Are you thinking about applying to a PhD program? Are you already a doctoral student? PhD is a huge investment of time and money. So make sure you spend 15 minutes of your time reading this blog devoted to PhD program success and survival tips. I'm confident that these tips can save up to 10 years of your life, up to $1,000,000 of your money, and, most importantly, your physical and emotional health.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

How long does it take to get a PhD?

This question has to be carefully investigated by anyone planning to pursue a PhD.

My impression is that many programs advertise themselves as "4 year programs". The reality is that 4 years often seems to be an ideal that most program do not live up to.

On average, I think, the length of a PhD program in social sciences is 5-5.5 years. Obviously, some programs may be in the lower quartile and students may have to put in up to 10 years of hard work to get that piece of paper called diploma.

Make sure you do a very thorough research on the subject. Just ask specific people in the program about their tenure with the department and about the number of years it took the program's recent graduates to get their degrees. You may be surprised!


  1. When we started our PhDs, I remember the Research Support Advisor stressed that we should not go beyond 3 years (UK). Hah! At the time, I had three friends who had already surpassed 5 years, and one was 7 years into his programme. I'm actually relieved to be quitting my PhD now. The thought of another few years living like this is unimaginable.

  2. Our program explicitly advertised itself as a 4-year program. I calculated the averages and it was something like 5.5 years.

  3. The reality is that if you try to prove yourself by not quitting chances are high that your sacrifices and determination will lead you to an even worse situation. That seems to be the norm.

  4. Interesting that you should say that Alexander, because I was talking to a fellow PhD student about this very thing today. The thing with the PhD is, the further down the rabbithole you go, the more difficult it is to come out. That's why PhDers who are, say, 3 years into their PhDs and decide that they've had enough find the decision unbearable to make. They think, 'well, I've invested so much time and money already, so I may as well finish the damn thing'. But like you so rightly said in one of your other posts(the analogy you made between PhD student and the gambler), that is irrational thinking. It's a tough one, and most PhD students will end up hanging in there and feeling very unhappy about the decision some way down the road, when they are finished with their PhDs, wishing they had gone with the instinct they had three years ago.

  5. For many PhD students the best case scenario is an average paying job after years of struggle. You can have an average paying job without a PhD. Moreover, if you don't like academia, chances are high that this "best case scenario" will lead to years of suffering down the road.