I am currently working on PhD applications in Engineering to start in Fall 2020. I am in my late 30s and have one child. I am planning to apply to at least one quite highly-ranked school in the US.

I am wondering if it might be seen as a negative for the admissions process that I have a child? I have heard that top US PhD programs are not looking for 'balance' and that they typically expect candidates to give everything to the program. However, I have heard of people doing PhDs with kids (even having kids during a PhD program) and still being able to complete without any major problems.

In particular, should I avoid mentioning that I have a kid in my application/personal statement? Or, conversely, should I mention it? Would it be seen as dishonest in some way, if I gain admission and then turn round and tell people I have a child?

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    I don't write this as answer because I'm not so familiar with the US system, but the fact that you have a child should be none of the admission board's business and this kind of information should not be anyway part of your application. Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 13:24
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    If your gender matches your avatar, then -- since married men have been going to grad school since "forever" -- I fail to see the problem.
    – RonJohn
    Commented Nov 17, 2019 at 0:34
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    There's no reason to include this information on your application. And indeed it may be illegal for them to even ask you about it. In any case I doubt it would be seen as a negative. Commented Nov 17, 2019 at 4:08
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    Can be taken as a positive point in terms of stability - kid in school, partner also in works are all things that tend to indicate permanence but no guarantee...
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Nov 17, 2019 at 5:16
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    I think it's sad that you have to ask in the first place. I think you got some good answers there, I'd just like to mention something I read a few years back (tho that was about "real" industry jobs, not academia): having children (and being married) was apparently perceived as positive by prospective employers for men (indicating a stable life and established priorities), while the same was seen as negative for women ("she won't be as dedicated as she will be distracted from her career by her child" argument). It shouldn't be anybody's business, and personal details not shared in applications
    – penelope
    Commented Nov 18, 2019 at 14:41

2 Answers 2


I doubt that you will find any general problem in the US, though it is possible that some individual professors might take issue. Some labs, for example, expect long continuous hours at the bench.

I don't know of laws in the US governing this, but there may be some.

There are tons of grad students with children. I had two kids in the final years of my doctoral study. But, you don't say if you are a single parent. In such a case, I don't think you would find discrimination, but I do think you would find it hard. But then pretty much anything and everything is hard for single parents.

In many subjects, of course, you can actually work while tending a child. Mathematics, for example, or Literature. Even CS folk can do quite a lot at home on a laptop.

And note that there is nothing special about academia with respect to "giving your all". Many employers expect exactly that.

My suggestion is that you don't mention it in applications, but because there is no need.

And, of course, professors may have kids and are still able to work effectively.

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    Thanks for your answer. Just to clarify though, I'm not a single parent.
    – Time4Tea
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 20:49
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    I didn't think so, actually, but we have lots of readers and some others have the same concerns but not the identical situation. Cute kid (in your profile)
    – Buffy
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 20:53
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    Thanks! He he :-)
    – Time4Tea
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 23:57

My advice would be to leave it out. It's probably a mild negative, as is your age. (In a theoretical world, it shouldn't matter, but I am discussing reality.) You're not under any compulsion to volunteer this information and I would not bother.

Again, I would say the concern/issue is mild. You'll be fine. Many people end up getting married (some having children) during grad school, after all. Fewer enter with progeny (after all, the pay is not great), but it does happen.

As far as the application, leave it out--concentrate on why you want to do the Ph.D., why you'll do well, what is special about their program (little flattery), etc. As for the bambino/a, it's (a) nobody's business, (b) a mild negative and (c) not something you should be perceived as wearing on your sleeve or wanting special exemptions because of. So just write a straight application. If it comes up in conversations, I would probably go ahead and be forthright. But I wouldn't raise the topic yourself.

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