition.
    Point of reference. Both applications were to Universities in Europe (France and Switzerland).

  153. I started my PhD at 32, graduated at 37. I agree with everything here.
    1. What you did before matters. I got my PhD in Finance and had experience consulting for banks and working at an investment firm.
    2. I didn’t notice any discrimination. I was probably on the upper end of my institutions placements over the past 5-10 years, but not the best.
    3. What I lack in ‘enthusiasm’ I feel pretty certain I make up for in efficiency and savvy. I don’t work 12 or 14 hours days (been there done that) but I think I do work very efficiently.

    If you can handle all the other stuff like relative poverty for 5+ years), the academic rigor (also shocked me; thought I was ready but had to get up to speed), and are ready for professors teaching you and advising you that are younger than you, then go for it. Just make sure you check the job market to make sure it is worth it – there is a lot of info on “should you get your PhD or not” by discipline which you should really pay attention to, especially as career switcher.

  154. This post came in a great time. I`m defining whether to apply this year or to work one more year as a field coordinator of IE and apply next year instead. That way I`d be in my late 20s.
    I haven`t made up my mind, but this post gave me the courage to maybe postpone it to enjoy more my actual experience, hoping not to damage my chances of being accepted in the PhD ;)

  155. Julian — the possibility that younger junior faculty provide even a second-order benefit to the institution all else equal seems unlikely to me. Even if the younger faculty will have a five-year longer career, what’s the probability that the hiring institution will capture that benefit? What’s the median length of a first academic job? With that age difference, we’re probably talking about a productivity difference only in old age. And the proposition that the younger professor will have a longer career is also dubious — my prior is both would burn out after the same number of years. And Chris didn’t say age was second-order in the context of junior hiring, he said it was second-order in the context of admissions. The two aren’t the same: with junior hiring we’re talking about the impact of age conditional on having produced quality research as opposed to just a quality grad school application.

    Kate — why does your undergrad contemporaries’ success in academia at a younger age have any negative impact on your own potential success?

  156. I began mine at 34.
    Pros: I knew I wanted to do it, it’s fun hanging round with people 10 years younger, you might have some savings to help with the costs.
    Cons: I’d forgotten all academic skills (I was quite good at this stuff when I did my MPhil, really struggle now), hanging round with people 10 years younger can make you feel quite old.
    Job prospects maybe depend on whether you want to stay in academia. I think I’ve perhaps missed the boat for an academic career, esp as a couple of undergraduate contemporaries have recently become professors.

  157. Arturo – I think the reason would be, as Nancy alludes to above, that they want to be associated with someone who becomes as prominent as possible, which is partly about total quantity of work (and more opportunities to write the quintessential home-run paper). But as Chris says, this is second-order at best and not worth worrying about I think. Two examples I know of who started their PhDs late but have been very successful are Terry Odean (berkeley finance) and Gary Charness (UCSB experimental econ).

  158. The response ignores the claim “it is harder to you to get a job when you graduate” if you’re more than 32 years old upon finishing your PhD (projecting 5-6 years for completion). I can’t think of any good reason why junior hiring committees would consistently discriminate against candidate in their mid-30s to hire candidates in their mid-20s, but please correct me if I’m wrong.