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How to Become an Anthropologist – Education & Career Path

How to Become an Anthropologist

Anthropologists are individuals with an interest in studying humanity. Like archaeologists, they examine archaeological remains to discover and understand past civilizations. They delve deep into the study of human diversity and try to answer questions about evolution and human behavior. It is a field that helps us connect the dots from the past to the present.

If you love history and have a passion for investigating human complexities, a career in anthropology is definitely for you. This article covers everything about becoming an anthropologist, including the necessary steps, career paths, and financial gains. But before anything else, let’s define anthropology and explain how it is different from archaeology.

What is Anthropology?

Anthropology, also known as the “science of humanity,” is a scientific field concerned with studying cultures, societies, languages, and behaviors of people worldwide. Several people refer to it as the study of what makes humans human. Anthropologists study how people lived in the past to be able to provide answers to questions we have about our origins and their impact on the present and the future.

The Difference between Anthropology and Archaeology

Archaeology is a sub-category of anthropology. While anthropology studies human history in its entirety, from the past to the present, archaeology primarily deals with the study of artifacts and architectural remnants to understand ancient cultures and civilizations.

Subcategories of Anthropology

Due to the vastness of anthropology as a field, four major sub-categories help categorize this area: archaeological anthropology, biological anthropology, linguistic anthropology, and cultural anthropology. Each sub-category deals with a certain aspect of human development, although they share several similarities.

Archaeological Anthropology

This branch of anthropology focuses on studying the culture of a people during a particular period. They do this by interpreting material remains for insight into how the people lived. Archaeologists use the knowledge gathered from these remains to reconstruct the experiences and activities of people of that era. Through archaeology, it’s possible to study the lifestyle of different societies and cultures back to the prehistoric period.

Biological Anthropology

This branch of anthropology studies human biology and evolution. Biological anthropologists examine primates such as apes and monkeys to understand how humans evolved from other animals. They also review fossils of early human ancestors to understand our evolution as a species. Biological anthropologists are equally interested in human diversity. This discipline studies the differences in human populations, such as:

  • Culture
  • Race
  • Blood groups

Biological anthropologists have established that our similarities as a species outweigh our differences.

Linguistic Anthropology

Linguistics is the study of human language. Linguistic anthropologists understand how people interact socially by studying their language. They analyze ‘’the nature and structure’’ of a language to trace its origins. This is useful in deciphering ancient texts by exploring their links to modern-day languages.

Cultural Anthropology

Many specialists call cultural anthropology other terms such as social or sociocultural anthropology. Cultural anthropologists study the way people live and adapt to their environment. Without a doubt, people’s environment shapes their culture. The culture of one group may be strange to another.

These professionals strive to understand the history and origins of different cultures and how they have changed over time. Therefore, the primary goal of cultural anthropology is to help explain the logic behind the customs practiced by different groups or tribes in a way that outsiders can understand.

Duties of an Anthropologist

Anthropologists provide critical answers to our past. This field covers virtually every aspect of human life from past to present. All subcategories of anthropology have one thing in common—they employ scientific methods to gather data.

Depending on their specialization, anthropologists work in various settings, from excavation sites in the middle of the desert to classrooms and even crime scenes. In each of these settings, anthropologists perform different duties. Some of the responsibilities of anthropologists include:

  • Conducting research on human behavior by observing people in their natural environments
  • Excavating artifacts to gain a better understanding of prior civilizations
  • Teaching and mentoring aspiring anthropologists
  • Researching biological subjects such as genetics and disease
  • Conducting interviews to gather information on what people think of a topic
  • Publishing new discoveries
  • Creating research plans for untapped areas of study

How to Become an Anthropologist

If you’re interested in becoming an anthropologist, you should know that it takes years of study. It also helps if you decide on your specialty early in your education. It’ll help you begin preparation as early as possible. Here are some of the steps you have to take to pursue a career in anthropology.

Step One – Complete High School

Becoming an anthropologist requires that you attend college. You’ll need a high school diploma or equivalent. Besides earning a diploma, attending high school also offers you the opportunity to begin preparation for your area of specialization. If you plan on becoming a linguistic anthropologist, taking beginner classes in as many languages as possible will come in handy. For cultural anthropology, you’ll need history and ethnic studies.

