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Too old for a PH.d?


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#1 Watmeworry

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Posted 10 March 2011 - 12:31 AM

I'm over fifty. I applied to six PH.d programs and I think I have been rejected by all, despite great recommendations from strong faculty and good grades. It was suggested that it was pointless to try because of unspoken politics, but then I thought perhaps my good grades and huge amount of experience in many areas would make me interesting. I'm just wondering if people think it is outrageous that I would try for this in the first place. If there are any PH.d candidates actually in colleges who are in my demographic I'd love to know? I suspect at in the humanities there aren't any...
I am not a dilettante. I went back to college at Community college, transferred to IVY and am finishing MA. I'm not rich either. Just to get all those criteria off the table.
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#2 jmacnomad

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Posted 10 March 2011 - 01:29 AM

I'm over fifty. I applied to six PH.d programs and I think I have been rejected by all, despite great recommendations from strong faculty and good grades. It was suggested that it was pointless to try because of unspoken politics, but then I thought perhaps my good grades and huge amount of experience in many areas would make me interesting. I'm just wondering if people think it is outrageous that I would try for this in the first place. If there are any PH.d candidates actually in colleges who are in my demographic I'd love to know? I suspect at in the humanities there aren't any...
I am not a dilettante. I went back to college at Community college, transferred to IVY and am finishing MA. I'm not rich either. Just to get all those criteria off the table.


I certainly don't think so, but I can't speak for admissions committees. There are so many factors that go into their decisions that we cannot possibly predict. If they don't take you simply because of your age then they are missing out on adding your experience and perspective to their new cohort. I'm sure there are others out there with your type of background. I hope you hear from them!
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#3 Amalia222

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Posted 10 March 2011 - 02:07 AM

I can only give my 2 cents on this, take it or leave it.
Let's say you enter and get your ph.d. you'll be 55 or 56 when you graduate. In the increasingly competitive job market in the humanities, few schools (if any) are going to hire someone who is near retirement age. They want to get the most bang for their buck--young, enthusiastic people who are going to stick around for 20 years. Ideally, anyways. Things are changing, of course, and tenure-track positions vanish every year. But if I were on an adcom, I doubt I would accept someone who is 50, for the simple practicality of it. Not to mention that there have been unprecedented numbers of applicants this year. But I am not on an adcom, and so can't speak to what they would do. I would say that someone who is 50 and going to grad school would have to be really amazing, beating out all the younger folks, which would be pretty hard to do, I think. I don't want to rain on your parade, and I certainly don't want to discourage you, if this is what you want to do. Keep trying, if that is the case.
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#4 ZeeMore21

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Posted 10 March 2011 - 02:43 AM

Never too late to accomplish your dreams watmeworry...if you want it bad enough, go get it. I am sure there is a school out there who would be more than happy to have you. I would suggest that you contact the schools you are interested in and get a sense of how comfortable they would be in admitting someone over 50. In that way, you don't waste your time and you won't be as nervous about your age being a factor during the waiting process.

If it makes you feel any better, there is a gentleman in my department right now who just started his Phd this year...he is in his mid 40s.
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#5 Safferz

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Posted 10 March 2011 - 03:56 AM

Never too late! One of my favourite professors went to get her Ph.D after over 25 years of teaching elementary school, and I've met a few graduate students who have gone back to school for their doctorates in their 40s and 50s. I think it's great.
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#6 UnlikelyGrad

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Posted 10 March 2011 - 06:03 AM

We have one grad in our program who's at least 50...and my mom got her MA at 53. I don't think age is the only factor, especially since a lot of adcomms skim your application the first time around and probably don't even notice your age.

Take a careful look at your apps--could you use a new SoP? How are your GRE scores? etc. Have friends in your field give your app material a critical examination. Then try again.
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#7 Bukharan

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Posted 10 March 2011 - 09:05 AM

Here in the UKm in both my undergraduate and Master's institutions, there is quite a number of over-50 Ph.D.s. For bizarre reasons, all of those whom I know do theology/religious studies/mediaeval studies. But, yeah, people definitely do it!


If it is your dream, it is never never late to pursue it! All the best to you!
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#8 oldfogey

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Posted 10 March 2011 - 02:21 PM

Long time lurker, decided that I should respond to this query. From my handle you will have guessed that I am old - waaaaaay too old! I was 50 when I began my graduate study, in the sciences and yes, I am fully-funded. And, I left a well-paying job to begin graduate study - just to clarify, that I was not running away to academia due to job-loss and/or the recession.

My experience with the application process was, to say the least, very "interesting". I had a very strong application, most schools and POIs I contacted were very interested in getting me in their program, till they saw my age on the transcript and after that it was dead silence. I had a suspicion that it was an age-bias, but could not get a straight answer, for obvious legal reasons. Fortunately, for my sanity ;), a couple of professors at interviews blurted out, that I was being silly to try for a PhD at such an "advanced" age :rolleyes:. They went as far as to suggest that if I was interested in 'doing Science' I should become a technician, and that there was always a need for good technicians, so I would not lack for job offers. Needless to say, I was not accepted at those schools.

However, a couple of state schools were more than happy to ignore age and accepted me. And I am doing fine at school work and my research.

Yes, there will be some ageists (adcomms and wannabe adcomms :P) who will think you are too old for a PhD. But there will be others who will not be ageists. btw, there are a couple of other 50+ folks in other schools, who I have met at conferences, so it does happen. I also know of a couple doing their master's in humanities in the same age-group.

Good Luck and Illegitimi non carborundum :lol:
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#9 Golden Monkey

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Posted 10 March 2011 - 06:17 PM

I'm really glad you delurked and hope you're still reading this thread. As a 43-year-old with one PhD acceptance, one rejection, and two have-not-heard-from-yets, I'm really vacillating on this.

How are you finding the situation financially? Even though I don't have kids or a spouse, the thought of living well below the poverty level for a while is really....Posted Image I guess I would have thrown all caution to the wind when I was in my 20s, but in my 40s, things are not so simple, even with no dependents.



Long time lurker, decided that I should respond to this query. From my handle you will have guessed that I am old - waaaaaay too old! I was 50 when I began my graduate study, in the sciences and yes, I am fully-funded. And, I left a well-paying job to begin graduate study - just to clarify, that I was not running away to academia due to job-loss and/or the recession.

My experience with the application process was, to say the least, very "interesting". I had a very strong application, most schools and POIs I contacted were very interested in getting me in their program, till they saw my age on the transcript and after that it was dead silence. I had a suspicion that it was an age-bias, but could not get a straight answer, for obvious legal reasons. Fortunately, for my sanity ;), a couple of professors at interviews blurted out, that I was being silly to try for a PhD at such an "advanced" age :rolleyes:. They went as far as to suggest that if I was interested in 'doing Science' I should become a technician, and that there was always a need for good technicians, so I would not lack for job offers. Needless to say, I was not accepted at those schools.

However, a couple of state schools were more than happy to ignore age and accepted me. And I am doing fine at school work and my research.

Yes, there will be some ageists (adcomms and wannabe adcomms :P) who will think you are too old for a PhD. But there will be others who will not be ageists. btw, there are a couple of other 50+ folks in other schools, who I have met at conferences, so it does happen. I also know of a couple doing their master's in humanities in the same age-group.

Good Luck and Illegitimi non carborundum :lol:


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#10 oldfogey

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Posted 10 March 2011 - 10:20 PM

Depends on how you classify poverty level :D. Granted, the funding is not anywhere close to what I was making as a full-time employee but the stipend is enough to keep me and my 2 pampered dogs and 3 felines, well-fed and housed. I don't party much (who has time for it anyways), drive a jalopy and buy local foods from farmer's markets and cook my meals, so don't spend much on pre-packaged foods. My fur-friends eat premium raw food that I get at the local butcher, or from hunters who have additional meat. In short, we live and eat well. But for someone else, the stipend may feel like poverty-wages, to me, it gives the freedom to study and explore, but YMMV. Oh and yes, I don't live in a pricey city like Boston/NY, which I am sure helps stretch my stipend further.
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#11 Golden Monkey

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Posted 10 March 2011 - 11:42 PM

Depends on how you classify poverty level :D. Granted, the funding is not anywhere close to what I was making as a full-time employee but the stipend is enough to keep me and my 2 pampered dogs and 3 felines, well-fed and housed. I don't party much (who has time for it anyways), drive a jalopy and buy local foods from farmer's markets and cook my meals, so don't spend much on pre-packaged foods. My fur-friends eat premium raw food that I get at the local butcher, or from hunters who have additional meat. In short, we live and eat well. But for someone else, the stipend may feel like poverty-wages, to me, it gives the freedom to study and explore, but YMMV. Oh and yes, I don't live in a pricey city like Boston/NY, which I am sure helps stretch my stipend further.


Heh, I don't even have the 3 dogs and 2 cats. Nothing to feed, but me. And my one acceptance is in a very inexpensive part of the country, but it's still a very, very small stipend, and the thought of trying to live on it is terrifying to me. I also wonder about not being able to contribute to my retirement for a few years.

When I was 25, I wouldn't have thought twice about this, but at this age, I really have to think carefully about this.
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#12 thesnout

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Posted 12 March 2011 - 04:12 PM

A lot of ageism out there. Maybe the adcomms want to give the younger generation a chance to get in to do research and work. If a Phd takes plus or minus 5-10 years to complete, you will be entering or almost entering retirement when you finish. That could be a problem for programs who want to retain the students for research.

