What is the PhD student average age? Too late for your doctorate?

You may be worried about being too old to start a PhD. However, I would like to remind you that throughout my 15 years in academia, I have seen PhD students fresh from undergraduate and many mature age students who are looking for a new challenge or doing a PhD alongside their current role.

The average age of a PhD student varies depending on the field of study and individual circumstances but generally ranges from late 20s to early 30s. The average age upon graduation across multiple fields, in the US, is 31.5 years old.

This suggests that many students may start a PhD program directly after completing their undergraduate degree. However, there are many that pursue a PhD after working in their field for a few years.

I have seen that some students may take longer to complete their PhD due to personal or professional obligations. And overcoming these issues is as much of a challenge as their actual PhD.

If you like more information about the average age of a PhD student check out my YouTube video below.

In this article, we will look at the average age of PhD students and grab some data from universities.

One thing I want to say upfront, however, is do not worry about your age. There are many other things that are full more important than your age for completing a PhD. I have seen young PhD students struggle far more than mature age students.

Maturity and having things settled in your life can really help provide the stability required for finishing a PhD.

What Is The Average Age Of PhD Students?

 The average age of PhD students is quite varied, depending on the field of study.

Generally speaking however, the average age of a PhD student can range from 27 to 37 years old.

You can see in the table, below, that physical sciences and earth sciences PhD graduates are typically younger than those in other fields. This is because of the culture of going straight from your undergraduate into a PhD.

On the other hand, education PhD graduates are much older. This is because they typically have many more years of first-hand experience teaching in a high school or another educational environment. This delays the onset of their PhD admission significantly compared to other fields.

What age do most people get their PhD?

The age at which most people receive their PhD varies from person to person, but typically falls between the mid-twenties and early thirties.

The average age for a PhD recipient is approximately thirty-one and a half years old.

Of course, there are some who complete their PhD much earlier or later than this.

Many students complete their studies in their twenties, while others may spend longer due to life or work commitments.

Those who are already established in a career may only begin studying for a PhD once they reach middle age.

Although the age of most recipients is usually between twenty-five and thirty-five, it is important to remember that everyone’s journey will be different, so it’s important not to put pressure on yourself to finish within any particular timeframe.

Here is a list of fields and the average age upon graduation. That means, the age at which they start their PhD is 5 – 7  years earlier.

FieldMedian age at doctorate ( years)
All fields31.5
Life sciences31.1
Physical sciences and earth sciences29.6
Mathematics and computer sciences34.4
Psychology and social sciences32.3
Humanities and arts34.2

I graduated my PhD when I was 27 years old. This is due to a couple of reasons:

  • I did a four-year undergraduate masters which accelerated my entrance to a PhD.
  • I did my PhD in Australia which typically takes 3 to 4 years.
  • I was classed as an international student and therefore had to finish under three years otherwise I have had to pay $20,000.

All of these reasons meant that I was very young to complete my doctorate. However, throughout my later post-Doctoral positions I encountered people from every age bracket doing a PhD.

Importantly, it is never too late to get a PhD – here’s why.

When Is It Too Late to Get a Doctorate?

In my opinion, it is never too late to get a PhD, as long as you’re willing to commit the time and effort into pursuing an academic career.

I have seen older PhD students thrive in academia because they are working towards something they really care about.

One of the most important aspects is to make sure that you are prepared for the financial burden, as getting a PhD involves taking on loans or debt in order to fund the program.

Sometimes, older students have greater financial responsibilities such as mortgages and debt. Being mindful of your decreased earning power will help make your time during your PhD much nicer.

Some other aspects of getting a doctorate in later years include:

  • greater financial responsibility for family
  • ageing parents requiring care
  • children or other dependent people
  • mortgage stress
  • lifestyle expectations – going back to a student lifestyle may not be for every older PhD student.

Entering a PhD program with this in mind will help make sure that you are able to focus on your studies and minimise the distractions.

What Is The Best Age to pursue a doctoral degree?

There is no best age to pursue a doctoral degree as the best age to get a PhD depends on the individual’s circumstances.

For me, it was best for me to enter my PhD straight out of university. That is when I had the most financial security and energy and interest in pursuing a PhD.

For other people – career goals, interests, and motivation to do a PhD may happen at a later stage in their life.

Although, you can do a PhD too early.

Generally, it is recommended that students wait until they are at least 22 or 23 to pursue their PhD, as this gives them time to gain some life experience and an opportunity to develop and refine their academic skills.

Those who are pursuing a PhD later in life may find that having more years of work experience can be beneficial when it comes to finishing their studies.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to determining the best age to get a PhD; each person’s situation will be unique and you should factor that into your decision.

Is 30 plus too old for a PhD?

When it comes to deciding whether or not 30 is too old for a PhD, the answer depends on the individual.

 A PhD requires a great deal of dedication and commitment, so if you are willing to make that kind of commitment, then age should not be an issue.

Many people have entered into doctoral programs later in life and achieved success.

There are also some advantages to being a mature student;

  • life experience
  • Writing practise
  • A better understanding of your field
  • Professional experience to draw upon
  • Better networks

All of which can be beneficial when completing research or writing your dissertation.

That being said, it is important to consider how much time you will need to dedicate to your studies, as well as other commitments such as work and family. If you feel like you can manage both, then 30 and above is absolutely not too old for a PhD!

Wrapping up

This article has covered everything you need to know about the average age of PhD students. It is field dependent and many PhD students are typically in their 20s to early 30s.

Even though many people get a PhD straight out of their undergraduate, there are many benefits for older people to consider becoming a PhD student.

The personal challenges may be slightly different but the underlying challenge of creating new novel research and communicating that to the world via peer-reviewed papers and theses are the same.

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.