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Advice for Cultural/Sociology 2016 Grad Student


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This is my first post on grad cafe. Hope I provide enough details without being excessive. 

I am currently a student at Montana State University majoring in Anthropology with a minor in Women's and Gender Studies (female, 26 years old, a senior, and graduating this spring). I work full time (no other choice seeing as I do not have enough financial aid to live on and get no assistance from family) and take 9 credits every semester. 
Looking to apply for Spring 2016.

I didn't realize until this past summer that I wanted to do grad school. Upon reflection I admitted to myself that I was selling myself short in terms of what I wanted to do with my life. Due to not thinking I was doing grad school, and not being as concerned with getting all A's, my GPA is not the highest. I'm working on getting it up and am almost at a 3.0 and should be there by the time I graduate if not a little above. I am open to either Masters Programs or PHD programs though I feel PHD programs will help with greater career options in the long run.  
The emphasis in MSU's Anthropology department is Archaeology. Within the cultural sphere, emphasis is in Pacific Islander and Eastern Culture Studies. I am looking at going to grad school in the realm of Social Psychology/Anthropology/Sociology. 
A couple academic interests: 
-The formulation and expression of self on an individual and societal level
-Impact of sexuality and gender on society
-Religious belief and identity
I feel that MSU's resources are limited with helping me find a decent program that is a good fit and thought I'd see what advice might arise from GradCafe while continuing to talk to professors at MSU.

General Questions/Statements:

-Due to being in the lower GPA bracket I'd like to do well on the GRE. What areas should I focus on?
-I'm working on my undergraduate thesis concerning identify/group affiliation shift focusing on The Latter Day Saint Church and how self identity is reshaped upon leaving the Church. My research is unique in that little to no research has been conducted with the angle I am taking. My professors that know of this project I'm working on have encouraged that it will set me apart with grad school applications. 
-I know an internship would help immensely but I am having trouble finding one that would apply to Anthropology or Sociology. The Anthropology/Sociology department does not have a graduate program and the professors that are working on research are traveling. 
-Other ways to help set myself apart for grad school applications?
-Any school recommendations that have graduate programs focusing in Social Psychology/Anthropology/Sociology that may fit my interests? Schools so far are: University of Utah, Utah State and University of Missoula 

All advice that you feel may assist is welcome. 
Thank you for your time. :)



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Hi there and welcome,


It seems like you have a good sense of what you're interested in, which is important thing #1 when it comes to looking at graduate school. A lowish GPA would be the elephant in the room on any graduate school application you submit, so I recommend addressing it head-on in your application: if you can (truthfully) argue that you were sort of directionless early on and that you got it in gear once you realized what you wanted to do, I think most potential advisors would be willing to accept that. You can also help your chances by being in touch with faculty directly, which would give you the opportunity to make a more tangible personal impression and also explain your situation. You should always try to be in touch with potential advisors anyway; I can't think of anyone I know in a PhD program who got in without corresponding or meeting with faculty beforehand. It shows you're serious.


A Master's degree has the advantage of being a way of sharpening your interests and proving your dedication should you decide to apply for PhD programs later, but of course MAs are expensive and given your finances I imagine you don't want to take on any more debt. Perhaps a more viable option would be to look into developing some field experience. There are cultural anthropology field schools that don't break the bank, or you could try and go into the field with someone else as an assistant--the latter should be relatively straightforward if you can work the professional network a bit. Even if the work itself is only tangentially relevant to what you're interested in, doing supervised fieldwork also means you'd have a letter-writer who could comment on your aptitude for professional fieldwork, which is good to have.


Are you looking to stay out west? There are lots of good programs around the country that can give you strong general training in cultural anthropology and the anthro of religion. I'm an archaeologist so it's hard to speak to your exact interests, but Arizona, UCLA, Stanford, Berkeley, and Washington come to mind as schools with very strong general anthropology programs in the western US.


Since it sounds like finances are a concern, the last bit of advice I would give is to apply only to places that offer good funding. The base line for "good" these days is about $18-20k per year for the first three years, plus teaching and other "contingent" funding after that.


Hope that's helpful!

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Write a kick ass thesis.  Try to get an article out of it.  Use part of it as a writing sample in your app.  I'd also suggest checking out various schools in the University of California system--UCLA, Berkeley, Irvine, Davis, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz.   If your interested in religion and sexuality/gender you might want to see if you can find a gig that speaks to those interests.  A theoretical example being a women's shelter run by a religious organization. 

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Hi and welcome!


So a few things:

Can't really tell you what to focus on for the GRE since it really depends what your strengths and weaknesses are. I recommend taking multiple practice exams to determine what area needs most work.

I also recommend applying to both M.A and PhD programs due to the GPA situation. Definitely don't let that discourage you from applying anywhere (unless they specifically mention a required GPA), but getting into a masters program might be easier and would allow you to prepare for a PhD, but hopefully you'll get into a great PhD program!

Writing an amazing thesis will definitely help. I suggest keeping it around 30 pages since that's usually the page limit for writing samples in applications. 

Also, UCSD has a really strong psychological anthro program, it's in the pacific, and there's a huge population of LDS here in San Diego.


Good luck!

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Looking to apply for Spring 2016.


I'm working on my undergraduate thesis concerning identify/group affiliation shift focusing on The Latter Day Saint Church and how self identity is reshaped upon leaving the Church. My research is unique in that little to no research has been conducted with the angle I am taking.



  • I would double-check programs you're interested in as far as when they start new grad programs...most, if not all, begin in Fall.
  • I did a quick Google search and found this (maybe reach out to these people):


  • Lastly, I'm going to agree with SaraB on her "but getting into a masters program might be easier and would allow you to prepare for a PhD"


I was thinking of a combined masters/PhD program as well, but the professor I spoke with told me after our conversation that the Masters would be more beneficial to me and I'm going to suggest the same to you. It will really help you get the attention you deserve from professors, give you a chance to network and really find other professors/researchers with similar interests as you and figure out how to research exactly what you want and find the resources to do so.

Edited by AKCarlton
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Thank you all so much for the advice! I'll take it all to heart. Masters program is probably where I will put most of my focus into. Not sure exactly what I want to do career-wise yet but I figured I could use the first year of grad school to hone in and make sure where I want to angle towards before picking something Im not sure about. 

I grew up in California and don't want to go back for school. School was my excuse to get out of there and Im not going to use it as an excuse to get back in. I'm looking at Utah University and Utah State right now. Ideally, I'd like to stay in the central states. Colorado and Utah are the two most appealing. It'd be a great opportunity for research to study in Utah. So many Mormons and ex Mormons to talk to! 
I was a member of the LDS Church for 1.5 years. Converted when I was 19. It was my last ditch effort to be involved in organized religion. I learned a lot from my experience and wouldn't take it back for anything. 
A concern of mine with applying to Utah colleges is the academic atmosphere not knowing what to do with my research. I'm not casting the Church in a negative light but its not all that Church promoting either. Utah has rather reasonable tuition so if funding where an issue it'd still be an option. 

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Colorado would probably be a very welcoming atmosphere for the kind of work you do. Plenty of LDS in Colorado itself, but you'd also be removed enough from Deseret that your work wouldn't chafe anybody. CSU-Fort Collins and CU-Boulder are both great programs with a lot of good anthropologists in them.


Have you looked at Northern Arizona? You'd be close to your research subjects, and Flagstaff is a wonderful city. They offer MAs in both research and applied anthro.

Edited by Ajtz'ihb
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Have you looked at Northern Arizona? You'd be close to your research subjects, and Flagstaff is a wonderful city. They offer MAs in both research and applied anthro.


Yeah! My Alma-mater! It's a beautiful city! My only concern would be that you would be competing with a lot of anthros who are doing "indigenous studies" because that's what a majority of the professors study...which is why I had to move far away for what I wanted to study in my masters program.


Also, I don't know if this always happens, but their current cohort is practically made up of students from undergrad. I don't know how big it is, but from my friends on Facebook alone, I see about 5 or 6 of the friends I graduated with in the grad program at NAU. A lot of "accepting from within".

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I have absolutely no interest in indigenous studies so Arizona doesn't hold much appeal to me.
I'm thinking of also applying to the Social Sychology department (sociology and anthropology are the other two). It's a more specific field but still leaves lots of room for variety of interests.
Has anyone applied to two departments within the same school? I have no idea how that would work.

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