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I am getting ready to apply to some biomedical engineering programs this coming fall and I am a bit concerned about explaining why I am applying so late in life. A lot has happened in the ~15 years since I graduated with my first undergraduate degree.

I am concerned about how it will read. If I am honest, I will describe the windy path of a person finding himself and a career (with a number of pivots) and whom going forward wants to be in industry or closely aligned with industry activities. I feel this would be a deal killer as this is not what strong programs want in an applicant.

I will have to address why I am applying I am just wondering if I should selective in what I say to give me the best chances with the admission committee.

Any advice would be much appreciated.

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    If you browse the other statement-of-purpose questions on this site, you'll find lots of advice that your statement should be tightly focused on your qualifications and achievements. Your motivations are of less importance, and your whole life story really doesn't need to be there at all. Commented Jul 29, 2016 at 16:04
  • The advisor reading your statement of purpose doesn't care about your age nor the gap between study. Commented Jul 29, 2016 at 19:42
  • Since this might affect the advice, how old are we talking?
    – Ben
    Commented Mar 1, 2022 at 10:33

2 Answers 2

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My own view is that you should just be candid and tailor your statement to your actual goals, taking account of your age. For example, if you're 60 years old and intending to retire in five to ten years, then the statement of purpose would set out what you hope to achieve in the relatively short remaining span of your working life. When I'm reviewing applications, I like to see that the applicant is realistic about their circumstances and their journey, and they have a purpose and plans that make sense (although even if they don't, I don't really consider that something worthy of disqualification).

If a selection panel is inclined to view older applicants as less valuable, then that is something that is hard to prevent (or even detect) in most cases. I would imagine that misgivings about older applicants would only be aggravated if the applicant's Statement of Purpose is unrealistic or inappropriate relative to their age cohort and the remaining amount of time they can expect in their career. Your statement should disclose your professional work and contributions, your interests, your goals, and your interest in the program. If it is relevant, you can talk about your career path through to this program.

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  • What would be an example of an SoP that is inappropriate relative to the applicant's age cohort? Commented Jul 30, 2022 at 0:24
  • An example (not very realistic) would be if a 60+ year old sets out a purpose that is going to take, say, 30 years of work.
    – Ben
    Commented Jul 30, 2022 at 7:57
  • Setting aside the question of whether people actually propose thirty-year trajectories in their grad school applications, there are plenty of people who are active into their 90s. And plenty of 28-year-olds drop dead or stop being productive by 50. How is your "appropriateness" test not age discrimination? Commented Jul 30, 2022 at 17:21
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    Apropos this particular topic, I think it is really unfortunate that people in hiring panels tend to underestimate the skills and value of older applicants, and I have observed an excessive tendency to prefer younger applicants in many cases, which I think is misguided (even setting aside questions of lawfulness). Taking the asinine “age is just a number” path is not a solution to this — it is just a means of completely removing oneself from reality.
    – Ben
    Commented Jul 31, 2022 at 2:10
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    Sigh. Keep misrepresenting people; it's great work you're doing.
    – Ben
    Commented Jul 31, 2022 at 3:13
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In my opinion, age does not have any bad effect on your opportunities to continue your studies and education. It can also be a positive flag, since a candidate has not forgotten his dreams and enthusiasm in learning new topics. So, I believe you should be as honest as possible and do not try to over-express or hide any facts. Just talk about how you are interested in the field and program and how you are eager to learn from the courses. The advisors are looking for facts like this and are logically less worried about the age of the candidates.

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