What Can Be Done With an Anthropology Degree?

Anthropological study provides training particularly well suited to the 21st century. The economy is increasingly international; workforces and markets, increasingly diverse; participatory management and decision making, increasingly important; communication skills, increasingly in demand. Anthropology is the only contemporary discipline that approaches human questions from historical, biological, linguistic, and cultural perspectives. The intellectual excitement and relevance of the wide range of information presented in anthropology assures that students are engaged and challenged. Moreover, it complements other scientific and liberal arts courses by helping students understand the interconnectivity of knowledge about people and their cultures. Increasingly, students are coming to understand that the issues affecting their futures and the information they will need to prosper cannot be found in narrow programs of study.

Today’s anthropologists do not just work in exotic locations. Anthropologists can be found in a surprising array of fields and careers, not least of which being mother-of-the-President of the United States of America.  Anthropologists can be found in corporations, all levels of government, educational institutions and non-profit associations. Anthropologists work in disaster areas, including Ground Zero in New York and the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina.

There are many career and educational options for anthropology majors. Today there are four main career paths for anthropology graduates:

  • Academic Careers
    On campuses, in departments of anthropology, and in research laboratories, anthropologists teach and conduct research. They spend a great deal of time preparing for classes, writing lectures, grading papers, working with individual students, composing scholarly articles, and writing books.  A number of academic anthropologists find careers in other departments or university programs, such as schools of medicine, epidemiology, public health, ethnic studies, cultural studies, community or area studies, linguistics, education, ecology, cognitive psychology and neural science.
  • Corporate and Business Careers
    Many corporations look explicitly for anthropologists, recognizing the utility of their perspective on a corporate team. A corporate anthropologist working in market research might conduct targeted focus groups to examine consumer preference patterns not readily apparent through statistical or survey methods. These anthropologists use their research skills to talk to consumers and users of technology to find out how products and services could be improved to better meet the needs of consumers.
  • Government Careers
    State and local governmental organizations use anthropologists in planning, research and managerial capacities. Contract archaeology is a growing occupation with state and federal legislative mandates to assess cultural resources affected by government funded projects. Forensic anthropologists, in careers glamorized by Hollywood and popular novels, not only work with police departments to help identify mysterious or unknown remains but also work in university and museum settings. The federal government is one of the largest employers of anthropologists outside of academia. Possible career paths include: international development, cultural resource management, the legislative branch, forensic and physical anthropology, natural resource management, and defense and security sectors.
  • Non-profit and Community-based Careers
    Non-governmental organizations, such as international health organizations and development banks employ anthropologists to help design and implement a wide variety of programs. Many anthropologists also work in local, community-based settings for non-profit agencies. Sometimes, they work through community-based research organizations like the Institute for Community Research. Other times, they might work for established organizations in a community like the YMCA, local schools, or environmental organizations.

In response to a survey by the American Anthropological Association’s Committee on Practicing, Applied and Public Interest Anthropology (CoPAPIA)*, respondents provided the following responses to describe their post-graduate employment:

Cultural Resource Management (CRM)
Historic Preservation
Museum/Curation/Project Design
Community Development
Advocacy (human rights/social justice)
Human/Social Services
Computers/Software Development/Information
Design (products and/or services)
International Development/Affairs
Mass Communication
Ethnography/Cultural Anthropology
Health (international/public health)
Environment and Natural Resources
Healthcare Management/Services/Deliver
Management Consulting/Organizational
Social Impact Assessment
Market Research
Law/Criminal Justice/Law Enforcement
Humanitarian Efforts

Areas of Anthropological Study

  • Sociocultural Anthropology – Examines social patterns and practices across cultures
  • Archaeology – Studies past people and cultures through the analysis of material remains
  • Physical Anthropology – Studies animal origins and biologically determined nature of humankind
  • Linguistic Anthropology – Studies the ways in which language reflects and influences social life
  • Medical Anthropology – Seeks to better understand factors that influence peoples’ health and well being
  • Forensic Anthropology – Analyzes skeletal, decomposed, or otherwise unidentified human remains to aid in detection of crime
  • Business Anthropology – Applies anthropological theories and methods to identify and solve business problems
  • Visual Anthropology – Uses images for the description, analysis, communication and interpretation of behavior
  • Environmental Anthropology – Examines how people interact with, respond to, and bring about changes in the environment.
  • Museum Anthropology – Studies the history of museums, their role in society, and changes in this role

This information was compiled using resources from the American Anthropological Association (AAA) website. For more information, please visit the AAA’s Career Center.