about Graduate School in Anthropology?
Basic Considerations: M.A. or Ph.D.?
you have the interest to sustain you for a longer program or would you rather
do a shorter one? (Average Ph.D. completion time is 8.5 years, while an
M.A. generally takes between 1.5 and 3 years.)
will a graduate degree help get you the career you want? Which degree is
better for that career?
there funding for the one you chose, or do you pay your own way? (usually
M.A.s are difficult to fund, Ph.D.s easier)
you want to get an M.A. to see if you like it, and then consider a Ph.D.?
options to consider include getting an M.A. degree in a discipline related
to your anthropological interest, including regional studies disciplines,
education, geology, etc. before getting a Ph.D. in Anthropology.
to advisers, people in the field, etc. about the process of graduate school,
job prospects, state of the discipline, etc. As with any major decision,
it is caveat emptor. Know pretty well what you're getting yourself into,
and know the different career options ahead of time.
Cast of mind is important for the Ph.D.
get a Ph.D. because they have some questions they want to explore and want
intellectual growth - not because it's the automatic stepping stone
to an academic job they may want - because the academic job market
being what it is, there is no assurance that anyone will get a job. Don't
fool yourself: the academic job market has been pretty grim, and it's not
going to improve anytime soon. Anthro grad school (especially at
the Ph.D. level) is not a 'professional school' in the same vein as an M.B.A.,
J.D. or M.D. (One possible exception would be Applied Anthropology, but
even that is debatable.)
Time between UVM and Grad School
yourself: Will I be a burn-out by my second or third year? If yes, wait.
Also, admissions committees are looking for maturity (not always what they
award you a B.A. for), so time off will likely enhance your application.
(In fact, the average age of Ph.D. recipients in Anthropology is 39!)
the usual (job, travel) you might consider using your time between undergrad
and grad to further your research goals...apply for a Fullbright
grant, a Watson, attend a field school, work on language skills, or find
work as a research assistant on a project (this will probably be easiest
for archaeologically-bound folks), etc. The UVM Office of Sponsored Programs
will have information on grants and programs.
considerations will affect where you apply, on what you chose to work, with
whom you will work and, most importantly, it will help orient you throughout
the entire process. Before proceeding, you will have to make some very sobering
assessments and decisions, so it is important to carefully consider why you
want to go to grad school.
what to do before you graduate...
to know three (or at least two) professors pretty well - they will write
your recommendations for you. Try to arrange for these BEFORE YOU LEAVE
CAMPUS if you think there's any chance of going onto grad school (even
if it may not be Anthropology).
Essential: Keep papers with their comments, so you can show them
down the road to remind them of your work (and what they thought of it).
Your good recs rely on them providing as many details about you that they
Courses in your major
if you didn't major in the field you want to study in grad school? Don't
let this discourage you from applying, since grad programs are always looking
for people with interesting backgrounds. If you didn't major in the field,
you may have to work harder in courses your first year than people who may
have a background in the field. No matter what you major in though, you
should have high grades in your major field - this shows them that you are
a serious student when it comes to something that interests you.
a Thesis or Independent Study, and/or a Field School
only will this help you decide if you have the gumption and interest to
handle advanced work and actual fieldwork, the products you create will
be useful to send with your application so that the admissions committee
sees your actual work abilities.
It is required, but is it important? Sort of. It hurts your
chances for admission only if your score is low. It helps the admissions
committee make a quick first cut. In some schools, they are more likely
to give funding if your score is high. There is no special exam for Anthropology
(although there is for other fields such as Sociology).
seems to be the most intimidating aspect of the graduate admissions process,
but it shouldn't be. Prepare for it, by either taking a course (expensive)
or buying a book that includes some practice exams (cheap). Learn the tricks
of how to take it and do well (prove to everyone how easy it is to circumvent
the actual content of the test, and by implication, what a useless and biased
test it is!). Many people take it twice, and improve markedly the second
aware! Cultural anthro departments generally only care about the analytical
and verbal scores, but that doesn't mean you should sleep through the math!
these will only hurt your chances for admission if they are low - especially
in your major - implication: pretty much everyone applying to grad school
has good grades. As with a high GRE score, high grades might help you get
also worth it to begin to expand your network and experiences in Anthropology
before you graduate:
attend conferences to get a sense of where the discipline is moving and
meet people. (NEAA is great for this...)
attend lectures and workshops at other regional schools, again to meet more
people and get a sense of what's going on in the discipline.
take a job or research internship with an ongoing anthropological project
or institution (i.e., an archaeology consulting firm, a development consulting
firm, etc.) or become a research assistant to a professor.
you demonstrate clarity of purpose, maturity and panache in your personal
statement and have persuasive recommendations, grades, GRE scores, and so
on should not really matter too much for admissions decisions (although they
may for funding).
for Course Catalogues
check the departmental websites, since they usually list course schedules.
often do they offer the courses you want?
you be taking a lot of independent study courses if the course offerings
are light or not in your areas of interest?
