Average Age of PhD Student: How Old Is Too Old? — The Admit Lab

Philippe Barr, PhD
10 min readApr 20, 2023

Are you considering pursuing a PhD? You may be thinking that you don’t have the average age of PhD students? Well, we’ve all seen those images of fresh-faced twenty-somethings, latte in hand, typing away at their computers and hitting every academic milestone with ease. However, the reality of the situation is that you’re never too old to pursue your dreams — even if it means a PhD!

In this blog post, we’ll explore the average age of PhD student myths — and make light work of busting some persistent myths about older students in academia. So put those stereotypes aside and get ready to chuckle as we take a look at whether or not there is an age limit on success! After all, life’s too short (or long!) to skip out on big goals due to silly fears about getting older!

Debunking Some Average Age of PhD Student Myths

There are several persistent myths regarding older students in academia. One common myth is that older students have difficulty adapting to new technology and concepts, which can make them unable to succeed in a classroom setting. However, this is not true — while it may take some time for an older student to adjust to a new learning environment, they can often become just as successful as any other student once they understand the basics.

Additionally, another myth surrounding older students is that they lack motivation or enthusiasm for their studies. Wrong again! Many mature learners approach their studies with greater focus and commitment than younger students do due to their extensive life experience and knowledge.

Finally, another misguided belief is that older adults cannot keep up with the pace of grad school. This is also untrue — many older students can take on the challenge of a full-time course load and often excel more than their younger peers due to their discipline and determination.

Overall, these myths do not reflect the reality of older students in academia and should be disregarded by anyone. Older students are highly motivated and have a great deal of enthusiasm for learning. By dispelling these myths, we can create an inclusive academic environment where all ages can thrive.

(Would you like to know what PhD admissions committees are looking for? Watch this quick video to find out key elements to highlight in an application)

Average Age Of PhD Student Data

That being said, beyond all myths, how old is your run-of-the-mill PhD student? While the average age of PhD students is quite varied depending on the field of study, statistics reveal that in 2021 nearly 45 percent of individuals who received doctorate degrees in the United States were aged between 26 and 30 years old. Additionally, around 31 percent of doctorate recipients fell between the ages of 31 and 35 years old.

Factors That Influence The Age of Applicants to PhD Programs

Factors such as professional experience, personal background, and life goals all come into play in determining the average of PhD students. Many applicants may already have significant work history in their field before applying for a PhD. Alternatively, others may be younger with fewer years of work experience or coming straight out of undergrad. Some applicants may have other commitments outside of research, such as family obligations or jobs that limit their availability for a full-time program of study. Other factors such as finances and personal interests also play a large role in shaping the profile of an incoming PhD cohort.

In addition, it is important to note that competition among applicants can vary depending on the age of those applying. While younger students may have an advantage in terms of their energy and flexibility, they may also lack the professional experience that more established candidates possess. Meanwhile, older students may have successful careers but limited availability due to their career responsibilities.

When Is It Too Late to Get a PhD?

It is never too late to pursue a PhD. Average of PhD student data is only what it is: data! You have the room to be different! Many students take time off between their undergraduate and graduate studies or wait until after they have been in the workforce for some years before pursuing a doctoral degree. There are no age limits on getting a PhD, so it can be done at any stage of life. In fact, those who pursue a doctorate later in life often bring with them valuable experiences from the workplace that can benefit their research and writing projects. Ultimately, when it comes to choosing when to get your PhD, it is an individual decision — one that should be made based on personal and professional goals. With the right motivation and dedication, anyone can pursue a PhD at any age.

There are, however, practical considerations when it comes to taking on such a long-term commitment. If you have already started a family or career, for example, it could be difficult to juggle both your studies and other life responsibilities. Additionally, financial aid is often more limited for older students; therefore, finding alternate sources of funding may be necessary. Still, with proper planning and preparation, getting a PhD later in life is an achievable goal. Regardless of your age or stage in life — if you have the drive and ambition — getting your doctorate is possible.

Can One Be Too Young to Enroll in a PhD Program?

It is never too early to start thinking about getting a PhD, but it may be too early to pursue one. Generally speaking, most students should have at least a bachelor’s degree before beginning doctoral-level work. This means that those who are still in high school or college should not yet focus on obtaining a PhD. Instead, they should concentrate on their current studies and make sure they lay the necessary foundation for doctoral study. Once the appropriate level of undergraduate education has been completed, then it may be time to start considering applying for and pursuing a PhD program.

However, even if you have already completed your undergraduate degree, you may want to take some time off from formal academic study before starting a doctoral program. This will allow you to gain life experience and explore other interests, which can help shape your academic journey. Ultimately, when you have the necessary educational background and are ready to commit yourself to a PhD program, then it may be time to start the process of applying for and pursuing a doctoral degree.

What Is The Best Age to Enroll in a PhD Program?

