A Phenomenological Study of the Graduate School Experience of Women Age 60 and Older




Burdett, Judy Dayton

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The experiences of women who graduated with an advanced degree at age 60 and older were the focus of this study. A phenomenological research design was employed allowing their experiences to be uncovered and understood. The question that guided the study was, "What is the essence of the experience of graduate school for women who engage in their studies at age 60 and older?" Purposeful sampling was fundamental to the recruitment and selection of seven, information-rich participants. A semistructured interview-guide ensured collection of information in the same general areas from each interviewee during the two, 1 to 1.5 hour each, interviews. The interviews were audiotape recorded, transcribed, and coded, and themes were developed. The findings revealed two main themes with six subthemes. The first main theme, Self and Education, revealed the role education played in the women's lives. Three subthemes surfaced within this theme: Desire to learn, Self-fulfillment, and Reflections on being an older student. The second main theme, Experiences with Others, had to do with the influence or affect other people in their lives had on them and vice versa, as a family member and a student. Three subthemes also surfaced within this theme: Experiences with faculty, Relationships with students, and Personal experiences with family and friends. Several conclusions were drawn from the analysis of this study. First, an intense desire to learn led to participation in graduate school and, coupled with perseverance, to graduation. Second, education was a personal and solitary journey intended for selffulfillment. Third, age was considered a positive attribute; waiting until later in life to pursue a degree was seen as enhancing the experience. Fourth, having support from family and faculty was an important factor for success of the older student. Fifth, although during the interviews the age span of the participants was from 63 to 78 years of age, no age-related patterns were observed among the women in this sample with regard to their pursuit of a graduate degree. The implications for practice and research indicate a need to address issues of older adults on campus and to capture their stories.



older women, education, graduate students, transformative learning


Burdett, J.D. (2008). A phenomenological study of the graduate school experience of women age 60 and older (Unpublished dissertation). Texas State University-San Marcos, San Marcos, Texas.


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