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Application Advice

The Anthropology Department begins reviewing graduate school applications in December

Which Graduate Program is Right for You?

Choosing the appropriate graduate program in anthropology takes time and forethought. Prospective graduate applicants should research possible programs carefully, identify faculty within the relevant department or program whose research and expertise fits with their interests, and consider making personal contact with those faculty or scheduling on-campus visits. A primary reason why applicants are denied admission is because they have failed to identify explicitly in their statement of intent how their research interests and goals match well with those of department’s faculty, and how specific faculty are equipped to train them in the topics and methods they propose to study. Students should avoid operating on the assumption that because a particular university has a “good reputation” overall that its anthropology program is automatically a good one. Most departments or institutions have particular strengths for which they are known, and students should identify these before applying.

Prospective applicants should consider the following when evaluating potential graduate programs:

  • Does the anthropology department offer courses or programs in the areas of my interest?
  • Does the anthropology department faculty have expertise in my areas of interest? Are those faculty taking on new graduate students?
  • Have I communicated with these faculty, and have one or more faculty members in the department expressed an interest in working with me?
  • Will I require language or other highly specialized training? Is such training available at that institution?

What Makes a Strong Graduate Application?

Applicants to graduate programs in anthropology should familiarize themselves with the requirements for admission from the Graduate Catalog and department webpage. Our department has an FAQ page. Some departments indicate basic measures such as desired GRE scores, minimum GPA requirements, or evidence of previous coursework in anthropology. Our department does not require the GRE, but does have minimum GPA and coursework requirements, and if you do not meet them, a successful application is unlikely. Please contact the department’s Director of Graduate Studies at if you have questions about your application.

Applicants are most rigorously evaluated on their statement of intent and the letters of reference submitted on their behalf. The statement of intent should be carefully argued and written and include all required parts, and referees writing letters on your behalf should be chosen carefully, and reminded of the hard deadline for submission.

It is best to request letters of reference from faculty members from whom you have taken courses in which you have done well, and ideally, whom you have gotten to know outside the classroom. That is, they don’t just know you as a name and a grade. They should have first-hand knowledge of your capabilities and can speak to them in a reference letter. Think ahead: if you know you will apply to graduate school in the coming months, make an effort to meet with professors from whom you plan to request letters of reference and talk with them about your plans and allow them to get to know you. Letters of reference from non-academic sources, such as friends or non-academic employers, tend to hold much less weight than academic references. Finally, you should be sure to secure support from your major adviser, especially if you are a Master’s student applying for the Ph.D. A Master’s student who does not include a letter of reference from his or her major adviser raises a red flag. If you intend to prove your ability to shoulder doctoral-level work, it is a good idea to do so by producing an excellent Master’s project and impressing your existing adviser.

Be sure to ask your referees to read and comment on your Statement of Intent (see below). Do so well in advance; asking a professor to write a letter or provide feedback on a statement at the very last minute is not likely to positively influence his or her assessment of you.

Your “Statement of Intent”

A statement of intent (also known as a “statement of purpose” or a “letter of intent”) tells the faculty in your desired program what you intend to accomplish as a graduate student, and how you intend to do so. It should demonstrate self-motivation in two ways: First, what you have accomplished in your academic life so far? Have you thought specifically and clearly about your career goals? Have you been taking advantage of undergraduate opportunities that position you well towards achieving those goals? Second, in your vision for the future: do you have a clear idea about how you will progress towards your goals as a graduate student in the department to which you are applying? Have you gone so far as to not only identify a faculty member or members who fit well with those goals, but also communicated with them? You should begin that process by sending them your curriculum vitae (an academic résumé), communicating your research ideas with them, and opening a discussion with them about how your research interests might also fits with theirs. This should all happen several months before the application deadline. Overall, leave the strong impression that you have researched the department, program, and faculty, and have chosen it carefully.

Your statement should not be a narrative about how you’ve always loved anthropology and that going to graduate school would fulfill your life’s dream. This may be true, but instead, think of this application document as your opportunity to convince the faculty to admit you, based on your existing academic achievements and your future goals, over the 200 others who are vying for the same spot. Admission committees are often reviewing hundreds of applications, and 90% of applicants tell us that Anthropology is their dream career – this is why it is important for you to be specific about your goals, and to express them clearly in written form.

The statement of intent for the Department of Anthropology at the University of Tennessee also requires that the student, as part of their letter, will address (in 500-700 words) how anthropology and anthropologists can contribute to discourse on diversity, inclusion, and social justice. How do you think you could professionally or personally contribute to the department’s missions toward diversity, equity, and inclusion on our campus, in our East Tennessee community, and for the peoples whom we study and their descendants?

To conclude, write clearly, spell correctly, use good grammar, and be sure to proof read your letter. After all, if you are not willing to do this in your letter of intent, why would faculty think you would do so in a paper, thesis, or dissertation?

Instructions for Applying to Graduate Studies in Anthropology

Items to be submitted to the Graduate School

  • Letter of Intent
  • Writing Sample such as an academic paper, a summary of a research project, or a short chapter of a thesis. This should relate to your area of research.
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • Official copy of transcript(s)
  • TOEFL scores (if applicable)

* There is a place on the Graduate School’s application website to list referees and to notify them by email requesting them to submit their letters.

The deadline for applications for admission is midnight, December 1. This deadline may differ from deadlines posted by the Graduate School for international students. Please be sure to have all your application materials submitted in the online application at the Graduate School website to be sure that your application is considered by the Department. Please note that students cannot apply for mid-year admission.

Applications for graduate assistantships are considered separately from the graduate application. If you wish to be considered for funding by the Anthropology Department, submit an application online by December 1st. You can submit an application for funding prior to confirmation of acceptance into the program; if you are not accepted, your assistantship application will be removed from the pool.

The link to the Graduate Admissions website is You can go directly to the online application at . All application materials should be uploaded electronically to the Graduate School’s online application site, called SLATE. Follow Graduate School guidelines in assembling your application materials. Please note that while the Graduate School website does not indicate that Letters of Intent or Writing Samples are required, if you are applying for graduate work in Anthropology, you must submit them.