Are there people in the department or other departments who would actually
do these things with you?
you take courses at other universities in the same city? (...one of the
bonuses of NYC area).
with the Great College Tour, if you can afford it, visiting ahead of time
can be helpful in making decisions. Find out when is a good time to go (Summer
is always bad, Spring tends to be busy. Try early Fall, before all the application
deadlines, and when people are not yet working very hard.) Arrange to meet
with students and selected faculty, maybe even sit in on a class. Keep in
mind that these people will be quite busy, but they should take you seriously
since you are a potential colleague. If you can't actually visit, call or
write to a faculty member or two announcing your interests and ask about
the program. Also, you could get in touch with a grad student from a program
and ask him or her for details. You could visit schools after getting accepted
at them (sometimes they'll pay or wine and dine you), when you have a more
concrete sense of the possibilities (and you won't get your hopes up that
one school will accept you).
Criteria Number One: the Faculty.
do you want to work with? (Identify at least two or three)
the professor(s) you want to work with be on sabbatical during your coursework?
are professor-professor relations like? Are they at each other's throats,
or do they get along? Do students get in the middle of acrimonious squabbles?
are professor-student relations like? Do they cultivate mentoring relationships,
or do you work more with a committee?
are important trade-offs to consider with each of these models: Mentors
can bring access to resources, research projects, etc...but they can also
be tyrants. Committees often allow more independent work...but sometimes
they don't take care of you like a mentor might.
faculty include students in department-level politics and activities?
the faculty formal, or informal with their students?
they leave grad students to figure things out by themselves, including actual
work, bureaucratic maneuvers, and practical career training, or do they
supportively walk you through these things? (It will most likely tend toward
the former, especially at universities where undergraduate teaching or faculty
research is the primary mission or faculty are more concerned with their
are M.A. students treated (as opposed to Ph.D. students or undergrads)?
should identify up to two or three faculty with whom you would like to work,
and you should consider contacting them ahead of time and let them know who
you are. If they are enthusiastic about you, this could enhance your application.
Issues to Consider
the department have a general approach, style or regional concentration?
example, in Cultural Anthropology, Princeton is known for its interpretive
approach, Chicago for its work on the structural aspects of culture, Cornell
for Asian Studies, etc. This might ultimately shape what kind of Anthropology
you do, and the networks in which you find yourself.
you want preparation in all four fields, and does the department offer/require
it? (Less and less common)
are relations like with other departments in the university?
Anthro folks get involved with other departments and programs? Which ones?
students actually do fieldwork? Where?
long do students take to finish? What are their stumbling blocks?
there an exchange program with other grad schools (in the U.S. and abroad)?
(This could make a difference if there are several people at different universities
with whom you could see yourself working.)
are the graduate students enthusiastic about? (All grad students are cynical,
but you can usually tell if their gripes are major ones.)
there differences in the ways that M.A. students and Ph.D. students are
treated by the department or university? (i.e., access to funding, teaching,
you spend anywhere from the next two to nine years of your life in that
town or city? Is there intellectual or social life beyond the university?
you want to move away for a Ph.D.? If you do not want to (or cannot) actually
move away to do a Ph.D., consider distance-learning options, such as the
Union Institute, etc. However, the good ones are few and far between and
require incredible independence.
$45 to $60 a pop, it isn't cheap to get the 'privilege' to be considered
for acceptance. Therefore, you should reconcile your pocketbook with the
number of schools you're applying to. Nevertheless, my advice is to
throw a wider net than a more narrow one (i.e., anywhere between 5 and 10
schools instead of just one or two), even if it is expensive. It's an investment
into the future.
or Show Me the Money!
the school offer scholarships or fellowships? Full support (tuition, stipend,
health benefits) or partial? Is it for the duration, or only a couple of
Will you be required to teach (and how does that affect the amount of time
to degree - it usually slows it down)?
you have to get loans? How much?
is normal for an M.A., and Ph.D. students often take out loans, since
not all fellowships will cover everything. Paying for a Ph.D. out-of-pocket
is over $100,000 at a private university, in tuition alone! And remember:
you also have to eat, clothe yourself and buy books! Be prepared for the
fact that an M.A. could require a relatively heavy debt load (especially
if it is a private university) - easily over $30,000.
