Anthropology Major

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So, you think you might want to be an Anthropology major. Have you told anyone this, or are you keeping it a secret? If you’ve told your parents or friends, they probably looked at you with an odd look on their face and said to you: “Anthropology? What’s that?” Quickly followed by: “What kind of jobs are there with that degree in these economic times?” Telling people that you’re considering Anthropology as a major might be one of the most difficult parts of being an Anthropology major. Actually, finding a job with an Anthropology degree might not be as hard as you think it might be, but you need to be creative and imaginative in going about it. Anthropology as a discipline is very broad and diverse, so the employment possibilities are also quite broad and diverse. An Anthropology degree is good preparation for jobs that involve people skills and require an understanding of cultural differences. Some areas within Anthropology offer better employment opportunities than other areas. And, as with many other disciplines, the more education, experience and training one has, the greater the opportunities there are of employment. Jobs are going to vary depending on the sub discipline: Archaeology, Physical/Biological Anthropology, and Cultural Anthropology. Further, there will be an ebb and flow of opportunities depending on the economic environment and job availability.

Prospects within Each Anthropological Sub discipline Archaeology

In the past, some of the best Anthropological job employment possibilities were in Archaeology. The reason for this is due to Cultural Resource Management (CRM) jobs created by the implementation of laws meant to protect cultural and historical heritage. Many CRM jobs are found in “contract archaeology,” through private companies rather than academia. CRM may support summer and academic year jobs, though they may be short-term, field seasonal jobs. Once a job is obtained, it may last for several summers or years. There are a number of private “contract archaeology” firms located around the U.S. The federal government also hires some archaeologists for CRM related work, as the Departments of the Interior, Defense and Agriculture may have positions available. Having special talents is always a plus, and these jobs usually require field school or field experience. Computer skills, statistics and database management skills are very useful.

Physical/Biological Anthropology

With the proliferation of CSI and Forensic-related topic shows on television, Physical/Biological Anthropology might be the sub discipline enjoying the greatest current popularity. However, many of the jobs in Physical/Biological Anthropology require advanced degrees. The Crime Scene and Forensic specialties require a great deal of natural science coursework, especially biology and anatomy. A number of Physical/Biological Anthropologists work as coroners. With the Swine and Bird Flu scares, Physical/Biological Anthropologists who study disease and human populations could be in demand. Abilities and knowledge in area such a photography, art (drawing) and criminal justice might broaden the opportunities.

Cultural Anthropology

If you are prepared to broaden your horizons, Cultural Anthropology might have some jobs open for you. Social service agencies, especially those that deal with minorities, could offer some job opportunities. State and local governments, especially those in large urban areas with large numbers of minorities, are potential job markets. With the world continually growing “smaller” with technology and mass communication, companies operating in the international marketplace are another potential market for Cultural Anthropology careers. Businesses in the international marketplace are interested in personnel who understand how to deal and work within other cultures and who are willing to travel and work outside the U.S. Combined with another degree, such as business or one pertaining to a particular type of commerce or technology, plus a foreign language (or 2), would make someone very competitive. South and Central America, learning Spanish; the Pacific Rim, Japanese, Chinese, or Korean; Europe, any number, but especially Russian or German; and for the Middle East, Arabic of course. Learning Arabic would also make someone a potential candidate for jobs with the American government, both military (translator, analyst) and diplomatic (foreign affairs, analyst, embassy).

What Are My Job Chances, Realistically?

Right now in these difficult economic times, a degree in any field is no guarantee of a job, unless you have a degree in an area that is in very high demand. We would not be totally honest with you if we told you that you would have an easy task finding a job with an Anthropology degree. Recent studies have shown that approximately 80% or so of Liberal Arts & Sciences graduates are not working directly in their undergraduate field, almost all have said they use information learned in their major nearly every day in their work.


Recommendations for improving your employment opportunities:

  1. Double major in another discipline to increase your options and get training that might be desirable to an employer. Depending on your Anthropology sub discipline, this will vary.
  2. Spend a summer working a field school or travelling and immersing yourself in another culture.
  3. Learn another language. Or two. Being fluent or even somewhat competent in another language can open any number of doors for you.
  4. Computer skills and abilities. Knowing basic word processing and database management is important, better yet, knowing a statistical package is even better.
  5. Think outside the box. Be creative. Explore as many ways as you can to put your knowledge and experiences into the workplace.
  6. Do as much as you can as an undergraduate. In as many different experiences as you can. Volunteer in various organizations and offer to help with professor’s research. Gaining relevant work experience through internships, part-time jobs, or volunteer positions is critical. All of this builds up to experience and possible good “karma” in the form of positive references from faculty and staff. A reference that praises you to the heavens will help you more than an “average” recommendation.
  7. Learn that special skill or ability that others may not have. Computer programs such as AutoCAD or GIS systems; surveying; art and illustration; technical writing; or anything else that might give you an edge.
  8. Consider continuing your education; graduate school. Many of the higher jobs related to Anthropology require at least a Master’s degree. To teach academically, a Ph.D. is usually required.
  9. Friends and family. Network, make and keep in touch with friends made during your lifetime. People you meet while doing volunteer work (see #5) or that special skill (#6) might just know about that one particular opening that you are specifically suited for.

Becoming a member and going to meetings of professional organizations and becoming involved in those organizations is a way to get your name, face and abilities out there.