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 and/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?
Applicants to graduate programs in anthropology should familiarize themselves with the requirements for admission from the Graduate Catalog and department webpage. 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 AnthDGS@utk.edu if you have questions about your application.
Applicants are most rigorously evaluated on their Letter of Intent and the letters of reference submitted on their behalf. The Letter 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 Letter 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.
What is my “Letter of Intent?”
A Letter of Intent (also known as a “statement of purpose”) 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 Letter 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 Letter of Intent for the Department of Anthropology at the University of Tennessee also asks that a portion of the Letter of Intent addresses (in about 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? This portion is not required.
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?
What is the admission cycle, and when are applications due, reviewed, and when can I expect to be notified of decisions?
Applications for admission are due 1 December and are for admission in the Fall semester of the following academic year. We do not admit students for the Spring or Summer terms. Evaluation of applicants begins in mid December and is complete by mid to late January, with notifications of acceptance or denial sent to the applicants by the department and graduate school in late January to mid-February. Decisions about funding are usually made in late February to early April and are sent separately by the department.
Make sure your application is complete in all respects by the 1 December deadline, and apply for department funding by the same date. If you miss the December 1st deadlines you will not be considered for admission or funding for that cycle. It is your responsibility to ensure your application is complete, so regularly check your application in SLATE to see that all required piece of documentation have been submitted on time.
If there are unusual or extenuating circumstances why an application is incomplete, please contact the Director of Graduate Admissions, at AnthDGS@utk.edu. Missing transcripts and letters of reference are primary reasons why applications are incomplete. Regularly check your application in SLATE to see that all required piece of documentation have been submitted on time. Request transcripts and letters of recommendation several weeks to months before the deadline, check to see that they were submitted, and contact those writing letters of recommendation if their letters have not been submitted before the deadline passes.
Does the Department require GRE scores to be considered for admission?
No. The Anthropology Department does not require GRE scores as part of the admission process. We recognize that standardized tests are not always the best measure of aptitude, so we evaluate the whole application.
Is there a minimum GPA requirement?
Yes. Applicants must have a minimum overall GPA of 3.30. In rare cases the department may admit students with a slightly lower GPA. However, this requires a vote of the entire faculty, and documentation of extenuating circumstances must be provided to justify admission. Students with GPAs substantially below the minimum are strongly discouraged from applying.
What parts of the application are most important?
All parts of the application are important, and must be submitted by the deadline, December 1st. We evaluate applications to the graduate program in their entirety. We look for a clear statement of intent (also known as a “statement of purpose” or a “letter of intent”), a GPA of 3.30 or above, and strong letters of reference. No single piece is considered the most important, although in the letter of intent you must indicate which faculty you want to work with, and why.
As an optional section, the Department of Anthropology at the University of Tennessee asks that the letter of intent also 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.
I did not complete an undergraduate degree in Anthropology. Can I still be considered for the graduate program?
Yes, under certain conditions. Applicants with a major in a related field (such as biology, sociology, geology, classics, history, historic preservation, or geography) will be considered if they have a formal minor in Anthropology or its equivalent (at least five upper-division Anthropology courses). BA level students should apply for the MA program rather than applying directly to the PhD program.
Students applying to the MA program with a focus in Archaeology should demonstrate familiarity with lab and field work, either through completion of a field school or employment in the field. Students applying to the PhD program MUST have prior field and lab experience.
I did not complete my Bachelor’s nor my Master’s in Anthropology, but I would like to apply to the PhD program. Can I still be considered for admission?
Yes, under certain conditions. A BA or MA degree in Anthropology or a minor in Anthropology and a degree in a related field is required for admission to the PhD program. Applicants with a major in a related field (such as biology, sociology, geology, classics, history, historic preservation, or geography) will be considered only if they have a formal minor in Anthropology or its equivalent (at least five upper-division Anthropology courses). Only students with GPAs above a 3.30 overall in undergraduate or graduate work will be considered for admission. BA level students should apply for the MA program rather than applying directly to the PhD program.
I completed my undergraduate degree in Anthropology at UTK and I would like to be admitted into the graduate program. What are my chances?
Students who completed undergraduate degrees in Anthropology at UTK must compete with all other applicants on an even field. Occasionally we accept students who completed their BAs with us into the graduate program, typically at the MA level. Students who are well known to the Department may actually find themselves at a disadvantage if they have not performed exceptionally well at the undergraduate level. The Department also encourages diversification of training, and in many cases encourage students to go elsewhere for advanced training. If you want to earn a PhD from UTK and you completed your BA with us, you might consider pursuing a Master’s degree elsewhere first, and then reapplying.
What are my chances of being accepted into the graduate program?
We do not have a set admission number. Admission depends on many variables such as the strength of your application relative to all other applications we receive; whether an appropriate faculty member is available and willing to advise new students; availability of funding; the fit between your interests and our program; and the total number of applications we receive in a given sub-discipline. Our program in Biological Anthropology and especially Forensic Anthropology receives over one hundred applications every year, so obviously the admission rate in that program is low relative to number of applications received.
