If you are analytical, innovative, and compassionate, with a heart for the aging population, a Ph.D. in gerontology may be the degree you want to pursue. With a Ph.D. in gerontology, you will be equipped to become an expert in this field and can pursue a myriad of fulfilling careers where you will be advocating for the oldest population (those over 65).
North Dakota State University says it well, “Gerontology is the study of aging across the life course. It is interdisciplinary in its approach, incorporating information from the fields of biology, psychology, sociology, family studies, health education, nutrition, pharmacy, and many others.”
This vibrant, relevant field is growing; in fact, by 2030, when the last baby boomers turn 65, one in five of Americans, over 65 million people, will be 65 or older!
What Is a Ph.D. in Gerontology?
A Ph.D. in gerontology is a terminal degree that explores different facets of the aging process. In most gerontology Ph.D. programs, you will choose a specialization within the degree, such as biology, psychology, behavioral studies, or policy.
The program may take two to five years to finish, depending on if you enroll as a full-time or part-time student. (Some programs, like the University of Southern California, require students to enroll full-time.)
Coursework includes classes like Biology of Aging, Epidemiology of Aging, Social Policy and Aging, and Gerontological Research Methods. During the first one to two years of the Ph.D. program, students will complete coursework, conduct research, and attend conferences. In preparation for the dissertation, students will choose specific areas of research to study and conduct. Dissertations are written and defended as the final project for the program.
Applicants to a gerontology Ph.D. program must have a Master’s degree, although some schools accept students with a Bachelor’s degree. GRE scores, statements of purpose, and letters of recommendation are also required. Generally, admission to these programs is competitive. Some universities, like our Number #1, North Dakota State University, only accept 4-5 students each year.
Careers for Ph.D. in Gerontology Majors
Because gerontology falls under the social science field, Ph.D. students are trained to become researchers, scientists, and educators who use critical thinking and problem solving to advocate for the elderly and help them live their best lives. With the elite credentials, you will truly be an expert in this evolving field. Some common careers include:
- Clinical gerontologists
- Research analysts
- Medical and health service managers
- Direct service provider
- Marketer or program developer
- Program planner or evaluator
- Post-secondary educators
Professional gerontologists may work in a variety of setting, including:
- Healthcare institutions
- Federal, state, and local government agencies
- Community and human service organizations
- Retirement communities
- Academic institutions
- Research laboratories
- Business organizations
As you can see, the career options in gerontology are vast and varied. A gerontologist might find themselves counseling older adults, researching the effects of aging, teaching in a university, advocating for improved services for the aging, and more.
Ph.D. in Gerontology Salary Potential
Just as the career options for a Ph.D. gerontology graduate, so is the salary potential. Gerontologists are essentially sociologists who study the society and social behavior of the aging. Sociologists, depending on where they work, can make an average of $82,050 per year, with the top ten percent making $140,430 or more. Good news: sociologist careers are desperately needed, and jobs are expected to rise by 9% by 2028.
Gerontologists who work as scientists conduct research to improve human health. This is a broad field, but typically these professionals make around $84,810 per year, with the top ten percent making $156,980.
Gerontology social and community service managers may make around $65,320 per year or more, depending on where they work. Gerontology educators may work in a university, and they should expect to make at least $78,470 per year.
As you can see, the salary potential varies, but with a Ph.D. in gerontology, you will have the potential to make well over $100K per year.
What Are the Best Ph.D.s in Gerontology Degrees?
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North Dakota State University-Main Campus
Average Net Price
Fargo, North Dakota
Students at North Dakota State University in Fargo love their school. One student said: “My NDSU experience has been full of great opportunities, and my favorite part of the experience has been making many connections… Going to school at NDSU means you’re becoming a part of a legacy more than 100 years in the making.” There are plenty of other similar student testimonials, praising NDSU for its superb academics, diverse culture, and the sense of belonging. Considering there are almost 13,000 enrolled students, that’s a lotta love!
NDSU offers a dual-major Ph.D. in gerontology and three options: developmental science, exercise science and nutrition, or adult and community education. These three majors are considered the first major, and gerontology serves as the second. In addition to the requirements for the major they choose, students will take 15 credit-hours of gerontology courses and write and defend a dissertation on a gerontology-related research topic.
If you are interested in pursuing this Ph.D. program, you will apply to the NSDU Graduate School for admission in the primary program of your choice. Students need at least a Master’s degree in a closely related field with a minimum 3.0 GPA, GRE scores (applicants who score in the upper 50th percentile are given preference into the program), three letters of recommendation, and a statement of purpose. Keep in mind these programs are competitive! Each program admits up to five students per year.