Step Two – Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology

After high school, the next thing is to obtain a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from an institution of higher learning. You can go for either an Anthropology BA or BS degree. Those who didn’t decide on an area of specialization earlier will have time to do that during their undergraduate study. It’ll make your resume stand out and help you develop the relevant skills needed as an anthropologist.

Step Three – Decide on a Specialty

Anthropology is a vast field, so it’s important to find a specialty. You can go with any of the sub-categories we discussed earlier or their subdivisions. The area you decide to specialize in will determine the direction of your career as an anthropologist. This is a big decision, and before you choose, it is best to explore all your options to know what truly interests you.

Step Four – Complete a Graduate Degree

Most anthropologists have a master’s degree or doctorate. An advanced anthropology degree in your area of interest will qualify you for top anthropology jobs. Teaching in colleges and universities requires a doctorate.

However, if you want to work in anthropology labs, museums, or other places, you can do so with a master’s degree. While attending graduate school, it is important to leverage every opportunity you have to advance your career.

Skills You Need to Become an Anthropologist

To successfully contribute to the understanding of this field, anthropologists need certain skills. Below you’ll find some of the most important skills aspiring anthropologists should have:

Critical Thinking Skills

Every anthropologist should be able to make deductions through observation. For example, in the study of prehistoric times before the invention of writing, anthropologists rely on their critical thinking skills to unravel the roles artifacts played in a particular civilization.

Research and Information Gathering Skills

Anthropologists must be able to carry out quality research and gather accurate information in the process. Some of the information gathering skills anthropologists need include knowing the right questions to ask and familiarity with units of measurement. They also need to know how to sieve information— retaining the relevant facts and discarding those that are irrelevant.

Communication Skills

An anthropologist isn’t complete without practical communication skills. Anthropology deals with a lot of research, and findings must be published. Therefore, anthropologists must know how to convey information clearly to their audience in writing. This audience can be peers or the general public. Because anthropologists work in different settings with different people, it is equally important they know how to interact and communicate effectively.

Physical Stamina

Anthropology, especially archeology, often involves a lot of traveling. And traveling is just the beginning. Archaeological anthropologists may need to walk several miles before getting to a site. While working on a site, it might also become necessary to stand or kneel for many hours at a stretch.

Cross-cultural Understanding

The study of humanity takes anthropologists far from home and brings them in contact with cultures different from theirs. An anthropologist shouldn’t judge or compare. Instead, they should study other cultures objectively. Developing cultural sensitivity is key to achieving this.

Work Environment for Anthropologists

As of 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that out of the 8,500 jobs held by anthropologists and archeologists, the employment areas break down as follows:

  • 27% worked as consultants in management, scientific, and technical services
  • 19% worked in government agencies, excluding the postal service
  • 12% were self-employed

The work environment of an anthropologist varies depending on specialization and the task at hand. It could be an office, a lab, or an archaeological site. Work hours also vary. While anthropologists in government agencies can expect to work regular hours, the same does not apply to self-employed people, especially those who engage in fieldwork.

Fieldwork can mean working on an archeological site or traveling to a new location to learn about a different culture. Working hours are usually unpredictable and can extend to evenings or weekends. Some of the common places anthropologists work are:

  • Institutions of higher learning
  • Research organizations
  • Non-profit organizations
  • Government agencies
  • Private companies and corporations
  • Consulting firms
  • Museums

Salary Expectations for Anthropologists

Your annual salary as an anthropologist heavily depends on the industry you work in. The top 10% of anthropologists earn close to $100,000 annually, while the bottom 10% earn roughly $40,000. According to the BLS, the median salary in the profession is $61,910.

Anthropologists who worked with the federal government had an annual mean salary of $83,830. At the same time, their counterparts in management, scientific, and technical consulting services earned $63,200. The figure for those employed in museums and similar institutions was $56,500.

Aside from your industry, your state also influences how much you make as an anthropologist. As ranked by the BLS, the top-paying states in the US are Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Nebraska, and Washington.

Career Paths for Anthropologists

Anthropologists can be found in various fields pursuing different careers. According to the American Anthropological Association, as of today, there are four main career paths you can pursue as an anthropologist.

1. Academic Careers

Many anthropologists decide to pursue a career in academia. They do this by taking up a teaching job or working in research labs and publishing findings.

Anthropologists who take up teaching aren’t limited to just their department. They can teach in other related departments such as linguistics, cognitive psychology, and ethnic studies. As we mentioned earlier, a doctorate is usually required to teach at educational institutions.

