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Age Limit For Phd In Canada

Last Updated on August 12, 2023 by Oluwajuwon Alvina

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What Is The Age Limit for A PhD?

Dr Harry Hothi
  • By Dr Harry Hothi
  • August 17, 2020
What is the age limit for doing a PhD?

Take Home MessageThere no age limit for doing a PhD. The youngest person known to have earned a doctorate was 15 years old at graduation, whilst the oldest known person to have gained a PhD in the UK was 95 years old.

Introduction

I have seen and personally worked with PhD candidates of all ages, some older than me, some younger. In all my time within academia, I haven’t come across any university that places a limit on the age of an individual that wants to apply for and pursue a full time doctoral degree; indeed the practice of doing so would be rightly considered a form of discrimination at most academic institutions and even against the law in some countries.

However, a quick search on Google is enough to see that the question about age limits for doing a PhD is something that is asked quite often. This leads me to believe that there are many very capable potential doctoral candidates in the world that haven’t pursued their dreams of academic research almost entirely because they believe that they’re too old to do so.

age limit for doing a phd

There is No Age Limit for Doing a PhD

Simply put there is no age limit for someone considering doing a PhD. Indeed, on the opposite end of the scale, even the definition of a minimum’ age at which someone can start a PhD is not really well defined.

One of the youngest PhD graduates in recent times is thought to be Kim Ung-Yong who is a South Korean professor who purportedly earned a PhD in civil engineering at the age of 15 [1].
For the vast majority however, the practical considerations of progressing through the different stages of education (i.e. high school, undergraduate degree, a Master’s degree, etc.) mean that most won’t start their PhD projects until they’re at least in their early to mid 20’s; in the UK, for example, the average age for a PhD graduate is between 26 and 27 years old [2].

Meanwhile, the oldest person to be awarded a PhD degree in the United Kingdom is thought to be 95 year old Charles Betty, who gained his doctorate from the University of Northampton in 2018 after completing his 48,000 word thesis on why elderly expats living in Spain decide to return to the UK’ [3].

Charles Betty (Image: SWNS.com)
Charles Betty, PhD, at his graduation (Image: SWNS.com)

What does the data say?

According to data published by the National Science Foundation (NSF), a total of 54,904 people earned PhDs at universities in the United States of America in 2016; 46% of all new doctorates were women and 31% were international candidates [4].

Looking at the age distributions available for 51,621 of these new PhD graduates in 2016, 44% (n=22,863) were aged 30 or below, 43% (n=22,038) were aged between 31 and 40 and 13% (n=6,720) were over the age of 40 when they were awarded their doctoral degree.
In this same year, over 50% of PhD students in subjects related to physical sciences, earth sciences, life sciences, mathematics, computer sciences and engineering were below the age of 31, whilst less than 10% of these STEM graduates were older than 41.

Conversely, 61% of PhDs in humanities and arts and 52% in other non-engineering and science disciplines gained their doctorates between 31 and 40 years of age.
Interestingly, the analysis by the NSF found that 94% of doctoral candidates aged below 31 supported their research financially through research or teaching assistantships, grants or fellowships. Only 36% of PhDs aged over 41 at graduation reported receiving similar types of financial support; approximately 50% of this age group were found to have self-funded their studies.

The reasons for fewer doctoral candidates aged over 41 receiving external funding to support their time as research students is not clear. On the face of it, the data may appear to suggest a bias towards funding younger students which unfortunately may be the case in some instances. In Germany, for example, the German Federal Training Assistance Act (BAfG) provides funding support for higher education but places a limit of 30 years for undergraduate degrees and 35 years for postgraduate students at graduate school.
However, another explanation, at least in some cases, may be that non-STEM related subjects are less likely to be associated with specific project funding and NSF analysis suggests PhDs in these subjects are more often undertaken by older doctoral candidates.

What are the Advantages and Disadvantages?

No one should be discouraged from pursuing a PhD program or entering into higher education based on how old they are and indeed there are several (albeit subjective) benefits and disadvantages of doing a PhD in your younger’ or older’ years.

A perceived advantage may be that gaining a PhD in your 20’s can potentially give you more time to develop your career. Younger doctoral students could earn their PhD and enter into academic jobs before starting a family (although many people successfully carry out doctoral research whilst also looking after young children). You could even afford yourself the time and flexibility to implement a career change further down the line if you so wanted.

Conversely, entering a graduate school and becoming a PhD student in later years means that you’ll be doing so having gained a lot more life experience and for some STEM research projects in particular, having work experience in industry can be invaluable. As an older PhD candidate you’re likely to be better equipped to work independently and the relationships / connections you’ll have built over time may be a useful factor in helping you progress faster. I’ve met several older students at university who had the opportunity to undertake PhD research years ago but have no regrets in having waited and started the adventure in later years.Find Your PhD, Fast

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Conclusion

It’s inevitable that the question of age limits for pursing a PhD is going to invite some controversial opinions from some people; this unfortunately may always be the case when talking about differing social and demographic factors.

There’s no doubt however that PhD programs can help career advancement or a career change regardless of age however there’s also nothing to stop you from becoming a graduate student just for the academic pursuit!

