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Rather ambitiously, anthropology degrees set out to investigate humankind and human society, from the physical evolution of the human body and brain, through to the political, cultural and linguistic practices of modern societies. The UK’s University College London (UCL) sums up the diversity of the subject by describing anthropology as, “The most scientific of the humanities, the most humanistic of the sciences.”
Common skills gained from an anthropology degree include:
If you decide to study anthropology. you may draw upon subjects such as sociology and economics. which seek to better understand individual and group behaviors through the application of scientific methods. However, even the broadest sociology or economics degree is unlikely to come close to matching the range of topics and approaches that may be offered within the different types of anthropology courses. What other degree would allow you to explore subjects as diverse as forensic science, religious symbolism, language structure, and similarities between the human brain and those of other animals?
Entry requirements to study anthropology degrees tend to be quite flexible, reflecting the diversity of the subject itself. Students are usually expected to have good grades in mathematics and science subjects, particularly biology. If you wish to study anthropology at a UK or US university, you might also have to fulfil English language requirements. Some universities offer a foundation year, which will help prepare you for the course.
Most anthropology courses last for three or four years at undergraduate level and one or two years at master’s level, depending on the country of study. Expect PhD studies to last between three and six years. The degree you will receive at the end of your studies will most often be a BSc (Bachelor of Science) or MSc (Master of Science).
Anthropology degrees typically include a mixture of both lectures and seminars, covering a variety of topics – some compulsory and some optional. Your course may be assessed by written coursework, by examination, or a mixture of both. Some anthropology examinations combine short answers with essay questions, while others rely solely on longer essay answers.
Anthropology is a broad subject area, with students typically specializing in one of the following generally agreed-upon types of anthropology. Depending on the course you enroll in, you may have the opportunity to combine several of these types of anthropology, or you may be required to choose one strain in which to specialize right from the start of your studies.
The field of cultural anthropology focuses on the study of different cultures across the globe, identifying points of similarity and difference and seeking to record and analyze cultural practices, customs and beliefs. Specializing in this field will involve the study of ethnographies – works created by cultural anthropologists, based on field research, which aim to describe a specific culture.
Cultural anthropology is sometimes also referred to as social anthropology. or sociocultural anthropology. However, social anthropology can also be used to refer to a separate strain of the discipline, focused on the study of social relations and the systems, including legal, economic, religious and political frameworks, which organize them.
Also known as physical anthropology, biological anthropology focuses on studying the evolution of humanity, biological and behavioral diversity within humankind, and adaptations to different environments. This type of anthropology examines the physical form of the human body – the bones, muscles and organs – and also how it functions to facilitate survival and reproduction. Those specializing in this field will also study other non-human primates and now-extinct predecessors of humans, with further sub-specializations including primatology, paleoanthropology and paleopathology.
The study of forensic anthropology involves applying knowledge of physical anthropology to analyze human remains, providing information about the likely cause of death and personal characteristics. This is commonly applied within the legal system, with professional forensic anthropologists called upon to provide evidence in criminal cases, and to assist in the identification of deceased individuals whose remains are decomposed, burned, mutilated or otherwise unrecognizable. Alongside in-depth studies of human anatomy and osteology, this specialization will also require students to gain knowledge of processes within the legal and crime investigation systems.
Part of the wider category of cultural anthropology, medical anthropology focuses on analyzing approaches to medical care and wellbeing within different cultures. Students specializing in this type of anthropology will learn to investigate different cultural beliefs about health and healthcare, as well as investigating the impact of sociocultural and psychological factors on individuals and groups when responding to sickness. They may also be challenged to apply this type of anthropological investigation to come up with solutions to healthcare problems, perhaps suggesting ways to encourage more people to take up a particular kind of treatment or preventative measure, or ways to improve treatment for those in economically or socially disadvantaged groups.
Specialists in linguistic anthropology study the relationships between language and social life. Having originally been developed out of a desire to preserve languages on the verge of extinction, this field has grown to encompass a broad range of questions about the important role played by language – including its impact on individual and social identities and ideologies. Sub-specializations in this area include formal linguistics (how languages are constructed), historical linguistics (how languages evolve over time), sociolinguistics (how languages are used in different social contexts) and also non-verbal communication.
Also commonly counted among the main types of anthropology is archaeology. This is the study of human cultures and their development throughout history, through the recovery and analysis of building sites, artefacts and other material remains. Those specializing in archaeology will learn about different field methods, important sites and discoveries, and will likely have the chance to study archaeological findings and practice in a range of different locations and cultures before choosing one or several areas in which to specialize.
As you’d expect from such a wide-ranging subject, a degree in anthropology offers a broad selection of possible career paths. Some of the most popular types of anthropology career paths available to graduates are explored below.
Roles in social research are diverse, and there are several paths you might choose to follow. Potential employers include market research agencies, charities and non-profit organizations, trade union, pressure and lobby groups, think tanks and other policy advisory groups, academic research departments and government departments. This is one of the most direct ways to continue using the research skills developed during your anthropology degree.
Careers in policy development are available in government and politics, but also within a wide range of both public- and private-sector organizations, including charities and campaign groups, large businesses, and public service providers. Pursuing careers in this field allows anthropology graduates to apply their understanding of human cultures and communications, perhaps combining this with a cause they feel passionate about, or simply helping an organization develop policies which will be more effective, popular or better understood.
A huge variety of jobs and careers are available in the media and communications sectors, with high demand for graduates from a range of disciplines. Anthropology graduates with an interest in contemporary communication may be interested in careers within writing and editing, TV and radio broadcasting, research, online journalism, design and video production, to name just a few of the possible options. To succeed in this field, some prior experience in a relevant area is a definite asset; anthropology students could consider finding part-time work or internships, or getting involved in student-run publications and productions.
Similarly, the arts, culture and heritage sector offers a wide range of career options for graduates, ranging from positions in museums and galleries to roles centered on education, community outreach or art therapy. Anthropology graduates specialized in field such as archaeology may find positions curating and developing exhibitions, overseeing the conservation of delicate artefacts, working on the production of related documentaries, or designing educational materials, for instance.
Graduates looking for a people-focused role may consider careers in education. This could mean training as a primary or secondary level teacher, or pursuing master’s and PhD studies in order to seek work within a university. The higher the level at which you teach, the greater the opportunities will be to share you specialized knowledge of the subject. Outside of the school education system, other careers in education include roles in adult education, professional training and language tuition.
Graduates with a background in linguistic anthropology may be interested in applying their understanding of human communication to roles within speech and language therapy. Professionals in this field help to treat speech, language and communication problems in people of all ages, and may also work with those who have eating and swallowing problems.
Careers in community and social work are widely varied, but generally speaking involve forming relationships with individuals and groups, and supporting them in finding solutions to problems they face either as individuals or as a collective. Similar community-focused roles can also be found with charities and non-profits, local authorities, schools, and the police and probation services.
The strong analytical skills provided by anthropology degrees can also be excellent preparation for careers in sectors such as business, finance and marketing. Meanwhile those interested in going on to careers in areas such as law may do so by following an anthropology degree with postgraduate-level training.
Common skills gained from an anthropology degree include: