What Can I Do With a Master’s Degree in Anthropology?

What Can I Do With a Master’s Degree in Anthropology?

In competitive fields like anthropology, advanced degrees are held in high regard. Earning a master’s in anthropology can significantly improve your career prospects within the field, and provide opportunities to pursue distinct specializations. Anthropology scholars study humans and human history from both a biological and cultural perspective. A highly interdisciplinary field, anthropology also incorporates scholarship from linguistics, archeology, and human development, among many other correlated topics.

Key Takeaways

  • An anthropology program will teach you that people are pretty much the same regardless of where you live!
  • A master’s degree in anthropology can vastly increase a graduate’s chances of finding employment in the area and allow them to explore specific specialties, including anthropology and social change, social anthropology, biological anthropology, and sociocultural anthropology.
  • Master’s in anthropology graduates who want to conduct field research and enter academic careers should consider obtaining a PhD.

As an anthropology graduate student, you may have the chance to focus largely on your chosen area of specialization such as social anthropology, biological anthropology, or sociocultural anthropology. You may alternately choose to study anthropology from a more general perspective, which could allow you to take a multidisciplinary approach to the subject. Your focus will largely be a matter of preference and interest, as most master’s in anthropology programs will qualify you to work directly in the field of anthropology as an archaeologist, historian, museum curator, or educator.

Just getting started in the field? Check out our look at the anthropology major to find out how you can get an undergraduate degree in anthropology.

If you’re ready to earn your graduate degree at one of the most prestigious schools in the world, get started with a look at the Most Influential Schools in Anthropology.

Or read on to find out what you can expect as an anthropology major.

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Discovering Anthropology as a Master’s Program

Movies have given us an odd and false impression of what anthropology is about. Anthropologists are skilled scientists who frequently hold positions as university professors or museum curators. Some work for government agencies like the National Park Service or groups that support indigenous peoples or environmental analysis firms. Other anthropologists work for large corporations, the military, or even the police.

Numerous themes can be covered by anthropological research, which is typically carried out by scientific research teams rather than lone explorers.

The Four Subfields

A master’s in anthropology degree in America explores the four primary subfields in anthropology, but knowledge of these fields often starts from an undergraduate degree. Every subfield teaches particular abilities. The subfields, however, do have a lot of similarities. Each discipline, for instance, applies theories, uses organized research techniques, develops and tests hypotheses, and produces large amounts of data.


Archaeologists examine artifacts manufactured by people to investigate human culture. The chronological span covered by archaeological research starts with the oldest known human ancestors and goes up to the present. Archaeologists are concerned with explaining differences and similarities in human societies throughout place and time, just as other branches of anthropology.

Biological Anthropology

Understanding human adaptation to various settings, the causes of illness and early mortality, and how humans descended from other animals are all goals of biological anthropologists. They research people (alive and deceased), and other primates, including monkeys and apes, as well as human predecessors, to achieve this (fossils).

They are also intrigued by the interaction between biology and culture in the development of human life. They want to illustrate the distinctions and similarities that exist among people all around the world. Through their research, biological anthropologists have demonstrated that people are more alike than different despite some biological and behavioral differences.

Cultural Anthropology

Sociocultural anthropologists study human behavior in various cultures and how they live and perceive the world. People may disagree about appropriate speech, attire, diet, and interpersonal behavior, even among members of the same nation or society. To comprehend how societies differ and what they have in common, anthropologists want to hear from all perspectives.

They try to comprehend the viewpoints, behaviors, and social structures of other groups whose beliefs and ways of life may be highly dissimilar from their own. Their newfound information has the potential to broaden human understanding.

Linguistic Anthropology

Linguistic anthropologists research the various languages used by people around the world. They are intrigued by the connection between language and how people perceive the environment and interact with one another. According to linguistic anthropologists, language and communication are essential to the formation of society and civilization.

Another lesser-known subfield used in the modern world is business anthropology. Business anthropologists conduct market research, looking at organizations, marketing, and consumer behavior. Then they use anthropological theories and methods to solve business problems.

Boosting Your Career Prospects After a Master’s Degree in Anthropology

After obtaining a bachelor’s degree, students who want to gain a deeper understanding of anthropology and access high-paying career paths would need to earn a master’s degree. But is a master’s degree enough to land a job as an anthropologist?

