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Choosing a Graduate School

Katelyn Cano
Katelyn Cano

My college advisor told me to start thinking about graduate school during junior year of college. This was the perfect time since I had chosen my major and also knew it is near impossible to get an anthropology job with just a bachelor’s degree. Not every major requires graduate school work, but if yours does, there are many factors to consider when choosing a graduate school.

The first factor in picking a graduate school is deciding if you want to go straight to a Ph.D. program and getting a master’s degree along the way, or going to a master’s program. Look at the differences in salaries between a master’s and Ph.D. and the types of jobs. Also, consider how many years you want to attend graduate school. If anything more than two years sounds too long, do a master’s degree program and not a Ph.D. one.

The second factor in picking a graduate school is figuring out what topic you will want to focus on for your thesis and graduate work. Anthropology was my major, but I could not study everything about anthropology when getting my master’s degree. I decided to focus on archaeology of the Philistines during the Late Bronze Age. Begin your graduate school decision by narrowing down the topic you want to study as I did with anthropology.

After you figure out your focus within your major, you will have to find schools with at least two faculty members who can mentor and advise you on your topic. Even though I did my undergraduate work at San Francisco State University and loved my school, there were no faculty members there who could assist me with my topic, so I had to apply elsewhere. You can start your search by deciding on a state you would like to attend graduate school. Go to and search by topics, degree type, and states. After you do this, you can visit websites of the universities in the search results to read about the faculty. You can also find faculty members in your field by reading journal articles. See where the authors of articles are teaching if there is someone you would like to learn from. If the author is not teaching, check out articles from the references to find other people who may be teaching at schools with graduate programs.

Faculty members are often willing to meet with students, and I encourage you to email faculty members who teach where you are applying. Before applying to the Near Eastern Studies department at the University of California, Berkeley, I emailed and met with someone on staff. It was great to talk in person about the program so that I could get a better understanding before I applied. I also found out during that meeting that only a few people are accepted each year and this made receiving a rejection letter a bit less painful.

In addition to meeting with faculty, it is also great to meet with current students and/or recent graduates. I had coffee with a Near Eastern studies student before applying, which was also helpful. You can connect with these students since they may be close to your age and they can answer questions about the program, mentors, advisors, the campus, etc. from a different perspective than faculty members you meet. You can typically find contact information of students on the university program’s website, which is how I found the person I met.

The last, and a very important factor, is cost. If you are applying to schools out-of-state, you will need to remember the increase in tuition. Visit the websites to the schools in which you want to apply to see tuition costs. In addition to tuition, you will need to pay for books, transportation, food, and housing. How is the cost of living in the university’s city? Is there affordable public transportation? Is there housing for graduate students? These are all questions you should ask and seek answers to when picking a graduate school.

Overall, when it comes to choosing a graduate school, decide between a master’s and a Ph.D., pick the topic you want to focus on, investigate and introduce yourself to faculty, meet and talk to current or former students and research costs for everything you will need to pay for throughout your graduate education.

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