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Age Limit for Admission to Top Programs?


incognegra
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Hello,

I am considering pursuing a PhD in Sociology or in an interdisciplinary program strong in theory and cultural studies and am primarily interested in the top (R1), fully-funded programs. Given my undergraduate and master's institutions, academic record, academic awards, and plans to publish a text in a previously unresearched area related to my interests prior to entering, I believe that I would be reasonably competitive for these programs if I were to apply in the next year. However, I am considering postponing application three to five years to establish a strong foothold in a non-academic field to which I can remain peripherally connected and return full-time in the future, if necessary.

I am currently working toward the credentials necessary to practice as a psychotherapist and am finding this work both rewarding and illuminating from an intellectual standpoint. Though I thoroughly enjoy helping people to explore their inner worlds, the questions that are ultimately most compelling to me are fundamentally social. I have a desire to publish scholarly writing which seems to weigh on me, occupying my thoughts almost constantly. I am aware that having a professional master's degree will inevitably prove limiting if I wish to share my ideas more widely but I am reticent to leap back into academia without having established a decent foothold in a non-academic profession given the realities of today's academic job market. Furthermore, it is my hope that in three to five years, I will have developed the licensure and experience necessary to practice psychotherapy independently and that I could continue to practice on a very limited basis and/or attend occasional professional seminars during the PhD coursework in order to keep one toe in the field and leave the door open for a full-time return to the profession post-PhD, not knowing what lies ahead.

Though I am not yet 25, I am concerned that waiting 4 years to apply to top (e.g. Ivies, etc) programs could go poorly. Knowing that faculty at top programs are primarily interested in reproducing and ultimately replacing themselves, there seems to be a strong preference for younger applicants with long careers ahead of them. While some programs seem to value applicants who took time off after undergrad to be sure about PhD study, is there a general age at which applicants become significantly less attractive to top admissions committees?

Thanks!

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I visited top programs like UNC Chapel Hill, UW Madison, UPenn, and Indiana-Bloomington. I honestly found that top programs such as these tried to have well rounded cohorts--often with different demographics, research interests, academic backgrounds, etc. I was 24 and considered young.

Programs put a lot of value into students that take time off and work. Rather than seeing you as less committed, they often think that you must really want to do this to leave a career behind.

I wouldn't overthink it. And if you can think about using your work experience to inform your research interests, it would strengthen your application.

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Hello,

Though I am not yet 25, I am concerned that waiting 4 years to apply to top (e.g. Ivies, etc) programs could go poorly. Knowing that faculty at top programs are primarily interested in reproducing and ultimately replacing themselves, there seems to be a strong preference for younger applicants with long careers ahead of them. While some programs seem to value applicants who took time off after undergrad to be sure about PhD study, is there a general age at which applicants become significantly less attractive to top admissions committees?

Thanks!

This is just completely inaccurate. Particularly in sociology, many of the faculty members at top 10 programs I have spoken to prefer older applicants with life experience. I really think your age, especially at 29 would have zero negative implications.

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Though I am not yet 25, I am concerned that waiting 4 years to apply to top (e.g. Ivies, etc) programs could go poorly. Knowing that faculty at top programs are primarily interested in reproducing and ultimately replacing themselves, there seems to be a strong preference for younger applicants with long careers ahead of them. While some programs seem to value applicants who took time off after undergrad to be sure about PhD study, is there a general age at which applicants become significantly less attractive to top admissions committees?

The median age of acceptance at my program fluctuates from cohort to cohort but is probably around 25ish. We have had several 30+ students in recent cohorts. Except for special circumstances, they are all in their early 30's, the oldest I believe being 34 or 35 when they matriculated, with most of the others being 30 or 31, I believe, though there was probably another 32 or 33 year old in the past few years. I don't know--age isn't really something we ever talk about it.

The "faculty at top programs are primarily interested in reproducing and ultimately replacing themselves" is true, and so top programs would definitely want students, at least at first, to be "in it to win it" no matter how the job market looks. I believe we only have one full time student in the first four years with any kind of consistent, outside employment, and his employment is related to his thesis; there are also people who do very occasional consulting or write occasional pieces of journalism, or work at places around the university in lieu of teaching/TAing/RAing, but only one guy with a "job" as far as I know. I don't know if other schools have as few people working as we do (no one would begrudge you for attending psychanalytic seminars, etc, however--we have some lawyers who definitely keep up with legal matters), but from what I understand, one of the reasons top schools fund people is so that they don't work--so that are able to "concentrate on their research."

Edited by jacib
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Thanks for all of the feedback, everyone! I feel like I can now relax and see how the next few years unfold without as much worry. I'm also seeing that it would help me to begin gearing my clinical work toward a population relevant to my ultimate research interests.

Edited by incognegra
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Based on what I've heard, there is definitely a soft "age limit", or rather a gradient, where age does become a consideration in a committee, despite it being illegal to discriminate. However, you're nowhere even near that.

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