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My PhD program (a top-five program) had a number of students who started in their late twenties or thirties — as far as I can tell, it was regarded as a non-issue.

Alex Grzankowski

There were one or two people in my PhD program at UT Austin who were over 35 but it wasn’t the norm. Self-sevingly, I’ll mention that my current institution - University of London, Birkbeck - specializes in working with older students. We have a number of PhD students in their 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s as well as students in their 20s and 30s. Many are coming to philosophy after other successful careers.


I know lots of older students, and it is becoming increasingly common. I think in most places it won't hurt you at all, and actually, I'd bet it is more likely to help you (just because you will be a more interesting candidate.)


Agree with all of the above. I went back to school at about 30 after a different, interesting work experience. It was never an issue (except in my own mind). If you have an interesting background to draw on, it will help tremendously when it comes to publishing, the job market, etc. (if you choose to work on stuff related to your past experience).

It also can help on the job market in some ways. I was in my late 30s on the job market, and almost 40 the last time. As a result, I was often very close in age (and hence life experiences, cultural touchstones, etc.) and had relatable professional experiences to people running searches. I ended up have *great* in-person and on campus interviews because it's just easy to relate to people of the same age. And ended up with multiple attractive offers.

So: don't let age alone keep you from grad school.

BUT! All of the opportunity costs of PhDs in philosophy are compounded as you get older. Your 30s are often prime earning years, many people want children around then, etc. I felt that a lot when I was earning a fraction of what I would have been earning in my other career and when I was forgoing some really cool projects that experienced people in my other career get to do.

Regardless: good luck!


The comments do not seem to address the original question. Yes, grad programmes often admit older students. But can the older students get jobs at elite schools when they are done. No one has spoken to the issue of where these older students get jobs. I recall ONLY one person like the one described by the person with the original question. I know someone who had a PhD from a rather elite place, and taught Spanish at a university. They they went to Yale and completed a philosophy Ph.D. He now has a job at a fine university, but not one in the Leiter top-50. So I would think the answer to the person asking the original question is no. It is quite unlikely that you will get a job at an elite university if you go back as an older student, even if you complete a PhD at an elite university.


Data - the question asked how likely could such a student *get into* a program that places "some" students at *research universities.* The question didn't say anything about placing students in the "top 50." Unless I am reading this wrong? I'm just looking at the above.

I do know much older students that got jobs at research universities. Off the top of my head , I can think of three, two research universities well into the top 50 and one at a non top 50 research school. Anyway, as a search committee member at a research university this sure wouldn't make a difference to me, and I don't know why it would to anyone else, either. I guess the worry might be someone would retire a bit earlier? But philosophy professors work so long, and even if you got hired at 50 it is easy to imagine 2 decades of working years ahead of you. I don't know why a search committee would be hesitant to hire someone 40 instead of 30, especially when a good number of people take a long time on the market.

Maybe you are thinking there is a bias to find a young star. Like most of what I consider to be misguided thoughts about "research universities," in my experience these types of biases about the top of the top really only come from the very top Leiter schools - like the top 5, maybe top 10. There are a lot of great research schools outside of that range .

Even more, from what I can tell, it is rare for people today to go straight from undergrad to a Phd at 21 or 22. Most people I know had at least a couple of years off doing something else. I would guess that the average first year student where I got my PhD (Leiter midranked) was 24-26. So it is very common to be early to mid 30s your first year on the market anyway. It is pretty silly to be petty over 5-10 years that makes no noticeable difference in job performance. (Are we worried about dementia ?) Also, it won't always be easy to tell someone's age. Personally I have a really hard time saying with confidence that someone looks 30 rather than 40, since there is such variance. I guess you might see a BA graduate year and infer from that, but I never pay attention to those things.

I think philosadjacent is correct that the real issue is the sacrifice in employment years, family goals, and financial security, as this *will* hit you much harder than a younger person.


I grant there is ambiguity in the post, but I got the sense that the person is seeking to have a good chance to get a job at a research university (of some standing).
If we are just reading it literally, then the person should just go to University of Nebraska - after all they have placed someone at a research university (even a very good one - King's College). But the odds of coming out of Nebraska and getting such a research job are very slim.


For what it's worth: I am a first-year student at a mid-ranked PhD program. While I wouldn't call my program "elite", it does have excellent placement, including at some R1 institutions. Most of the people (including myself) in my cohort are actually in their early 30's, though several are in their late 20's. Only one first-year student is straight out of undergrad.

Age in and of itself shouldn't be an issue. However, having recent letters/work for your application will be. To get into a good PhD program as an older student, my best advice is that if it's been a while (more than a few years) since undergrad, to do an MA at one of the good, funded terminal-MA programs first. This will give you recent letters/work for your PhD apps and help you generally get reacquainted with academic philosophy.

Anon #21

Hi everyone,

Thanks so much to everyone who has commented.

Apologies for the apparent ambiguity in my original post.

What I meant to say was that it is important to me have a credible opportunity to pursue tenure track positions at research intensive universities. My understanding from even a cursory glance at faculty pages is that to get a tenure track job at a place at any R1, elite or not, it is all but necessary to obtain a PhD from a much higher ranked department. U. Nebraska, to use Data's example, seems to be staffed overwhelmingly by professors with PhDs from a top-10 school and exclusively with professors from either a top 25 schools. This would seem to suggest, consistent with my prior understanding, that to be a credible applicant for a TT job at a place like Nebraska you need a PhD from something more like Berkeley or better.

So my question was only indirectly about R1 TT hiring. It is also not really about the prudence of starting a PhD over 30, which would seem to hinge on an individual's circumstances and values.

Instead what I am really asking is the following:

1. Are top-10 PhD programs hesitant to admit applicants in their 30s (whether due to a desire to admit promising young potential stars or suspicion over someone who is trying to switch their field at a later stage, or anything else).

2. If so, are there ways an applicant in their early to mid-30s could assuage those concerns or close the possible gap in credibility with younger applicants?

Thanks very much.


I agree that if you want a job at a research university, you should aim to attend a high-ranked program. I just disagree that age will be much of a factor in itself. Getting a job anywhere, and especially at a research university, is incredibly difficult. So the odds are low for an older person, just like they are low for everyone. But from what I have seen, an older person is no less likely to get a job at a research school than a younger person, spare maybe the top 5-10 research schools.


Anon #21

The only people who can really answer your second question are faculty at the top 10 programmes who are in the meetings where decisions are made. I would not count on any of those people following this blog, and contributing to the discussion here. Perhaps you could ask the faculty at those places directly, with an e-mail.


I doubt people would be honest about age discrimination.

No, I don' there is this bias. But would this really stop you from applying? It seems given your perspective, why don't you just apply to the top 10 schools and see if you get in? I mean, it is a fair amount of work to apply, but it would be odd to not apply because of the rumor it is harder to get in after 30.

Douglas Wadle

For what it's worth, I was admitted to USC when I was 37, and there was another student born the same year (1977) a few years ahead of me in the program. I'm pretty sure we've had other students admitted in their early thirties. I don't suspect my age had anything to do with my successes and failures in the admissions process.

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