I would like to focus on two or more sub-disciplines of Anthropology at once, for example, Forensic and Cultural Anthropology, or Biological Anthropology and Archaeology. But the application requires me to indicate one sub-discipline. What should I do?
You are free to indicate more than one sub-discipline on your application. Faculty in the indicated sub-disciplines will review your application jointly and come to a collective decision about admission. Your letter of intent should explain how your research interests are at the interface of two or more sub-disciplines. Anthropology is a holistic discipline and we welcome students who wish to focus on more than one sub-discipline.
I am interested in pursuing the Disasters, Displacement, and Human Rights (DDHR) program. Is there anything additional I have to do to apply for that?
If you are interested in participating in the DDHR program, please indicate that in your letter of intent and explain how the program fits your particular interests and goals. You might also consider contacting the DDHR faculty at email@example.com. There is an additional application for students planning to complete the Graduate Certificate in DDHR available on the departmental website; however, this is not required for admission and there is no specific deadline. The DDHR application process is only to track those students participating in the program and can be completed after you have matriculated.
How can I find out about faculty research expertise?
Click here to view faculty profiles. Many faculty include links to their published work on their profile page. If you would like to study with a particular faculty member, we recommend sending them an email to introduce yourself; attach your CV to that email as well. We expect prospective students to make the effort to learn about faculty research expertise through the available information.
What is the average length of time it takes to complete a graduate degree in Anthropology?
Students should complete a Master’s degree within three years of matriculation, and a PhD within five years of matriculation. The time required depends on several factors, including your existing preparation in Anthropology; your ability to identify and pursue a sustained research focus; the number and type of other responsibilities you have that require your time and attention; and the resources available to you. It also varies by type of research. If your project entails working with an existing data set and you do not need to travel for long periods, you may finish more rapidly. Projects that require long periods of fieldwork and/or language mastery may take considerably longer Students who complete an MA and then a PhD typically take from 6 to 8 years to complete both degrees. BA level students are not admitted directly into the PhD program.
If I receive funding through the department, does it automatically renew, and for how long will I have it?
No, unless specifically stated as multiyear funding in a formal letter of notification. New and returning students who wish to be considered for funding in the form of teaching assistantships must apply (or re-apply) every year. This application is due by December 1st each year, and may be found on the this department webpage. Pending availability, funding is typically renewed for students who perform adequately in their assistantship duties and show evidence of progress in their graduate program, as reflected, in part, in their Anthropology Graduate Student Annual Report and Faculty Evaluation, details for which are given in the text and Appendix 1 of the Anthropology Graduate Student Handbook. If you are selected for an assistantship at the Master’s level, you may be funded for a maximum of 3 years, and at the PhD level, for a maximum of 5 years, or 8 years total if you come in with a BA and earn first an MA and then a PhD. Receiving funding for one year does not guarantee you will maintain funding for this entire period, however. Students should view funding as an investment the department and university makes in their successful training and career development. It should not be viewed as either a “job” or an entitlement. The goal is for funded students to successfully complete the program in a timely fashion. If needed due to extenuating students, applications for one additional year of funding are due December 1st. Procedures for applying for this funding are given in Appendix 3 of the Anthropology Graduate Student Handbook.
Can or should I send application materials in hard copy and/or as email attachments?
No. Our application system, called SLATE, is entirely web-based. All application materials should be submitted through the Graduate School website and SLATE system. This includes documents like letters of reference, which your referees should upload themselves, and supplementary materials like your letter of intent, transcript, and writing sample, which you will upload yourself. (NOTE: these are REQUIRED by the Anthropology department). Hard copies of documents or additional email attachments may become lost in the shuffle and often require us to scan and upload them manually. Do NOT to send materials by hard copy or email attachment. If exceptional circumstances demand that you send hard copies or email attachments, contact the department at AnthDGS@utk.edu.
What should I submit as a writing sample?
Writing samples of less than 20 pages (preferably 10 pages or less) must be uploaded through the centralized SLATE system. If you wish to include a link to your thesis, you may do so in your letter of intent. Please do not try to upload your entire thesis. Writing samples should highlight your ability present analytical work and should preferably relate in some way to your graduate goals.
What are the deadlines for applying to the graduate program in Anthropology?
The deadline set by the Department of Anthropology is December 1st and is for admission in the Fall semester of the following academic year. We do not admit students for the Spring or Summer terms. Please note that this is EARLIER than the deadline listed on the Graduate School website where you will submit your application materials. For international students, there may be additional deadlines and application requirements set by the Graduate School. It is the applicant’s responsibility to understand and meet all necessary deadlines and requirements.
I would like to be considered for a teaching assistantship, but I do not see where I can indicate that on my application.
Applications for funding from the department are separate from the application for admission, and the deadline is December 1st. If you are a new applicant, therefore, you must submit all application materials for admission by December 1st, and for funding by December 1st. The application for an assistantship is here.
Teaching assistantships within the department are limited. Applicants are encouraged to visit the Graduate School website for information about other funding opportunities at UT.