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How to be a competitive anthro applicant


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i'd like to solicit your advice about applying to anthropology ph.d programs. what are the most important components of an application? is field experience essential?

also, are there any terminal master's degrees in anthro?


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  • 1 year later...
also, are there any terminal master's degrees in anthro?

Yes, though I think that's rare in American schools for social. In Canada, doing an MA is the norm. In the States, I've seen biological anthro MA programs though.

This is my round two of applying, and I've been talking to a lot of people, including directors at places that rejected me, so I hope some of what I've learned can be of use to you.

The most important factor is faculty fit. In social anthro it means regional/topical/theoretical. This is why your statement carries a lot of weight. What kind of anthropology does your research articulate into? What kinds of disciplinary questions are you taking up? What is your sub-community of researchers? What are you saying to them? Think about these questions in your application more than just describing your field and research questions. I think this shows how much you care about your work, how much you've reflected upon it, as well as how prepared you are to do it. It doesn't mean you've read everything, but it means you sort of know what to read. Definitely flag profs, especially senior profs in a department, in your application as people you'd like to work with. Actually look at their work first or at least skim through it, because it's very obvious if you are just going by the keywords on their website.

So to have a competitive application, it is very important to contact profs with a polished statement (don't send them your rough draft). Make sure your current profs read it through first and give you feedback. Your current profs are important, they might be friends with these profs or know them personally, so they could even potentially email introduce you. If your colleague knows that his/her student's work could gain a lot from working with you based on your research background, you'd take that seriously, right?

This is why reference letters are very important. Ask people who know you really well, and whom you respect a lot. This is kind of potentially dicey. Certain profs are associated with particular schools of thought, but you should be guided by how well this prof knows you, and whether or not they are enthusiastic about your applications. Talk to your profs about their views on which schools you should go to. Ask them for advice about the schools you want to go to. You might learn something that way, and you might end up applying to more places than just your own choices. Our own choices aren't always the best!

Then there are other factors like whether you already have applied for external funding. If you already won some external funding, it makes you look good to a school.

They also consider your marks/grades - mainly to detect a trend to being a good student, doing your work, and staying on top of things. There is also your GRE, though the weight of this highly varies from department to department. One acquaintance of mine got into a top program despite not even taking the GRE -- she explained to them that she didn't believe in standardized tests and that made her stand out to them in some sense. But I don't recommend this! Most depts really have to care about the GRE because of the school's grad admissions requirements.

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A) Fit with faculty research interests is important, but not quite as crucial for terminal-MA programs as it is for PhD programs. That's not to say it's not important at all - tistre gave some great advice - just that other things (GREs, undergrad GPA, other experiences) are considered a bit more for many terminal-MA programs' admissions decisions than they are once you get to the PhD level.

B) Fieldwork experience is a big plus, but not essential, especially if you've got the academic background. You'll have a tougher time if you're switching fields completely AND you have no experience. Not impossible, but definitely more difficult. Look for field schools, summer volunteer opportunities, whatever you can find - now is the time to set up that kind of stuff and get involved if you're thinking applying this fall for 2010.

C) There are a good number of terminal MA programs - a very quick search of the AAA guide turns up over 300 programs (although I'm sure a large number of those don't offer the concentration you're interested in, fo course). But, many of them are not at big-name schools, and many of them are not at schools that offer PhDs (like where I'm at now). Also, many schools don't have just an anthropology department, many are anthropology/sociology, which presents its own challenges. And finally, many of these smaller schools with terminal-MA-only programs don't have much funding, so be prepared to hunt down your own sources of funding/work part-time (preferably an on campus assistantship)/take out loans.

Good luck! If I can be of help, just let me know. =)

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  • 1 month later...

Thanks Sachi and Tistre for some great advice.

This is my round two of applying, and I've been talking to a lot of people, including directors at places that rejected me,

Round 2 for me too, I got no funding this time. I am considering re-applying to some depts I got rejected for. How advisable is that?

Rutgers, Brandeis and South Carolina have a good departmental focus on diaspora studies. Where else can I apply to?

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