From prehistoric civilizations to the present day, the way humans interact with and relate to one another is a topic of great interest to anthropology students and professionals. Anthropology is the broad academic field that explores race, religion, gender, age and other factors that influence modern human society. The field (which comes from a Greek term meaning “human study”) represents an intersection between history, civics, sociology and psychology. Students who want to learn more about this field are encouraged to enroll in a free online course sponsored by an accredited college or university.
A significant number of anthropologists end up teaching the subject at a higher-learning institution, but others find their calling in other lines of work. Forensic anthropologists work with law enforcement agencies to identify human remains, archaeologists use ancient artifacts and structures to learn more about historic populations, and cultural anthropologists consult with museum curators to create informative exhibitions for the general public. The common bond that links all of these different careers is a passion for understanding the things that make our society tick.
Anthropology offerings at most accredited colleges and universities can be divided into two categories. General introductory courses delve into the fundamentals of archaeology, cultural anthropology, and other subfields; specific undergraduate courses, on the other hand, focus on the anthropological aspects of particular regions and/or cultures. At the graduate level, anthropology students learn how to use academic research and advanced data analysis to monitor and evaluate socio-cultural factors.
Generally, the four ‘traditional’ sub-disciplines in anthropology are physical anthropology, cultural anthropology, linguistics and archaeology; these are available at most schools that offer advanced anthropology credentials. In addition, students may be able to earn a specialization in narrowly focused fields, such as “Native American agriculture” or “Archaeology of Mediterranean Civilizations.” The nature and number of anthropology specializations will vary between higher-learning institutions.
The degree an anthropology student chooses to achieve will directly correlate with his/her salary and opportunities for employment and professional advancement. Here is a look at the degree types available to prospective anthropologists:
Typically earned at a community college or vocational school, the associate degree focuses on general education, rather than specific fields. As a result, it will likely be insufficient for landing a high-paying, long-term career in anthropology ― but anthropology courses at this level will introduce fundamental concepts that resurface in bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral courses.
Anthropology is a field in which students tend to earn advanced credentials after graduating with a bachelor’s degree. However, those who choose to conclude their education after finishing undergraduate studies may be able to secure an entry-level position at a museum, cultural center or other establishment that caters to anthropological work.
Anthropology students who choose a specialization and complete a master’s program will be able to effectively compete for a wide range of positions in or related to their field. Those who wish to become anthropology professors or academic researchers should opt for a doctoral degree.
Doctoral programs incorporate data analysis and fieldwork that assist anthropology students who are interested in careers in higher education and/or academic research. A Ph.D. may also allow a degree-holder to compete for advanced or leadership positions that would be off-limits to applicants with lesser degrees.
Ideal Candidates for Anthropology
First and foremost, anthropologists must be genuinely interested in examining human society and culture without bias. Many anthropologists deal directly with certain populations and minority groups throughout the world, so a strong degree of cultural sensitivity and understanding is required. A data-driven mindset is also valuable, since most anthropologists use surveys, statistical data and research studies to guide their work.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are currently 7,200 individuals employed in this field in the United States. The BLS estimates that the number of positions will grow by 19% between 2012 and 2022, much faster than the average rate of growth for all professions. Despite the expansion of anthropology-oriented jobs in non-traditional workplace settings, competition for jobs remains somewhat high. According to the BLS, anthropologists tend to find the best jobs with cultural resource management firms.
Another factor influencing the employment rate of anthropologists is federal funding, since so much of the field is financed through grants and proposals. How the government chooses to allocate funds ― and how much agencies earmark for specific organizations and groups ― directly affects the amount of anthropology jobs and the median salary of professional anthropologists which, according to the BLS, is currently $57,420 per year.
Most colleges and universities today host at least one student organization devoted to anthropological research and theory, as well as numerous groups for different cultures, religions and genders. Additionally, aspiring anthropologists can find more information about this career path by attending conferences and seminars, and gaining membership in a professional organization.