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Choosing the Right School in Archaeology

Getting into Graduate School


University of British Columbia, Anthropology Museum

University of British Columbia, Anthropology Museum


The most important thing to consider when you're searching for the ideal graduate school is your goals. What do you want out of your graduate career? Do you want to get a Ph.D., and teach and do research in academic settings? Do you want to get an M.A., and work for a Cultural Resource Management firm? Do you have a culture in mind you want to study or an area of specialization such as faunal studies or GIS? Do you really not have a clue, but you think archaeology might be interesting to explore?

Most of us, I should think, don't really know for certain what we want out of our lives until we're further along down the road, so if you're undecided between the Ph.D. or the M.A., or if you've thought about it pretty carefully and have to admit that you fit into the undecided category, this column is for you.

Look at Many Schools

First of all, don't go shopping for one graduate school--shoot for ten. Different schools will be searching for different students; and it will be easier to hedge your bet if you send off applications to several of the schools that you might want to attend.

Secondly, stay flexible--it's your biggest asset. By that I mean, be prepared for things to not work out as you expect. You might not get into your first school; you may end up disliking your major professor; you may fall into a research topic that you never considered before starting school; because of unforeseen circumstances today, you may decide to go on for the Ph.D., or stop at an M.A. If you keep yourself open to the possibilities, it will be easier for you to adapt to the situation as it is bound to change.

Third, do your homework. If there was ever a time to practice your research skills, this is the time. Many if not most of the anthropology departments in the world now have web sites; but they don't necessarily specify their areas of research. Seek for a department through professional organizations such as the Society for American Archaeology or the Australian Association of Consulting Archaeologists. Go to the library and read the latest articles on your area(s) of interest, and find out who is doing the interesting research and where they are located. Write to the faculty or graduate students of a department you're interested in. Talk to the anthropology department where you got your Bachelor's degree; ask your major professor what she or he suggests.

Finding the right school is definitely part luck and part hard work; but then, that pretty well describes archaeology right there.

Finding the Right School

The following archaeologists and former students described how they chose their schools for this column.

Before You Go to Grad School: A Guide

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