I am about to complete a Ph.D. in Hong Kong and would like to study in the United States. I hold a first class B.Eng. degree in Electrical Engineering. I have a CGPA of 3.67 out of 4 in my current PhD studies, two journal publications (IEEE Transactions) with two more to be submitted soon. I would consider this a fairly good academic record.

For career purposes, I would like to obtain a Ph.D. degree (in a different but related field) from a top American university. There aren't post-doc openings in my current research area, which is why I am considering another PhD in a related area.

Question: Is it considered illegal to not mention that I hold a Ph.D. (hopefully) during application? I noticed some schools frown at what some would call a "professional" or "serial" student.

NB: I have read responses on this question and I am satisfied with them. But I feel there's need to make my question clearer for those who did not understand. Some universities clearly state on their websites that they will not consider applicants who already hold a Ph.D. while some others do not specify this. My question was more for the latter. But now I know that other than dealing with the university, it will require lying on visa application, as some people wrote below.

Thank you all for your contributions.

  • 10
    @TheGuy: We've had questions about this before. There are certainly schools where the default rule is "not allowed". Like most rules it can theoretically be waived by authority of a sufficiently high official, but in many cases it seems clear that such waivers are deeply unlikely to be given, short of the most exceptional circumstances. Commented Feb 28, 2018 at 4:42
  • 9
    When you say "legally", do you mean according to the rules of the university you'd be applying to, or according to the laws of the US and the state in which that university is located? As far as I know, it may be the case that what you're asking about is forbidden by university rules but is not against the laws of the land. (But I don't know whether that is the case.)
    – David Z
    Commented Feb 28, 2018 at 7:58
  • 5
    @DavidZ By legally, I mean by state and/or federal laws.
    – BoltzBooz
    Commented Feb 28, 2018 at 8:04
  • 4
    @Boltzmann That would be very important to include in the question, then, because I'm not sure if people posting answers will realize that otherwise.
    – David Z
    Commented Feb 28, 2018 at 8:49
  • 12
    What do you plan to say you were doing for those years you were working on the first one, publishing papers and establishing your scientific record?
    – WBT
    Commented Feb 28, 2018 at 16:39

5 Answers 5


No. You cannot hide such a fact in US admissions processes. Lying about your previous academic record—whether by omission or by claiming false credentials—is sufficient reason to revoke an offer of admission if it is caught before the applicant matriculates, or grounds to expel a student if caught after enrollment. Depending on the magnitude of the fraud, you may even be asked to pay restitution for the funds spent.

As far as if it’s illegal, that’s a trickier issue. It basically comes down to money: if you received funding based on a misrepresentation or fraudulent application, then it’s far more likely that you’ll face civil or criminal penalties.

  • 1
    Thank you for your response. It is really appreciated. If I may ask, do you have any idea why this rule is in place?
    – BoltzBooz
    Commented Feb 28, 2018 at 7:55
  • 4
    Could you clarify why not fulfilling the admission process makes it illegal? I always assumed that these two things are not directly related, but maybe in US they are the same. Commented Feb 28, 2018 at 7:58
  • 19
    @Boltzmann are you asking why lying has consequences when caught or why some universities don't like multiple PhDs? The former seems self evident. The latter is probably because a PhD is seen as vocational training for researchers (they wouldn't put it that way, but that is what it is). If you have one PhD then you should have a sufficient understanding of that process, so an additional PhD has little added value, and from a society point of view you get a bigger payoff by training a new PhD. Commented Feb 28, 2018 at 8:18
  • 59
    Would that also cover "lying by omission"? It is clear that claiming that you have a degree when you don't is an obvious offense. Not providing one you have (because, for instance, it is not relevant in your opinion) is different. Except if the form requires you to list all your degrees.
    – WoJ
    Commented Feb 28, 2018 at 9:03
  • 2
    @Magicsowon actually that should trigger some kind of equality protection measure and not be that easy. In other words, it's unfair and unfair is bad.
    – DonQuiKong
    Commented Feb 28, 2018 at 11:03

You got a bunch of bad ideas there, it seems. I was going to write a comment, but it doesn't have enough space.