On the other hand, you probably already have experience in your field. You probably have more stability to stay on and work with the school because your family commitments are less (ie kids in uni/college, house/debts paid off, etc). These could be beneficial factors. Who knows though.

When in doubt, just apply and see what happens. That's what I would do. Good luck.:o
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#13 postmodern

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Posted 15 March 2011 - 06:41 PM

Just do it if it's what makes you happy. Some program will welcome you for the same reasons others will turn you away, or they'll ignore your age (and everything it implies to them) altogether.

As for job prospects - I've heard all the same stories about how bleak the market is, especially in the humanities. But you know, someone is getting those jobs that do exist. Just go in with your eyes open and enjoy the ride.
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#14 mscongeniality1

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Posted 25 March 2011 - 03:30 AM

I have had a handful of professors that got their masters, worked for years, and then came back to school when their children were grown/nearly grown. I'm not sure any of them were 50 when they went back but I'd estimate 40s? However, I'm in a field where it's not uncommon to do masters-->work--->Ph.D track. Good luck with whatever happens for you :)
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#15 hardcrashxyz

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Posted 25 March 2011 - 06:37 AM

Just turned 40 and was accepted funded for a doctorate program. Response was positive about work experience for the programs that contacted me. I know in my SOP, I didn't make any mention of age. I just tried to show related experiences (which by volume might have been a giveaway) and convey my passion for science and academics. So I think age might be a concern, but not a absolute barrier to graduate study. And if you are passionate about academics, go for it, and let the chips fall where they may.

Best of Luck!
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#16 emmm

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Posted 26 March 2011 - 03:47 AM

Also past 40, and just got an acceptance for a PhD program (funded) in the biomedical sciences. Applying was not an easy process -- I got 5 rejections out of 6 applications. One interviewer basically told me that it didn't make sense for me to get a PhD -- what would I do afterwards? But there are still programs that are willing to see potential in you and willing to give you a chance. My application was not helped by my relative lack of work experience -- I'm trying to get back into things after the dreaded 10+ years home with kids.
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#17 switch

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Posted 29 April 2011 - 09:20 PM

I've had a lot of rejections even though my application is very strong.

GRE scores > 1500
GPA > 3.5
Two MA degrees, Ivy league
Teaching experiences for 10 years
Some publications

I've applied to very low ranked schools and still had a hard time getting offers and much much much harder getting funded offers. I didn't have to work anywhere near this hard when I was 24 years old.
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#18 switch

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Posted 29 April 2011 - 09:22 PM

I'm over fifty. I applied to six PH.d programs and I think I have been rejected by all, despite great recommendations from strong faculty and good grades. It was suggested that it was pointless to try because of unspoken politics, but then I thought perhaps my good grades and huge amount of experience in many areas would make me interesting. I'm just wondering if people think it is outrageous that I would try for this in the first place. If there are any PH.d candidates actually in colleges who are in my demographic I'd love to know? I suspect at in the humanities there aren't any...
I am not a dilettante. I went back to college at Community college, transferred to IVY and am finishing MA. I'm not rich either. Just to get all those criteria off the table.


The last PhD rejection told me that I had already not finished some other programs and it wasn't worth their while to take a chance on me in their PhD program.

I also read on one application recommendation website that anyone over 40 years old should expect ageism and age discrimination as part of the process.
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#19 switch

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Posted 29 April 2011 - 09:58 PM

Here's one more piece of information about ageism. An article about Madonna confronting age stereotypes. She says that older people are not allowed to be adventurous.

A PhD certainly qualifies as an adventure so non-traditional students are viewed as inappropriate risk takers and crazy rather than balanced adventurers.



Pop superstar, Madonna says she refuses to fit into anyone’s idea of what a 50-year-old woman should be. She accuses society of suffering from ageism according to online reports: “Not only does society suffer from racism and sexism, it also suffers from ageism.” The singer said that she had no intention of changing her exercise routine or form-fitting clothing to suit the norms of society.



Adding that she was not a conformist, Madonna was quoted as asking, “Once you reach a certain age you’re not allowed to be adventurous, you’re not allowed to be sexual.”



Madonna, who is now living in the UK with her husband, Guy Ritchie will be 50 in August.

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#20 switch

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Posted 29 April 2011 - 10:03 PM

I think the adage that women have to be twice as good than men to be taken as seriously holds true for non-traditional students.

You cannot be just as good as the traditional age students, if you are a non-trad student. You have to expect that you need to impress everyone twice as much with your abilities and skill set to be taken equally seriously as traditional students. Your goals might have been to be just as good or slightly better, but you need to be much much much better I've seen.

I'm the only Ivy, M.A. degreed, published student in my current PhD cohort but many of my accomplishments are ignored, dismissed, and denigrated by faculty when it serves their purposes. They only acknowledge which parts of your experience they want to acknowledge.
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