When it comes to enrolling in a PhD program, the best age to do so depends on a variety of factors. Ideally, someone who is interested in pursuing a PhD would be between 25 and 35 years of age due to the fact that they will likely be more mature and able to better manage the rigors of graduate school. Additionally, those with more life experience may bring different perspectives into the classroom as well as beneficial connections from their previous career experiences. Ultimately, regardless of age there are many successful PhD candidates; therefore applicants need to consider all aspects before making an enrollment decision.

Is Being 30 Too Old to Apply for a PhD ?

At thirty years old, it is not “too old” to apply for a PhD. As seen above, many successful students complete their doctoral studies after the age of 30. As long as you demonstrate strong academic credentials, relevant experience, and research interests that align with an available program, there should be no reason why an individual cannot pursue post-graduate education at any stage in their life.

Age does not necessarily need to be a limiting factor when deciding whether to commit to further study. Achieving academic success requires a combination of dedication and hard work regardless of your age. An appropriate amount of time and effort into studying can easily make the difference between success or failure in any academic venture. So, if you are thirty and considering applying for a PhD, go ahead and give it your best shot!

Is Age a Factor in the Hiring Process in Academia?

You might be wondering if the average age of PhD student data has an influence on hiring trends in academia. As a rule, age is not typically a factor in the hiring process for assistant professor positions in academia. Different universities and colleges have different policies, but generally speaking, age should not be considered when assessing candidates for assistant professor positions. Instead, universities focus on a candidate’s qualifications-academic accomplishments, teaching experience, research abilities, and other skills that could equip them to teach and mentor students. In the US, the average assistant professor is 46 years old. 67% of assistant professors are 40+ years old or older, 21% are between the ages of 30–40 years, and 11% are between 20–30 years old

A More Important Factor Than Average Age of PhD Students: Timing!

Applying to a PhD program is a life decision that should not be taken lightly. It requires careful consideration and planning, as it will significantly shape your future career path and have an important impact on the next few years of your life. Therefore, it is vital to make sure you apply at the right time in your life; when you are both academically and personally prepared for such an endeavor. This could mean waiting until after graduating with a master’s degree or dedicating some time to gain work or other experiences before applying. Whatever route you decide to take, make sure that you are adequately prepared before taking this big step into doctoral studies.

The timing of when to apply for a PhD program is just as important as age in determining one’s ability to be accepted into a program. Applying too early may mean you do not have the requisite experience or knowledge that would make you competitive for admission while applying too late means there may be fewer positions available and more qualified applicants vying for those spots. The ideal time to apply is after having accumulated enough research and professional experience so that you can demonstrate both your aptitude and capability for success in the program.

Putting an End to Ageism in Academia

Ageism in academia is a real issue, with older professors and students facing discrimination due to age. Ageism manifests itself in the form of decreased opportunities for senior faculty members and students, as well as unjustified criticism or negative assumptions about one’s capability based solely on age. This type of discrimination can cause feelings of isolation and exclusion for those affected.

Institutions must do their part to combat ageism by instituting policies that promote diversity and inclusion regardless of age. Additionally, further research should be conducted to better understand how this phenomenon manifests itself in the academic setting and what can be done to address it. Only then will we be able to create an equitable learning environment where all ages are respected and valued.

The key to eliminating ageism in academia is recognizing the unique contributions that each individual has to offer regardless of their age. Everyone should be respected, valued, and given equal access to opportunities without fear of discrimination. Institutions must take the lead in implementing policies that promote diversity and inclusion while also encouraging open dialogue about ageism in the academic setting. With everyone’s collective efforts, we can work towards creating a more equitable learning environment where all ages are welcome and respected.

Parting Words…

It’s easy to understand why a lot of people hold on to the average age of PhD student myths that paint the picture of an ideal PhD student that is at once young and fits a certain mold. Conventional wisdom is entrenched in academic life, and it will take time (and effort) to unseat these misperceptions. The good news? More and more older students are seeing the benefits of seeking out a higher degree later on in life, proving that needing a particular age as an entry requirement for PhD programs is flat-out wrong.

With age comes experience, knowledge — and plenty of motivation- which many programs will find just as valuable as youth in their prospective candidates. If you’re over 30 and want to pursue a doctorate degree — don’t let anyone tell you “you’re too old.” Instead, laugh at their ignorance — because with any luck, your story will become more commonplace over time! So if you’d like help honing in on your PhD application process, whatever your age might be, check out our PhD application services today to get started!

With a Master’s from McGill University and a Ph.D. from New York University, Philippe Barr is the founder of The Admit Lab. As a tenure-track professor, Philippe spent a decade teaching and serving on several graduate admission committees at UNC-Chapel Hill before turning to full-time consulting. With more than seven years of experience as a graduate school admissions consultant, Philippe has stewarded the candidate journey across multiple master’s and Ph.D. programs and helped hundreds of students get admitted to top-tier graduate programs all over the world.

Originally published at https://admit-lab.com on April 20, 2023.

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Philippe Barr, PhD

I am Philippe Barr, founder of The Admit Lab, a graduate school admissions consultancy that helps students get admitted into grad school: https://admit-lab.com/