Many students take an anthropology course because they provide interesting content which meet various general education requirements and often consider choosing it as a major. While discussing the idea or their decision to do so with others, they are repeatedly asked two important questions:
What does a degree in anthropology entail?
Anthropology is one of the lesser known liberal arts disciplines. Academic anthropologists study and teach about virtually every aspect of both current and past peoples. Given the holistic approach to understanding human kind, anthropology transcends traditional academic polarization as it concurrently studies many of the same phenomenon as academics in other fields such as political science, sociology, biology and communication. In order to earn a bachelors degree in anthropology, students are generally required to take classes in each of the following four sub-fields:
- u linguistics- the study of language form, significance and social context
- u archaeology- the study of past human activities
- u biological anthropology- the study of human evolution and how this evolutionary history continues to shape people today
- u cultural anthropology- exploring cultural variation and how it shapes both individuals , groups and communities
Some programs require that students specialize in a specific sub-field through additional course work and internships. However, whether or not you specialize, the holistic understanding you gain of modern day phenomenon, our shared history and how it affects us today can be applied to numerous careers.
What Can You Do With an Anthropology Degree?
Unless you want to continue on to receive a graduate education, you will likely never work as an anthropologist. But, do not despair! An advanced degree is not necessary to utilize your anthropological training in your career. You can apply the vast skill set you gain while getting a bachelors degree to virtually any career!
For starters, not only will you qualify for any job which just requires applicants to have earned a bachelors degree, you will be an ideal candidate for many! For instance, the armed services seeks people who are cognizant of and comfortable transcending cultural barriers and, with a degree, you qualify to enlist as an officer. With room, board, and airfare included on top of the salary, another lucrative option is teaching English abroad. Many people who pursue this option struggle to understand and interact in cultures vastly different from our own. However, with the ability to not only identify but understand their rational, overcoming such cultural differences is far easier. Plus, being able to systematically understand the barriers to communication between Americans and individuals from your host culture will allow you to teach your foreign students the customs and expectations they will need to understand to interact successfully with English speakers. Additionally, as an anthropology student, a considerable amount of your coursework will require effective communication abilities, preparing you for employment which requires the ability to communicate effectively, such as journalism.
Archaeology is one of the fastest growing segments of career possibilities for anthropology students. In order to lead research projects or work for the government to preserve Native American heritage sites, one needs an advanced degree. However, if you have attended a field school and taken a methodological theory course, you can work with a Cultural Resource Management firm. Both federal and state governments, in collaboration with Native American groups, continue to craft regulations aimed at protecting their heritage sites, creating a substantial demand for archaeologists. Construction companies are required by federal and state regulations to have qualified archaeologists perform a site inspection and test dig in order to ensure they are not building on an archaeological site. If human remains are found, either during the test dig or later construction, companies are obligated to protect the remains, often necessitating a Cultural Resource Management firm to document and preserve the remains until they can be repatriated. Working on such projects can give you the experience, references and network needed to find work with research crews on full-scale archaeological digs.
Even without taking business classes or substantial previous experience, an array of options exists within the business world if you have a degree in anthropology. With your understanding of cultural factors which shape human interactions, anthropology students make great applicants for managerial and sales positions. Or, if a certain cultural group interests you, you can gain specialized knowledge about their cultural practices and become a business consultant or cultural broker, even without speaking another language! Businesses seek employees knowledgeable about both foreign cultures and sub-groups domestically as such employees are valuable because they can improve a businesses’ interactions and offerings to individuals or organizations from different cultural backgrounds to meet their unique needs. Additionally, businesses today employ anthropologists within their public relations or marketing department so that campaigns can be tailored to convey precise messages to specific consumers.
Anthropology students can utilize the research skills they cultivated while obtaining their education for numerous careers. Businesses, organizations and governmental entities perform research so that they can understand customers, improve customer service, and ensure they are meeting the needs of those they are serving. By choosing a major which a heavy emphasis on research, anthropology students are well suited for such careers. One can be more competitive for such positions by taking courses and finding internships where they perform advanced research. Although they can be found both within and outside of their university, students must proactively seek such opportunities. At research universities, all professors perform research, creating substantial opportunities for dedicated students to become involved. However, at other universities and even community colleges many professors perform research even though it is rarely a requirement so students who investigate such options and prove their dedication can gain valuable research experience. Students can also find research opportunities with outside organizations and businesses. Although ideally a student will perform research related to their long-term career goals, even if the topic of the research is not relevant, the experience itself can help you qualify for research based employment.
Want even more options? Consider Graduate School!
While a graduate degree is not necessary for the options discussed above, it will allow you to be more competitive in the job market, receive higher compensation and qualify for promotions. Choosing a graduate school is not an easy feat as each program is uniquely tailored with specific specialties and requirements. Some programs only accept candidates for masters degrees while others require that you commit to completing both a masters and a doctoral program; most programs require an applicant to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) before applying, in addition to the letters of reference, transcripts and other documents which must be submitted with an application, some skip this requirement. Whatever the specifics of the program, graduate students are virtually always required to perform research, often collaboratively with professors and/or colleagues, on a topic of their choice. Although you can later switch your specific topic, it is advisable to have chosen one or, at most, two topics to focus upon before applying for only then can you find a program where you will find mentors capable of teaching you the skills you need to succeed and universities are leery of students, even those with a great curriculum vitae, who lack direction.
Career options are greatly shaped by the research you perform during your graduate studies. For instance, if you choose to study some facet of medical anthropology, where cultural norms are explored in their relation to disease and well-being, you could later be employed by health care organizations, insurance companies, or governmental groups. Or, if you focus on a specific cultural group or a specific phenomena you can work with both governmental and humanitarian groups working with that group or to impact that phenomena. On the other hand, many positions, such as a librarian, museum curator, or professor, are open to individuals from all four sub-fields.
Luckily, you need not decide if graduate school is the best option for you right away. Taking time off to work, travel or, even better, both, before applying to graduate school will not hurt your chances of admittance, and, depending on what you do during this time, it can even improve your chances of getting admitted and receiving scholarships and employment offers!