Do students have opportunities for summer funding?
students get funding to do fieldwork?
should consider applying for the following before you get to grad school
to pay for it:
Jacob Javits Fellowship, Ford Foundation, Mellon, NIMH, etc. [Recognize
though that these are national competitions, so you have to have a pretty
clear idea of what you are going to accomplish in graduate school as well
as great GREs/grades.] Check with the UVM Office of Sponsored Programs
for grant applications.
you are willing to pay for grad school, especially a Ph.D. (i.e., you are
heir to a fortune), then make sure they know it; they may not accept you solely
on the basis that they've already given their fellowships to other candidates
(even though they want you too); so if you can pay for it, they might take
you. On the other hand, if you cannot pay for it, let them know directly in
the financial aid statement of the application - this may influence them to
offer you funding to ensure that you come there. Be frank with them. You can
generally defer undergraduate loans if you are going to graduate school.
is hands-down the most significant component of your application,
so it has to be well-written and polished. Begin with a clear and forceful
opening; remember that the admissions committee is seeing hundreds of these,
and yours has to stand out. It could be a motivating question (it should
not be rhetorical), a perplexing situation or contradiction (that you then
explain), or an outright statement or observation - but it should convey
a sense that it's not only important to you, but that it has wider relevance
(otherwise it sounds narcissistic).
the body of the statement you should explain the following: Why you?
What have you done to prepare yourself to do well? What themes and region
do you want to work on? (corollary: Who do you want to work with?
Be specific and name names, THEREBY CUSTOMIZING EACH ESSAY FOR EACH SCHOOL
TO WHICH YOU APPLY). And finally, what are your goals/plans with this?
A good way to organize your essay would be to devote one paragraph to answering
each of these questions.
you are communicating your desire to go onto graduate study, be aware that
admissions committee people tend to like those people who they see as eager
to take on the vagaries of graduate school itself; so that means don't spend
time talking about the fact that you're using this as a stepping stone to
a career. Also, style counts: try not to plug in the answers to these questions
mechanically, since they should organically meld into one another. Wrap
up the essay by referring back to your opening observations, question, etc,
making the whole a tight package. Be sure to circulate this essay among
recommenders, faculty, friends, etc. ahead of time to work out all the kinks.
identifying your areas of interest, be as specific as possible. Although
you won't be held to them since everybody's interests and projects evolve,
you show them that you have a wider sense of where you are going in the
field and life. A good committee will be looking for a delicate balance
between a solid sense of direction and an open cast of mind.
are also extremely significant, so be sure that these people know
you and particularly your work and abilities.
key problem for an admissions committee is how to evaluate students coming
from different academic and social contexts, so they tend to rely on recommendations
from colleagues to get a sense of the applicant's abilities. This means
that if your recommender knows someone at the school to which you are applying,
or your recommender's work is more widely known outside of your department,
then the admissions committee will be able to contextualize your application
better. You do need to be aware of these dynamics (some might call it an
'old boy's network,' although this term is inaccurate because academia is
not so exclusive nor are anthropology departments necessarily dominated
by men), since the applications process is only the beginning of having
to deal with this and it will be there constantly throughout (at least the
early years of) your career. After all, academia is a social network! This
is not to say that you won't get accepted at a place where no one knows
who your recommenders are; but you could certainly use this knowledge to
your advantage and apply to those places where there may be previous relations
between them and a recommender or two (or even if a student from your department
has gone there and done well). Having some kind of benchmark on which they
can rely enhances your possibilities immensely. But don't let this scare
you from applying at places even where you feel like it could be a longshot
- you never know!
you have taken time off after undergraduate, it is acceptable to use the
recommendation of an employer who knows you well. However, at least two
out of your likely three recommenders should know you from an academic context.
When you ask for any recommendation from a professor or employer, ask well
in advance of the deadline (especially professors, who are swamped with writing
recs when you want yours) and send them an updated resume so they know you
better as a whole person. Be sure to tell the recommender what you want him
or her to include in the letter (i.e., skills, experiences, service, internship,
TA experience, etc).
with your application send a copy of a particularly good paper you
wrote (thesis or independent study), or publications, to give the admissions
committee an idea about your actual work and abilities.
sure you list any honors, presentations, conference participations, and
foreign experience. This is the kind of stuff that could be offered on a
C.V. that you include with your application.
following timeline will help you think about when you should be doing things,
if you are applying for fall entry. If you're applying to a school with
rolling entry (uncommon), adjust this schedule accordingly.
year before you want to enter:
Study for and take GRE; send for catalogues, applications and identify
desirable departments; send letters to faculty that you might be interested
in working with; let recommenders know so if they want they can begin
to write recommendations; request info on national competitions for grad
funding such as NSF, Javits, etc.
Fall: Take GRE again (if necessary); definitely secure recommendations
from advisors; write and circulate personal statement; visit schools and
talk with students; prepare c.v. and materials to include with application.
Fall: Fill out and mail in applications; apply for national competitions
such as NSF, Javits, etc.
Winter: Finish sending applications.
Winter/Spring: Wait to hear from schools...and then wait some more...
(please don't assault mail carrier)
Spring/Early Summer: If you're accepted, make a visit and weigh offers
(see below); set up financial aid and loans
you NOT been accepted anywhere?
off, please try not to feel so bad. You can never know for certainty why
a school did or did not accept you - there are many dynamics internal to
departments that you can't know from the outside. Nevertheless, you should
try to find out what eliminated you as a candidate, and see if you can correct
it before applying next year (by taking more college level courses, retaking
the GRE, getting relevant work experience, or rewriting a personal statement,
etc.). Or, you could apply in a different discipline, or for an M.A. instead
of a Ph.D.
you been accepted?
the question is, how am I going to pay for this?! If you were lucky, you
got a fellowship offer. If you have multiple fellowship offers, you can
use them as bargaining chips to get a slightly higher stipend or benefits.
Be modest and humble - don't push these things - but if a school is serious
about you, they may see what they can do so they don't lose you to one that
gives you a better offer.
expect a deferment unless you worked it out with the school ahead of
time, especially if they have offered you a fellowship. Fellowship monies
are limited, and can disappear if no one takes it, so departments are nervous
if accepted students don't come. Most will not even guarantee that you will
be accepted next year, since the next crop of applicants could be stronger.
you are going to be paying with loans (Staffords, Nellie Mae, etc.), you
need to think about applying for them the spring/summer before you enter.
The financial aid office will help with this.
there a way to prepare for entering your first year of grad school?
Don't feel like you have to read all sorts of stuff to prepare yourself
- unless you're normally like this you'll probably just exhaust yourself,
and the first year of grad school is intense enough as it is (in terms of
the quantity and quality of work expected), that it probably won't do you
any particular good... (This is open to debate, though. For example, some
might argue that a reading group with friends or colleagues would be helpful...)
Anthropological Association Guide to Departments
annually published tome that lists faculty and basic information on all
departments. We have one in the department office. Extremely helpful for
finding out who is in what departments and what they work on.
Anthropological Association Newsletter
the AAA Newsletter to get a sense of the state of the discipline, the
job market, funding opportunities, etc. Most faculty receive this and
it is on-line through the AAA website.
Real Guide to Grad School: What to Know Before You Choose
by the editors of Lingua Franca, the academic society pages. Pretty trustworthy
insights on specific departments. (www.linguafranca.com)
will list only several websites that will be good gateways for exploring grad
school admissions and careers. They will lead you to more specific resources.
of Sponsored Programs, 340 Waterman Hall. You can find out about grants
- for post-undergrad research or for graduate studies - from this office.
by the Reference Department of UVM's Bailey-Howe Library. It offers information
on and links to anthropological research tools, disciplinary web pages,
career information, museums, search engines, and how to evaluate web sites.
It is an excellent resource for researching anthropological topics as
well as beginning a search for grad schools and careers.
Anthropological Association. The definitive source for links to websites
treating all the subdisciplines of anthropology, including socio-cultural,
archaeological, biophysical, linguistic and applied. They have constantly
updated links to different websites of anthropological interest. You should
especially check out their career pages, where they list available jobs.
website dedicated to anthropological themes, has links to many other anthropologically-relevant
websites. A good place to start surfing on anthropological themes and
searching for graduate departments and info on jobs.
department websites. Where you'll get the concrete info you need.