University of Massachusetts Amherst


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The Department of Anthropology admits students only for September of each year. All application materials must be received by the Graduate Admissions Office by the previous January 2.

Disclaimer: The employment prospects for professional anthropologists over the next 10 to 15 years are now quite sobering. It appears that the days when a PhD in anthropology guaranteed a professional and secure academic position are over. While retirements by professors are projected to increase across the United States, many colleges and universities will not be filling these vacancies due to budgetary constraints. There are many roles that anthropologists could play, but the awareness that our skills are critical is emerging slowly. So the employment of anthropologists in industry and government remains flat. Ironically, across the country graduate programs in anthropology have larger enrollments than ever before. This might be because the interest in anthropological topics rises as people come to realize the cultural factors surrounding many social problems. Students are realizing that many answers to contemporary social problems lie in our knowledge about the transformations of human society. Thus, the number of graduate anthropologists is increasing, but you should know that the mean number of years it takes a candidate to complete the MA and PhD degrees in anthropology nationwide is about 10 years. Beginning in the Fall of 1993, we started to reduce the overall size of our program in the light of these factors by restricting the size of each incoming class for the foreseeable future. While we welcome your application, we do not want you to apply without your being thoroughly aware of the changing national and global political economy wherein anthropologists in the United States are trained and employed.

Philosophy In the Department of Anthropology at UMass/Amherst, we regard anthropology not so much as a discipline but as an approach to understanding various issues about the human condition. Accordingly, new questions and perspectives are constantly being explored and tested. Individuals with quite different backgrounds, experiences, and goals have joined our program and have been successful in their contributions to anthropology as a whole. Thus, we do not have in mind a single profile of our ideal applicant in terms of background in anthropology. Rather, we look for individuals who have received a solid liberal arts education, who express themselves lucidly in writing, who are clear about what they want both from our program and for their careers, and who are self-starters, capable of independent work of high quality.

We structure our MA and PhD programs around student interests. There are no specific courses required of all graduate students. Rather, a student and her/his faculty advisory committee jointly construct a course of study relative to the skills and knowledge necessary to reach particular objectives. We strive to sustain an atmosphere that is intellectually rigorous and mutually supportive. Thus, while we are very selective in our admissions decisions, once a student is in our program, the faculty work with that student to reach her/his training objectives. Students do not have to compete with fellow students for access to advanced levels of our program.

In general, we assume all those admitted to our program will complete the PhD here; most of our students earn the MA degree as the foundation stage for the doctoral program. A few of our students enter the program with MA degrees in anthropology earned elsewhere, and a few of our students expect to remain in the program only through the MA level.

How the Admission Process Works The admissions decisions are decentralized from the Graduate School to the department. In the Graduate School, the Admissions Office is the "needle's eye" through which individuals interested in graduate study must pass paperwork. This is where you get copies of application forms and the Bulletin, and this is where you send your completed application form, application fee, letters of reference,and transcripts. The Admissions Office officially logs in all necessary paper; then, as these materials arrive, they are sent on to the Department of Anthropology. We do not require GRE scores.

In the department, the Graduate Admissions Director (known as the GAD) -- a faculty member elected each year by the department's faculty -- places these materials in files. During February, the GAD invites all the faculty to review each file and to write evaluative notes in each file. After the review is complete -- usually by the end of February, the GAD summarizes the faculty evaluations and recommends to the faculty as a group who should be admitted. Once the faculty has decided who should be admitted, the GAD sends a decision form to the Admissions Office. The Admissions Office then sends out the admit (or not admit) letter over the signature of the Dean of the Graduate School. This usually takes place within a week after the GAD sends the decision form to the Admissions Office.

If you are admitted, the Graduate School will ask you to respond within two weeks with your decision as to whether you will come or not, although, if you are undecided, you may ask for more time to make up your mind.

Applicants without an Anthropology Background Most students admitted to graduate study in the department will have had at least the equivalent of 36 semester hours of anthropology as undergraduates, including introductory courses in the sub-fields of anthropology (archaeology, biological anthropology, and cultural/linguistic anthropology) as well as more advanced courses in at least two of anthropology's subfields.

Students without this background may be very exciting applicants. To broaden their knowledge of the field, they may be required to take several undergraduate courses without graduate credit. The precise requirements for such students--who are admitted on "provisional status"--are developed by the student in collaboration with her/his faculty advisory committee, after considering the student's previous coursework and record. Whenever such background coursework is recommended or required, the student should expect to spend an extra semester or two in earning the graduate degree.

Click to Read the Full Text of the Graduate Admissions Guide

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