Another aspect that affects job opportunities for graduates of masters in anthropology programs must be considered if you want a successful career. Graduate students who have earned their degrees but have not developed any marketable abilities may find it difficult to enter the job market following graduation.

Because of this, it’s crucial that you can acquire the skills required for anthropology careers while you are pursuing your degree.

When looking for a career with a master’s degree, you should have some of the following skills:

  • Communication Skills
  • Ability to develop research plans
  • Statistical and quantitative skills
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Organization and planning skills
  • Understand human diversity
  • Ability to collect, analyze data and interpret it

These are only a handful of the skills an anthropology graduate needs to be successful in the job market, especially those aiming to become a human resources manager. If you have already graduated and you recognize that you lack some of these skills, you can still develop them by enrolling in free online courses or joining organizations that focus on enhancing employability.

What is a Master of Anthropology Degree?

And through anthropology, and I suppose literature and some other methods, you can actually get a glimpse into some of those other lives and you can live them vicariously.” – Thomas Hylland Eriksen

The master’s degree in anthropology is an advanced degree program that typically requires a minimum of two years, or the completion of 30 credit hours. The master’s degree in anthropology is generally required for those who plan to build a career directly in anthropology, archeology, or in a related field. Your master’s degree will typically focus on a specific area of anthropology directly connected to your career goals. Students who wish to become anthropologists, archaeologists, paleontologists, or museum administrators will likely need to earn a master’s degree in this or a related field to either qualify, or advance within, a wide range of professional roles. Because anthropology is a research-intensive field, the advanced degree is widely seen as an important threshold for meaningful career development. Indeed, a major component of your degree experience will be the design and pursuit of your own research undertaking, with support from an advisor or mentor.

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Why Get a Master’s Degree in Anthropology?

Thomas Hylland Eriksen, professor of social anthropology at the University of Oslo, member of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, and a top-ranking influencer in the field of anthropology tells us:

I was seduced by anthropology as a young undergraduate. I tried philosophy, sociology, but with anthropology I could sort of tick all the boxes, and that appealed to me. It was an extremely exciting discipline for me because it’s global. It gets you into the lives of other people. As we sometimes say, you only live one life, but you are born with the possibility of living thousands of different lives. And through anthropology, and I suppose literature and some other methods, you can actually get a glimpse into some of those other lives and you can live them vicariously.

Check out our interview with Dr. Eriksen as he talks more about the evolving field of anthropology.

Dr. Eriksen’s experience highlights the intellectual curiosity that serves as the best rationale for pursuing a graduate degree in anthropology. As an undergraduate, you’ll learn a wide range of highly-transferable research, critical thinking, and communication skills. These can be applied in a wide range of professional, educational, and business settings. However, a graduate degree in anthropology is likely to be far more beneficial to students who truly wish to channel their knowledge and skills into the overlapping fields of anthropology, archeology, and paleontology, as well as the research, education, and curation endeavors that surround these professions.

Learn more about Thomas Hylland Eriksen and other top experts in anthropology today!

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How Can I Qualify to Get a Master’s Degree in Anthropology?

There is no specific entrance exam for gaining admission into an anthropology master’s program. The primary requirement for gaining eligibility into an anthropology master’s program is completion of a bachelor’s degree from a properly accredited undergraduate school. While programmatic accreditation is not specifically required in this field, most regionally accredited graduate schools will require that your bachelor’s degree be granted by a regionally accredited college or university.

Some colleges may offer bundled bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, where you could earn your advanced degree in one continuous five-year program. This option could save you time and money if you already know that you’ll be pursuing your advanced degree. However, the accelerated pace of such a program may make this a challenging way to earn both degrees. Find out if your school offers this bundling option and ask about eligibility requirements. But be sure you’re up to the added challenge!

For any additional questions about eligibility, refer to your intended program and learn more about application requirements and any additional requirements such as work experience, academic performance thresholds, and referrals.

If you’re still working on building your qualifications for grad school eligibility, check out our look at the anthropology major to find out how you can get an undergraduate degree in anthropology.

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What Kinds of Anthropology Graduate Degrees Are There?

