So You Want to Go to Graduate School?

Be Sure to Ask the Right Questions…

What kind of career do you want to pursue? And what skills and abilities do you have?

Enormous differences exist among graduate programs. The most obvious path for most majors in this department involves PhD training in anthropology or sociology (Although there are many other disciplines of interest I am sure). This path is well known, fulfilling… and long! It presupposes a commitment to writing and doing original research. But maybe that is not you? Do you think along different lines? Love to write, think, and construct an argument? Then you should still go for it! Realize that PhD programs not only lead to academic careers in higher education, but also open up paths that lead to careers in applied research.

If you’re thinking of a more “action” oriented path, then perhaps the PhD is not for you. Maybe an M.A. program or law school is what you want. Some such programs are “professional” degrees –they equip people to pursue careers in research, one or another form of policy, or administration (for example, of non-profits or NGOs). Think about what you enjoy most, and what you have the patience and inclination to pursue.

What kinds of programs exist in your chosen field, and how do they differ?

If you’re interested in an M.A program, then realize that there’s a huge variety of programs out there. Some are one-year programs; some two-year, and some even more. Some (e.g., in Public Administration or City Planning) require accreditation–only consider duly accredited programs. All should have placement information-–you want to know what proportion of graduates find jobs, and where. How long has the program existed? What kind of track record does it have? Is the area widely recognized?

As for PhD programs in a social science field: Know the reputation of the program. In sociology, there’s a huge divide between quantitatively oriented programs and those that are more supportive of qualitative/theoretical research. Likewise, programs vary by their rankings, selectivity, placement records, faculty strengths, resources, size, variety of coursework –and culture. (Some programs invite a cut-throat atmosphere, while others invite mutual support.) In anthropology, programs vary in many of these ways, but with a difference: some programs expect a four-field background, while others are focused only on culture.

Key: To figure out what type of program might be best for you, talk with any member of our advising staff, your faculty mentors, or of your Sociology or Cultural Anthropology course instructors about the different kinds of programs that are out there that might be relevant to you.

What does it cost?

PhD programs will almost always provide tuition waivers and some kind of income support to most of the students they admit. Some are based upon your prior academic performance (fellowships), and others will expect you to work 10-20 hours a week in exchange for your compensation (research, teaching and administrative assistantships). No matter the type of funding, it will not be unlimited. You might get support for three years? Four years? More? Schools also vary in terms of the stipend level they provide–$15k? $20k? And often depend on the cost of living in the area. You won’t get rich as a TA-–but you’ll minimize the need to take out (more?) loans. And if schools really want you, they’ll provide a good package for you (like undergrad in a sense). So compare the offers you get and consider that as part of the decision.

Terminal M.A. programs as a rule provide no income or tuition support. They expect you to pay the full freight.

What will you need to apply?

Programs vary, but almost all require an official transcript, the GRE, a writing sample, a personal statement and letters of recommendation. Some are almost impossible to get into; others admit mere mortals. Your GPA and GRE scores will be important in deciding where to apply. Again, any of the faculty or advisors in the department can help you in thinking through which schools make the most sense for you based on your interests and undergraduate performance.

How is Grad School different from college?

You’ll be surrounded by people who are as smart, committed, and hardworking as you are. No more coasting, if that’s what you’re used to. It’s can be a bit daunting at first – and then you realize you can do it. It can be a lot like college in that respect!

How does Admissions work?

Usually there’s a committee that reads the applications, ranks/filters them, and decides collectively whom to admit. Some students are admitted without funding, and then hope for the best thereafter. Students whom the program truly wants to admit will be offered competitive packages to entice the applicant. Be sure to check the box asking about eligibility for funding! It’s okay to contact professors to ask for information about the courses/programs they contribute to, but you’ll sometimes get routed to the DGS-–Director of Graduate Studies—who handles inquiries on a weekly basis. Feel free to ask questions, but do your homework on the program first.

How do I choose among schools?

Ah. There are formal and informal sources of information. Formally: Use the American Sociological Association and American Anthropological Association Guides to Graduate Programs available in our main office (500 Holmes Hall). These directories can answer basic questions such as: What are the areas of expertise the program claims? (Are there multiple areas that strike your fancy?) Who are the regular faculty? In what areas do they teach/do research? Also, check out who is listed on the department website! Informally: Seek out the faculty and ask questions! What can you learn from your professors about the field? The kinds of graduate programs that are within your reach? Think about the kind of anthropology/sociology you’ve read and become excited about. Where do those faculty members teach? Finally, do pick a school that has a good record of placing its students. Schools will usually underwrite visits for their admitted students, so when you visit, you should have a chance to get up front and close when to pose questions of the faculty and current graduate students about the program and its culture.