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Mentor Program: Undergrad QA2

NAPA Mentoring FAQs: Undergraduate Scenarios

Scenario Two

Q.  I am just starting out in anthropology and am very interested in making it my career in the future, but the school I’m currently going to only offers it as a minor. I am looking for some general information on good schools that offer bachelors and post-graduate degrees in anthropology. I am looking for some tips on how to figure out exactly what I want to do with the anthropology degree and how to get there in the best possible way.

A.  There are undergraduate programs offering majors in anthropology at universities and colleges in every state.  At this point much will depend on your options and flexibility, in terms of what you can afford and how far you can move. You can start by searching the websites of universities and colleges you know about and can see what they offer in anthropology. You can ask about these in your department or from career counselors.  In general, you will want to avoid programs in which there are only a very few faculty in anthropology, mainly because you won’t have the breadth of course offerings and number of fellow student majors that larger programs can provide. If you are uncertain of your focus within anthropology, a larger program will also give you the most opportunities to explore.

As you probably know, getting a BA with a major in anthropology will not necessarily make you an anthropologist.  You need graduate training for that at the masters or doctorate level. There are also some possibilities with specialized masters degrees in applied anthropology and archaeology. Try the website of the Consortium of Practicing and Applied Anthropology Programs; member programs specifically train Masters and doctorate-level  anthropologists who intend to work outside of academic settings: www.copaa.info.

It should be said that majoring in anthropology at the undergraduate level is not always a prerequisite to getting into a graduate degree program in anthropology.  An undergraduate major in anthropology helps because it shows graduate admissions committees that you are making an informed decision that anthropology is firmly your career choice, and it demonstrates that you can succeed well in anthropology courses. However, in some cases, a bachelors degree in another major can sometimes be beneficial (for instance, a degree in geology or applied math can be an attractive credential for archaeology; communications, language, or linguistics degrees match well with cultural anthropology). Upon acceptance into a program, you will likely be required to successfully complete a few undergraduate-level anthropology classes before full entry into graduate classes.

Perhaps the most important thing is to spend your undergraduate years as fruitfully as possible, getting broadly educated in the liberal arts and sciences, strengthening your academic skills, having at least one foreign language, and getting relevant experience in internships, summer field courses, tutorials, and independent research courses.

With regard to career paths in anthropology, spend time on the websites not just of NAPA but of the American Anthropological Association and the Society for Applied Anthropology. The AAA published a report on Masters-level careers in 2010, which can be found on their website (titled “The Changing Face of Anthropology”). There are a few books and NAPA Bulletins (now called the Annals of Anthropological Practice) on the subject of anthropology careers. Join NAPA’s Facebook or LinkedIn pages or the listserv and pose questions. Finally, if you have the means, attend a professional meeting and talk to graduate students and professionals about anthropology as a career.


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