Master of Arts in Anthropology (MA)
The MA in anthropology is a two-year, 30-credit degree that balances an emphasis on anthropology with more general humanities courses. This degree is advisable for students who wish to take a multidisciplinary approach to the subject matter.
Master of Science in Anthropology (MS)
The MS in anthropology is also a two-year, 30-credit degree, but one that is more research-driven than the MA. The MS will typically provide a more narrowly focused course of study, likely in a specific area of scientific concentration such as biology or medicine.
Doctor of Philosophy in Anthropology (PhD)
A terminal degree in the field, the PhD in anthropology is a five to seven year engagement that will largely center around the design of an original research question as well as the production and defense of a disssertation. PhD candidates will qualify to conduct field research and teach anthropology at the post-secondary level.
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What are Some Popular Anthropology Specializations?

The specialization you choose within the field will be a matter of preference and interest, but can also help you narrow your career focus:

  • Anthropology, General
  • Anthropology and Social Change
  • Social Anthropology
  • Biological Anthropology
  • Sociocultural Anthropology
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What Courses Will I Take as a Anthropology Major?

Your specialization will determine many of the courses you’ll take in your anthropology masters program. Likewise, you will be required to take a number of requisite courses on foundational topics such linguistics and religion. However, you may also choose to take a general and interdisciplinary approach to the subject. In either case, you will likely be required to supplement your coursework with a research project based on an original topic of your own design. You’ll typically work closely with the support of an advisor or mentor, and you may need to defend your completed research project before a committee in order to complete your program. Beyond this thesis or capstone project, common anthropology courses include:

  • Anthropology of Religion
  • Linguistics
  • Anthropology of Science
  • Medical Anthropology
  • Ethnicity and Collective Identity
  • Colonialism
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Is a Master’s Degree in Anthropology Worth It?

Earning your master’s degree in anthropology is a great way to improve your earning power. While bachelors working as museum curators and archivists earned a median salary of $49,850 in 2019, those who earned advanced degrees and ultimately became archaeologists and anthropologists earned a median pay of $63,670. Those who continued on to become archaeology and anthropology educators at the post-secondary level earned $83,940. This denotes that the level of your degree in this field is directly connected to your salary potential.

Career Outlook for Students with Anthropology Degree

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Degree Level: Master's

  • Location: The U.S. (Private Schools)
  • Avg. Cost of Degree*: $11,827
  • Avg. Expenses*: $18,335
  • Avg. Starting Salary*: $37,543
  • Avg. Salary after 4 Years*: $53,585
  • Avg. Cost Recoup Time**: 7 years
  • Job Growth: 3.35%
  • Number of Jobs: 1,242,500
  • * denotes ‘annually’
  • ** denotes ‘at 15% of annual salary’

Career Salaries

CareerJob GrowthAvg. Salary
Managers, All Other3.35%$106,040
Medical Scientists, Except Epidemiologists9.83%$91,024
Anthropology and Archeology Teachers, Postsecondary3.23%$89,474
Area, Ethnic, and Cultural Studies Teachers, Postsecondary4.20%$81,038
Anthropologists and Archeologists3.75%$63,023

Average Career Salaries

Bottom 10%MedianTop 10%

Promising Job Markets

StateCost of LivingAvg. Salary
#2 Delaware2% higher than average$149,458
#3 Kansas9% higher than average$105,127
#4 West Virginia11% higher than average$98,903
#5 New Jersey13% higher than average$122,862
#6 Michigan15% higher than average$90,043

Top Industries

IndustryAvg. Salary
Managers, All Other$106,040
Medical Scientists, Except Epidemiologists$91,024
Anthropology and Archeology Teachers, Postsecondary$89,474
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What Are the Top Jobs with a Master’s Degree in Anthropology?

Anthropology is a highly specialized field. Those who will ultimately practice anthropology or archaeology will typically have earned a master’s degree. This will qualify you for a wide range of opportunities doing fieldwork, consultation, or education as an anthropologist, archeologist, or historian. Earning a master’s degree in anthropology will likely be a necessary step on your way to these top jobs:

Curious how far you could go with a master’s degree in anthropology? Start with a look at the top influencers in the field today!

Now that you know how to earn a master’s degree in anthropology, check out:

Check out the full list here and get started on your path to a graduate degree in anthropology.

And if you’re shopping for the right college, be sure that you’ve reviewed our Resources on critical issues like our Accreditation Guide, Scholarships Guide, Financial Aid Guide, and more!

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