University of Kentucky
Average Net Price
Originating in 1865 and thriving ever since, the University of Kentucky in Lexington remains anchored in its mission statement: “To educate, innovate, heal, and serve.” With more than 200 academic programs spread across 16 colleges, it is no surprise that UK has received nearly 100 national rankings for academic, research, and healthcare excellence, in addition to economic development.
UK’s College of Public Health founded its Ph.D. in gerontology in 1996, earning it the title of “one of the oldest Ph.D. in gerontology programs in the nation.” This program differs from some others in that it is an interdisciplinary research degree that combines topical expertise, methodologies, and facilities from over 20 departments, ranging from the biomedical sciences, to the social and behavioral sciences, to the arts and humanities.
In addition to the graduate students, the faculty of this program are active scholars, studying gerontology topics like cell-based studies of neurodegeneration, functional studies of muscle hypertrophy, and mental health and substance abuse management. Applicants must submit a personal statement, GRE scores, and three letters of recommendation. Application deadlines for both the spring and summer entrance is January 31.
University of Maryland-Baltimore County
Average Net Price
To put it simply, the University of Maryland in Baltimore County has a lot going on. With nearly 14,000 students and 830 faculty members, this honors university prepares academically talented students for future careers, community service, and leadership. UMBC is nationally ranked in several categories, including World’s Top Universities and Global Social and Economic Impact by U.S. News & World Report and Times Higher Education.
The Ph.D. in gerontology, an interdisciplinary and integrative program, trains gerontology scholars to examine the unique, dynamic nature of aging in current society. Three concentrations are available: epidemiology of aging, policy for the elderly, and social, cultural, and behavioral sciences.
Students in this academic program will complete core classes, research methods classes, concentration classes, electives, an ethics course, and a 12-credit hour dissertation project to earn 61-64 total credit hours. Here is an inspiring list of alumni and where they are now!
To apply for this program, you will need official transcripts from your graduate work, GRE scores (taken within the last five years), three letters of recommendation, and a statement of academic goals and research interests. Entry for this program is in the fall, and applications are due by December 15 the previous year.
Average Net Price
One of the oldest public universities in the country, Miami University in Oxford, Ohio was signed into existence by President George Washington in 1795 (Yes, you read that right!) In addition, Benjamin Harrison, the United States’ 23rd President, is one of MU’s most famous graduates. MU’s enrollment grew and became known as “Yale of the West” for its innovative liberal arts programs. Today, MU continues to thrive and consistently earns national awards for its academic excellence.
Founded in 1922, MU’s Ph.D. in social gerontology was the first in the state of Ohio, and among the first in the nation. This doctoral program integrates knowledge and research methods from behavioral and social sciences to the study of gerontology. Graduates will be prepared to teach and research in higher education institutions and hold leadership positions in policy or service organizations.
Graduation requirements include 60 hours of post-Master’s credit hours, which includes coursework and a research dissertation. Students will also need to pass a written and oral qualifying exam and successfully defend their dissertation. Applicants must submit undergraduate and graduate transcripts, GRE scores, a written professional statement, a curriculum vitae or resume, and three letters of recommendation. Students may begin this program in the fall, and the application deadline is January 15 of the same year.
University of Southern California
Average Net Price
Los Angeles, California
A school rich in history and traditions, the University of Southern California in Los Angeles opened its doors in 1880 with 53 students and ten teachers. Los Angeles at that time lacked paved streets, electric lights, and telephones (Hard to imagine, right?) Today, as one of the world’s leading private research universities, USC ranks 18th in education quality among more than 1,000 public and private universities in The Wall Street Journal and Times Higher Education. USC serves a total of 48,00 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students based on the 2019-2020 academic year enrollment statistics.
USC Leonard Davis offers a Ph.D. in gerontology where students balance rigorous research with scientific knowledge and leadership schools in order to prepare for a fulfilling career in the world of gerontology. Working closely with a faculty mentor, students design and shape their own academic plan. Specializations include biology, psychology, sociology/demography, or policy.
This program consists of 60 units of course work, with at least 24 of these units completed in residency at USC, and four additional dissertation units. If you’re interested in applying for this doctoral program, you will need a Master’s degree with a minimum GPA of 3.0, a GRE score of at least a 297, a statement of interest, and three letters of recommendation. Students are expected to be enrolled as full-time students for the duration of the Ph.D. program.
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