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Skidmore College
Anthropology Department

Graduate Study - Frequently Asked Questions

1. Should I pursue graduate studies in anthropology?

If you've come this far, you've probably at least thought about graduate school in anthropology. Graduate school invariably involves a serious commitment of time and energy, so you must ask yourself a few fundamental questions at the outset. Do I really love anthropology? Do I have a passion for learning about other cultures? Do I have the motivation and commitment needed to complete a graduate program? Does my interest in anthropology outweigh my desire for economic stability? What do I see myself doing in 10 years? In the words of the American Anthropological Association, 'If it's your dream, go for it!'

Jill SweetAsk the Faculty
Professor Jill Sweet - "You shouldn't attempt graduate school unless you have a passion to continue your studies. Without that passion you will surely burn out since it is a long and difficult process. On the other hand, if you enjoy a life of discovery and academic challenges, grad school is an exciting experience."

2. Should I pursue a Master's or Ph.D?

A doctorate is recommended for full professional status as an anthropologist, although work in museums, physical anthropology labs and field archaeology is often possible with a Master's degree. In fact, the majority of top anthropology graduate programs do not even offer the master's degree as an option. From the get-go you must be committed to obtaining a Ph.D. On top of that, many Ph. D. programs still require completion of all their requirements even if you have already completed a Master's degree elsewhere. A Master's degree, however, can be useful in many related fields.

Michael Ennis-McMillanAsk the Faculty
Prof. Michael Ennis-McMillan - "It depends on your interests and goals. Many Ph.D. programs allow you to complete the M.A. as part of the program. That can be advantageous to somebody pursuing an academic job. In other areas, such as contract archaeology or public health, a master's degree will allow you to work in a specific area."


3. How do I choose a program?

Ah, the question of questions. Choosing a graduate program in anthropology can determine what you study, where you study, how you study, and with whom you study so background research is essential! Remember, it's never too early to start thinking about a potential theoretical or geographical specialization. Once you've considered these choices, a great place to start looking for programs is the Skidmore College anthropology faculty. They have all been through the process and are familiar enough with the field to recommend some programs well-suited for you and your interests. Other sources of useful information are the websites of individual university programs, accessible through the guide to anthropology programs. You may also want to check out the National Research Council's anthropology program rankings, but always be careful with rankings. Often they fail to consider the incredible variablity in program orientation. A school ranked in the top ten may not have a top program in a specifc subject or geographical area. For example, the University of California-Berkeley has a great medical anthropology program, but if you want to study applied anthropology, the University of South Florida may be a better choice.

Gerald ErchakAsk the Faculty
Prof. Gerald Erchak - "A good first step is to spend several hours carefully looking through the AAA Guide to Departments of Anthropology. Copies can be found in the Anthropology Department office in Tisch Learning Center. Look carefully at the specializations of the professors and the section outlining special programs."

4. What other graduate programs can anthropology majors pursue?

Anthropology as an undergraduate major is a solid preparation for many different types of graduate programs. These include public health, sustainable development, cultural studies, ethnic studies, or even medical school. Check out the guide to related programs for more information.

Michael Ennis-McMillanAsk the Faculty
Prof. Michael Ennis-McMillan - "We have had graduates pursue graduate degrees in social work, public health, education, and other fields. In many cases, our graduates select programs that have anthropologists as part of the faculty. Other times, programs emphasize a cross-cultural component."


5. Should I apply directly after college or take some time off?

The average age of a Ph.D recipient in anthropology is 40 years old, so needless to say there is no special hurry. Make sure you are applying at a time in your life when you can make a serious comittment to long-term study. Many students express the desire to have some experiences under their belt before settling into graduate studies. That said, you should also make sure you make the most of your time between undergraduate and graduate school. People reading your application would rather see a prospective student spend two years teaching english to eastern European immigrants than delivering pizzas for Domino's!

Jill SweetAsk the Faculty
Prof. Jill Sweet - "There no longer is a stigma for students to take some time between their undergraduate education and graduate school. But it does matter what they do with their time between. Gaining experiences through employment or volunteer work is best if it can be shown to have some connection to the field of study to be pursued in graduate school.

Some graduate schools prefer the more mature student who has gone out and had life experiences beyond undergraduate education. So it is not 'time off,' but rather a seeking of experience outside the academy."


6. What is expected of me in my application? How will I be judged?

Application requirements vary considerably from institution to institution, but there are some easily identifiable commonalities:

  1. Transcripts from undergraduate study.

  2. A minimum GPA, usually in the vicinity of 3.0-3.5.

  3. A minimum score on each section of the Graduate Record Exam, usually around 550

  4. Favorable letters of recommendation, usually from anthropologists.

  5. A well-written statement of purpose demonstrating both your motivation for applying to the particular program as well as your clarity and quality of exposition

  6. A writing sample (research/term paper)

  7. Completion of institutional application form, usually covering work experience, volunteer experience, and specific personal information.

For more information about application requirements from specific institutions, follow the links from the guide to anthropology programs.

Michael Ennis-McMillanAsk the Faculty
Prof. Michael Ennis-McMillan - "Graduate programs are always looking for a good fit between the program and the applicant. Good grades and GRE scores are important, but an applicant should write a statement of purpose and submit other materials that demonstrate they have a clear theoretical, topical, and geographical focus in mind. If you are interested in doing research in Mexico, you should choose a school that has Mexico specialists in the program. Also try to show that you have been to Mexico, completed advanced language training, and have written papers or presented conference papers about Mexico."


7. What are the career prospects after Graduate School?

The American Anthropological Association (AAA) reports that among the 1997 cohort of Ph.D recipients, 71% found jobs within traditional academic departments while 29% took non-academic jobs. These non-academic jobs include emplyment in research institutes, museums, the United Sates government, and the private sector. Although the numer of yearly Ph.D recipients always exceeds yearly academic job openings, have no fear. The AAA predicts that with the discipline's focus on internationalism, information, and research, the demand for trained anthropologists, both inside and outside of academia, will increase steadily into the 21st century.

Gerald ErchakAsk the Faculty
Gerald Erchak - "They are changing rapidly. While college teaching remains the primary career outcome, opportunities in applied fields are growing rapidly. Unfortunately, there are still far too many anthropology Ph.D.'s in the job market."