First, you can't lie on any official document, especially if you are dealing with a government organizations. You may be breaking a law on top of some internal university rules. If you need a visa, you will have to fill out very thorough forms where you cannot have any lies or you risk deportation and being banned from entering the country in the future. In fact, if there is something ambiguous, many people prefer to hire a lawyer to double check the application.

Second, really consider options other than the second PhD. To me it seems you still have that PhD student's tunnel vision. Send your resumes around to various places, not just post-docs. See whats out there. Chances are you are missing some really really nice opportunities.

  • 3
    Check out versatilephd.com for options other than working in academia.
    – WBT
    Commented Feb 28, 2018 at 16:40
  • 1
    I wanted to second the recommendation here; it is often possible to retrain for a different subfield without having to do an entire new Ph.D. Maybe you should go to some conferences, review for some journals, etc, and build up some experience in the new subfield and then see if that opens some new doors.
    – James S.
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 18:49

There is the added problem of obtaining a visa based on a lie in the application to the university.

That may void the visa when it is discovered.

There are cases where a lie on a cv for a job application has been used to void visas.

A visa obtained on false premises that are discovered will lead to great problems in obtaining visas for other countries as well.

  • For a visa, with an existing PhD, an EB-1 visa might make sense... Commented Feb 28, 2018 at 15:02
  • 6
    Not only can this get you deported, the US is happy to ban people from ever entering again for lying on visa applications. Commented Feb 28, 2018 at 16:12

For the sake of completeness...

At least in Germany it is legally impossible to obtain a PhD in the same field (like, mathematics) where you already have a PhD. You can obtain a PhD in another field, and some do.

Another issue is if your foreign PhD is recognised in your destination country. I've heard some stories of people who did not get their foreign PhD recognised and basically did another thesis, but my knowledge of it is folklore.

  • Also, in Germany I believe you get one "Dr." added to your title per PhD.
    – Flounderer
    Commented Mar 1, 2018 at 15:27
  • 13
    The same for Austria, there lives Dr. Dr. Dr. Dr. Dr. Dr. Norbert Heinel. All are valid (not honoris causa) PhD of philosophy, psychology, theology and PhDs in musics, education and art. Commented Mar 1, 2018 at 16:29
  • Not contradictory to what you say, but I know of at least one German mathematician who left Germany for the UK during WW II and obtained a second PhD in maths. He had just completed his PhD, and he was unemployable in the UK... so he did another mathematics PhD. :-)
    – Peter K.
    Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 13:32
  • There are always habilitation and higher doctorates to pursue though
    – A T
    Commented Mar 4, 2018 at 4:41
  • @A T: I know. But a habilitation is formally not a PhD. Commented Mar 6, 2018 at 0:31

As mentioned earlier, your Application to a University, esp from a foreign country is considered a legal document as it is the very reason you get into the country in the first place. Whether you have to share this info directly with the state or country is of little relevance as your University will have to share it as a matter of obligation to obtain your VISA and/or prove your right to one.

It would certainly be illegal, because by omitting your highest qualification you stand on very thin ground with regard to explaining to any judge why, other than to subvert the system.

If you omitted your B.Eng then you may be able to argue it's relevance in the face of your PhD, but by omitting your Phd you are effectively also omitting your Degree and Masters in the subject too and at a very min. $50k of education. That's a gross misrepresentation to a judge, and when that application must be submitted to government officials, (whether through you or the University passing your data for nat. security reasons) you will have committed a crime as the provider of this data. It will certainly get your VISA revoked even if the US would have wanted you more with a PhD than not simply because it opens them to the idea that you may have a more sinister reason to hide your qualifications, not to mention you have shown dishonest character and could be hiding much more. (You could be a spy for all they know, it's a PhD! What other 5 figure secrets could you have?)

As you already stated, you believe that your Phd may be a hindrance to your application. Anyone that doesn't have a program for 'career students' may give you reasons but you should'nt care. As a Phd holder, you are far far more valuable to the right schools with proper postdoc work available. MIT for example loves it's Phd students because they do lots of postdoc and many many businesses have collaborated (to MIT's profit) with it's students and cited their publications. Win-win.

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