In the spirit of this question about photos on CVs, I'm wondering why applications to grad programs seem to universally ask for the applicant's date of birth, usually right next to the applicant's name.

This is in sharp contrast to the standard practice in "industry" (at least in the US), where no age-identifying information is requested until after you've been hired, and even then the information is restricted to HR.

A few discriminatory practices such as requiring date of birth on the CV or dissertation seem to be finally going the way of the dinosaur, but this obvious point of potential discrimination persists. Why?

  • 5
    DOB is often used (for better or worse) for identification and authentication. e.g. when I call phone company about my bill, they ask for my DOB.
    – ff524
    Commented Nov 5, 2017 at 19:09
  • 2
    Some companies use "special date" instead of DOB. In principle, you can give the phone company any date you want, because it is just for identification. But could you do the same with an application? Commented Nov 5, 2017 at 19:50
  • 2
    @Elizabeth not everywhere. Here they ask for DoB as that is part of your social security number, and that is what you will be registered with. That said, this does not seem in any way necessary for applications, and I can't think of any good reason to require it (and as you point out, plenty of reasons why it should not be there). Commented Nov 5, 2017 at 21:01
  • 1
    I have been on the other side looking at applications for summer students. I felt like I would rather not have that information glaring at me. My guess is that someone in HR designed the application form without thinking.
    – Thomas
    Commented Dec 5, 2017 at 22:13

3 Answers 3


For a grad program, age matters a little bit because of little space there is in many programs. This is true of some high profile majors like medicine though not particularly true to others like Law. Public universities are tasked with graduating people who will contribute to society given that their education is A) subsidized and B) very limited in space.

This is going to sound mean, but a 60 year attempting to enter med school is not going to be a good candidate because by the time they finish med school and residency, they are unlikely to work more than 10-15 years before health complications and/or death. But if you take a 25 year old, they will likely use that degree for about 40 years. Mind you, this is not true of all universities and certainly, private ones are not held to these unwritten rules so ymmv.

  • 2
    "Mean" isn't the point. What you're describing is illegal discrimination, and the law is very clear about this. Furthermore, public universities are generally subject to more rigid antidiscrimination laws than private schools. Commented Dec 17, 2017 at 19:05
  • 2
    Specifically, in the US it is illegal to discriminate against people who are over 40 in favor of those under 40. (But it is not illegal to favor a 50-year old over a 30-year old, or 60 vs 50, or 50 vs 60, or 20 vs 30, or or 30 vs 20.)
    – Tom Church
    Commented Dec 18, 2017 at 1:38
  • @TomChurch Yes, you are correct. I should have been more specific. Commented Dec 18, 2017 at 1:41
  • 2
    @ElizabethHenning: no problem; it's just a favorite curiosity of mine that age discrimination is the only federally protected class that isn't symmetric.
    – Tom Church
    Commented Dec 18, 2017 at 1:50

This is primarily conjecture, but I think it's probably pretty close. I suspect that it is a combination of use as an identifier and use for scholarship/financial aid package determination.


Because age is the parameter to judge the experience of life and knowledge. To check your mentally able to opt the situation. For example when we go for nursery admission.

  • 4
    Age isn't a measure of experience or knowledge.
    – Eppicurt
    Commented Dec 8, 2017 at 7:42
  • 1
    @Eppicurt I think at least it strongly correlates, at least with the first.
    – peterh
    Commented Dec 8, 2017 at 7:54
  • 1
    @peterh I would think a CV is a more appropriate means of measuring that. Being older obviously means you have more time to become more experienced, but it doesn't necessarily mean that you are.
    – Eppicurt
    Commented Dec 8, 2017 at 8:00
  • 1
    @Eppicurt The expected value of the sum of more positive random variables is bigger.
    – peterh
    Commented Dec 8, 2017 at 8:09
  • Knowledge is not measurable --- by whatever means, call it age, or cv.
    – Coder
    Commented Dec 8, 2017 at 8:50

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .