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Totally lost in admissions process...please help!

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Hi all, I'm a senior anthro major and I'd like to apply to graduate programs but I have no idea where to apply or if I'm even a valid candidate. 


The basics: 

-Ivy League University, 3.75 GPA

I don't have a ton of "research" experience in anthro, because my department has just about the WORST advising ever and they all basically ignore my emails and say "yeah just apply wherever, you'll be good". And they also haven't given me oppurtunities for research, but I am doing research with another anthro department in my same city. 


I've also taken PhD seminars at my university and gotten A's in them, because my advisor said I should do some graduate level work in undergrad to see if I like it. I have a bunch of internships and am specifically interested in anthropology of policy, specifically in Europe (did a summer course in said country and am taking the language now, not a common country), where I did do fieldwork. I'm also into more critical theory and the study of transgression/deviance/sexuality. 


What should I be doing now, and should I be applying to Master's or PhD programs? I want to stay in the Northeast, New York, New Jersey or Boston so all I know now is that Rutgers is a top choice. Do I have a chance or no?

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Whether or not you have a chance depends on several things:

  • Finding a good research fit. It's great that you want to stay in a particular region but, that's going to severely limit your options. You'll need to go through the faculty at every graduate degree-granting institution in your target region to see if any of them even study the stuff you want to study. You're going to need at least one person who does something very close to your interests and, ideally, another person who is knowledgeable in your region of interest (it likely won't be someone who studies the exact same country but you need some familiar with the region).
    • Corollary: If you're studying a less common country, will you be able to continue your language training in grad school? If you're going to need to, you might want to look at which schools have Title XI funding and/or FLAS centers where you could get money to support language study. 
    • Also, when studying a less common country, library resources/holdings can become even more important. This is also something you need to look into. 
    • Given all of this, it could turn out that Rutgers or another "top" school actually isn't a good fit for you. If it's not, it may very well be a waste of your time and money to apply. There are competitive candidates who get rejected for no other reason than poor research fit. Don't put yourself into that position.
  • Can you write a senior thesis? That would give you more research experience plus a good writing sample to submit with your applications. If not, think about other ways you might gain experience. Are you currently using NVivo or another QDA software package? If not, try to gain experience with one of those. Have you had a chance to present at a conference? Do so if you can. 
  • GRE scores. You'll need good verbal and writing scores to be competitive.
  • Letters of recommendation. Who are you planning to get these from and how strong will they be? If your advisor isn't being helpful, then you probably don't want a letter from them. The quality and strength of your references matters!
  • NSF GRFP. If you're applying to grad school, then you should at least think about applying for the NSF, as well as any other fellowships you might be eligible for (Ford Predoctoral Fellowship for example). Funding is important for grad school. You didn't say anything about wanting funding but that's probably something you should be looking at when you're considering potential programs to attend. 

This is just to get you started. There's more obviously, but this will get the ball rolling for you. The question of MA vs PhD is one I didn't address because there aren't many terminal MA programs in cultural anthropology and even fewer that offer full funding to MA students. If that's not an issue, then by all means apply to both MA and PhD programs. But most cultural anthro programs allow you to earn the MA en route to the PhD.

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Thank you so much for the detailed reply. Let me answer these questions one by one. 


1. Firstly, yeah I have looked up and picked out at least one or two professors at each school I'll be applying to. And the country isn't super uncommon, like every university teaches the language. 

2. Yes, we have an intensive year long senior thesis seminar/workshop so I'll also get a lot of one on one time with faculty in my department. I use Atlas for research I'm currently doing. I'll also try to present at a conference. 

3. Studying for it now. 

5. Yeah, won't get a letter from my advisor, but I have great relationships with a lot of professors in my department who would be more than happy to write me a recommendation, and am taking a course with a "famous" professor this semester who has research interests exactly like mine. 


I'm just looking at the results board for different schools and its terrifying, makes me almost not want to apply

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I'm just looking at the results board for different schools and its terrifying, makes me almost not want to apply

Don't be discouraged! Entrance to graduate programs in Anthro can be tough, and it occasionally requires more than one application cycle. I applied 2 years in a row. However, I was coming from a no-name undergrad program (you're very lucky to be coming from an Ivy & have experience in grad seminars), and I applied exclusively to programs that 1) were fully funded (DEBT IS A NO-NO FOR YOUR PHD), 2) were places I actually wanted to attend, 3) were prestigious programs for my field of interest, where I had a chance of getting an academic job upon completion.

So if you want to stay in the Northeast, DO IT, there are tons of great programs! Grad school is hard enough without moving yourself to a part of the country you don't want to live in. 

Two other pieces of advice : 1) Apply to PhD programs if you think you want to get a PhD. You'll get a Master's en route. 2) You don't necessarily need extensive research experience in Anthro, plenty of people enter grad programs with little background in the field. It sounds like you're taking steps to get the research experience you've been missing at your current school. If you come up short in the admissions process this year, try to make your plan B something geared toward your potential field site / language / research area, which will give you a leg up next year. 

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