The answer here is very simple: there is no age limit for doing a PhD.

Why study a PhD in Canada

Browse all PhD programmes in Canada

  •  Sep-JunAcademic Year
  •  13Listed Institutes
  •  39Ranked Universities
  •  200000Int. Students
  •  1015000Students
  •  36626083Population

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Study in Canada

While you obsessively stare at pictures of Justin Trudeau (don’t deny it!), you may as well see whether Canada is actually a place you can study abroad in. The Great White North and the super friendly upstairs neighbors to the U.S., Canada is known for its maple syrup, the Niagara Falls, and their excellent ice hockey teams.

Studying in Canada has become an appealing option for international students. Not only is it one of the safest places to go to in the world; Canada (and particularly major cities like Toronto and Vancouver) also has a wealth of cultural diversity that is truly inviting to foreign students from everywhere in the world.

Why Study in Canada

1. Canada takes education seriously

Did you know that Canada is the world’s most educated country? In fact, over half of its residents have university degrees. It must be pretty interesting to be a student there, eh?

2. Canadian universities are among the best education institutions

Some of the top international universities and colleges are located in Canada, and students from all over the world have come to join the biggest names in their field.

Experts in Journalism, Politics, Medicine, and Technology got their start at universities like the University of Toronto and McGill University; and you’ll have the chance to work alongside some of the sharpest minds in the world.

3. Flexibility through education variety

Canada offers an interesting variety of higher education institutions: universities, colleges, polytechnics, and cégeps (vocational schools). Depending on the goals you have, or what you’re looking for, you may want to select the institutional model that fits your needs.

4. Highly regarded diplomas

Canadian college and university graduates are highly-valued on the job market, and people who study there have been able to find great jobs in any field they’re interested in.

5. Canadian culture embraces diversity

No matter who you are, where you come from, or what you want to study, Canadians are ready to welcome you warmly. The North American country invests a lot of effort to ensure international students are safe, treated fairly, and happy to take part in the Canadian education and lifestyle.

Which universities and colleges to attend in Canada

If you were to see all of the top university rankings lists, you’d see a strong presence of Canadian universities in all of the top 100 lists. Below we’ll run through some of our favorite highlights:

  • University of Toronto
  • York University
  • University of Winnipeg
  • Thompson Rivers University
  • Humber College

What is it like to study in Canada?

Canadian higher education is known for being quite casual, and students at the university level are given quite a level of flexibility with regard to attendance, course requirements, and assignments.

However, students still have to abide by the classroom rules set by their individual instructors, and understand what the expectations are for each course.

Generally, degree courses are discussion-based, seminar-style classes, where it’s a smaller group of students debating or questioning different topics. You’ll also find the normal lecture-style classes, especially for topics that have a lot of students (Computer Science, Medicine, Business, etc.). The way courses are structured really depends upon the content or the subject being taught.

What to study in Canada

In Canada, you’ll enter a giant buffet of subjects to select from. Universities in every major city in all of the provinces offer degrees in a wide range of Master’s and Bachelor’s degree subjects – from Art History to Neuroscience, to Accounting and Software Engineering. To narrow down this panoply, here are some that you can consider:

  • Economics degrees in Canada 
  • History degrees in Canada 
  • Finance degrees in Canada 
  • Pharmacy degrees in Canada 
  • Engineering degrees in Canada 

Major cities in Canada

Although Canada is a huge country, geographically speaking, most of its inhabitants live toward the southernmost region of the country. Some of the biggest cities in the country are also home to major universities and institutions:

  • Study in Montréal 
  • Study in Québec City 
  • Study in Toronto 
  • Study in Vancouver

How to apply

Each university in Canada has its own system on their website that allows future students to apply for and enrol in their degree programmes. So, once you select the university of your choice, you can go through their application and submit your materials there.

Here are some of the basic requirements you’ll need for every application:

  • A scan of your diploma (high school or Bachelor’s degree)
  • A transcript/record of your previous courses
  • A scan of your passport
  • Your CV
  • Testing scores
  • Evidence of scholarship or funding
  • Letters of recommendation (between 2-3)
  • Portfolio and/or writing samples

Helpful ways to make sure you qualify for a Canadian university

Take Preparation Courses

These kinds of courses enable degree-seeking students to get an extra educational boost just before they start their Master’s degree or other post-graduate degree programmes. Try a pre-M.B.A., pre-Law, or pre-Medicine programme, as well as any other foundation or preparation courses that will allow you to study in the degree programme of your choice.

Improve your English through an English-language prep course

If you’re attending a Bachelor’s, Master’s degree or Ph.D. in Canada, you will need to prove that your language skills are good enough to participate in the classes and understand the lectures. These courses will also prepare you for any of the English-language tests that universities require.

English-language tests

To apply to study in Canada, you’ll need to provide proof you have a diploma for your English proficiency. 

The certificates generally accepted by the universities in Canada are:

  • PTE Academic
  • TOEFL
  • IELTS
  • C1 Advanced or C2 Proficiency

Still, you should always check on your university’s website, just to be sure what the exact requirements are.

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