2. Corporate and Business Careers

Private businesses and corporations actively seek out anthropologists for several reasons. It could be to conduct research to enable them to understand their target market better or to fill positions that require skills anthropologists often possess. Most corporations and businesses offer entry-level positions for anthropologists requiring only a bachelor’s degree, with the opportunity to work their way to the top.

3. Government Careers

The government is the largest employer of anthropologists as they work at various government agencies and establishments. Anthropologists work in police departments, legislatures, or archeological sites. Their planning, research, and managerial skills often come in handy.

4. Non-profit and Community-based Careers

Anthropologists can also put their skills to use in non-profit organizations such as international health organizations and development banks. They’re employed to conduct research and help implement various programs. They can also work in community-based organizations like the YMCA and schools.

Jobs for Anthropologists

Many job opportunities are available despite which career path you choose as an anthropologist. The BLS projects that the employment of anthropologists and archaeologists will grow by 7% between 2020 and 2030, with a projected 800 new jobs every year within the decade.

Your chances of gaining employment as an anthropologist are greatly affected by the state you reside in. There is more job availability in some states than others. California, Arizona, Hawaii, Oregon, and Maryland have the highest employment levels.

Below are examples of jobs you can get with an anthropology degree:


This is the most obvious choice for anthropology graduates. With a bachelor’s degree in anthropology, you can start as a research assistant or field worker. However, if you want to grow in your career, you must obtain a master’s degree.

Suppose you’ve always wanted to fight crime. In that case, you can assist law enforcement agencies as a forensic anthropologist. You can pursue a traditional anthropology career in many government and private establishments. But the positions are usually few compared to the number of applicants, leading to high competition.

Diversity Manager

In this age of remote work, companies are employing people from diverse backgrounds more than ever. The role of a diversity manager is to ensure inclusiveness in companies by identifying and coming up with ways to address barriers that employees may be facing. This ensures that every employee feels respected and valued, leading to optimal productivity. With their knowledge of diverse cultures and socioeconomic groups, anthropologists are a good fit for this role.

Public Relations Specialist

Public relations specialists manage the public image of an individual, company, or brand. They create and execute public relations strategies to ensure their clients maintain a positive reputation. In cases of bad publicity, it’s also their job to handle damage control. Because their job involves writing press releases and interacting with the media, public relations specialists must have impeccable speaking and writing skills—critical skills that anthropologists develop during their studies.

Human Resources Manager

Human resources managers and anthropology have one thing in common— humans. The role of a human resources manager revolves around handling and taking care of an organization’s staff. This includes but is not limited to conducting recruitment, onboarding new staff, handling staff complaints, and policy enforcement. Anthropologists study human behavior and often know how best to interact with people from diverse backgrounds. There’s no doubt that an anthropology degree sets you on the right path to pursue a career in human resources management.

Foreign Service Officer

A Foreign Service Officer works for the federal government in the state department. They often spend their time abroad serving in embassies, consulates, and diplomatic missions. Therefore, cultural adaptability is a necessary skill. It also helps if you’re bilingual. These professionals promote peace and prosperity and protect American citizens and interests in the countries where they serve. Although no specific degree is required for this job, a degree in anthropology helps you develop most of the skills needed for foreign service, according to the state department.

Public Policy Analyst

Public policy analysts review policies in several sectors like health and education. They research how policies impact different communities and groups. Then they make recommendations for policy amendments based on their research findings. Anthropologists are ideal candidates for this position with background knowledge of how environmental and other factors influence people’s lives.

Learn How to Become an Anthropologist Today!

Anthropology is currently ranked number six in best science jobs by US News & World Report. There are a lot of misconceptions about Anthropology, with many going as far as referring to it as “useless.” However, a degree in anthropology is anything but useless. It is a rewarding career that can position you for many opportunities.

Attaining professional status as an anthropologist requires earning a master’s degree. But if you decide to change careers, a bachelor’s degree in anthropology can also be useful in fields like law and medicine. As a matter of fact, many employers will appreciate that you have a background in anthropology.

Is a career in anthropology your dream profession? Or maybe you’re not so sure. Don’t worry. You don’t have to make a decision right away. You can check out our resource center to find out about other professions similar to anthropology that might interest you.

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