Applying to Graduate School
Why Graduate School?
Getting a graduate degree, including an M.A., M.S., Ph.D., or Ed.D. can help you qualify for jobs that you cannot get with an undergraduate degree. Most applied anthropologists working in human services, economic and social development, cultural resources management, or business and marketing have an M.A. in anthropology. An M.A. or M.S. in anthropology or a related field will also allow you to teach at the community college level while a Ph.D. is usually required to teach or do research at 4-year colleges and universities. Getting a graduate degree also allows you to develop skills and research interests that you could not pursue as an undergraduate.
The first step to applying to graduate school is identifying the programs to which you want to apply. Talk to your professors and other professionals in your field of interest to identify programs that may best fit your needs. Identify key scholars that you want to work with and the programs where they teach. You should apply to a range of schools to improve your chances of being accepted someone and of getting financial support. You can apply to different kinds of departments at the same time; for instance, one student might be applying to a few anthropology departments, an ethnic studies department, a gender studies department, and an international development program. Each application will be somewhat different but applying to a wide range of programs increases your chances of finding the right one for you.
Applying to graduate school is different from applying to undergraduate programs. In graduate school, you will be accepted based on the willingness of particular faculty in the program to work with you, so you need to identify tenure-track faculty in each program who do the kind of work that you want to do, reach out to them to see if they are accepting new mentees, and familiarize yourself with their work so that you can explain in depth why you want to work with them. It may help to create a spreadsheet with each department’s deadlines, what they require you to submit, the names of faculty in the program, and any other information that will help you complete your application.
Many students find that visiting the schools to which they are applying and meeting with the faculty there helped them get accepted and/or get funding. While M.A. programs usually offer little to no funding, Ph.D. programs often offer partial or full funding. Sometimes, students apply but are not accepted into their preferred programs or they are accepted but without sufficient financial support. For these students, applying again the next year may help and many students find themselves applying more than once to a program that they really want to attend.
For students who do not receive funding, you should develop a budget and consider the amount of debt that you are willing to accrue, especially if you have debts from your undergraduate degree. Creating a strong application and working directly with faculty in the programs to which you are applying can help you get funding. There are also scholarships and other forms of support outside of the departments where you are applying, and you should identify and apply to as many scholarships as you can as well as let the programs where you are applying know that you need financial support.
The Application Process
Most graduate programs accept applications from October or November through January or February. Students should begin preparing their applications at least 6 months ahead of the deadlines. Some programs require that you take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) or other qualifying exam and send them the scores, but for programs in the social sciences, test scores are less important than the rest of your application package. Students should prepare for the GRE by studying for some months before taking the exam; free practice exams are available online. In addition to test scores, you will need to send official transcripts from all colleges and universities you have attended, a statement of purpose, a writing sample, and letters of recommendation.
One of the most important parts of any application is the statement of purpose. Plan on writing multiple drafts of your statements and getting feedback from faculty and others as you revise. Your statement will be different for each department that you apply to, so plan ahead to have the time to write several different versions of your statement of purpose. The statement of purpose should clearly state
- Why do you want to apply to the program in question,
- Who do you want to work with while in the program,
- What do you want to do when you finish their program,
- What your educational and research experiences have been so far,
- Something about you as an individual.
When naming the faculty with whom you want to work, you should refer to their research and publications and explain why you are a good fit to work with these faculty and for this department. In addition, you should have a well-developed statement of the research that you want to do at the graduate level and how you will develop this research. Your stated research interests should be consistent with the work done by the faculty that you say you want to work with, and it should be broad enough that the faculty in the graduate program will have the space to help you develop your research in new directions. Students with prior research experience will have an advantage over students who have not participated in research activities. You probably will be given a word limit on the statement of purpose, but if you are not, you should try to limit yourself to two pages double-spaced as busy faculty may not have time to read more.
Your GPA is important when applying to graduate school. If your GPA is low, you may consider taking extra classes, even after you complete your BA or MA, to improve your GPA. In your statement of purpose, you can address any struggles you experienced that may have contributed to a bad semester or a low GPA.
Letters of reference should come from university faculty, not employers or family friends. You should ask potential references if they can write a positive and strong letter of recommendation and you should provide them with your statement of purpose, a copy of your curriculum vitae (cv) or resume, and any other information they may need to write the letter. You may need to remind your references to write the letter before the deadline.
Most schools will ask for a writing sample. You should use an academic writing sample and you should get feedback and revise it before including it in your application packet. It may be advantageous to cite the work of the faculty in the program to which you are applying in your writing sample, even if this means that you are sending different versions of your writing sample to different departments.
Other ways of making yourself a competitive and attractive applicant to graduate programs include presenting your research at scholarly conferences, publishing your work, going to conferences and meeting the faculty with whom you want to work, getting jobs and internships in your chosen field, and going on field schools or other research trips. Applying to graduate school can be a lot of work. If you are applying while still in school, be sure to budget your time so that you can devote sufficient time to your applications. Starting in early summer for fall/winter application deadlines is a good idea. Get help from your professors, even if you have already graduated. If the cost of application fees is too high, request fee waivers from the universities to which you are applying.
Some, though not all, graduate schools ask for applicants to submit scores from tests like the GRE or LSAT exams. Plan ahead to sign up for the exams with enough time to get your scores to schools by their application deadlines. You should study for these exams – there are lots of resources online to help you prepare. Cal State LA has a page with resources for students applying to graduate school, including taking these exams. More information about possible requirements are included on the GRE and Standardized Tests page.
Guide to Thesis
Why Write a Thesis?
Graduate students may choose between two culminating experiences to complete their M.A. degree in anthropology: a thesis or the comprehensive exams. This guide is for students planning on completing a thesis; there is a separate guide to completing the comprehensive exams. Students should complete all course requirements by the semester in which they are completing their culminating experience.
Students often struggle to choose a culminating experience. Students completing theses and exams may be equally desirable to Ph.D. programs depending on a number of other factors, so you need not complete a thesis to be accepted into a Ph.D. program. The best reasons to do a thesis are that you have a strong project to propose, you are passionate about your research topic, your project will contribute in substantive ways to the scholarship on the subject, the project is feasible to complete with minimal or no funding, and you have the support of faculty mentors who will work with you. Completing a thesis will take students longer than taking the comprehensive exams. Students who cannot develop a strong thesis project or who wish to graduate faster should consider taking the comprehensive exams rather than trying to complete a thesis. Once a student has enrolled in the comprehensive exams, they may not change their option to the thesis. However, students who seek to complete a thesis but find that they cannot may request approval from the Dean to take the comprehensive exams.
Prerequisites for Beginning a Thesis
In order to be eligible to complete a thesis, students must first be advanced to candidacy. In order to be advanced to candidacy, the student must meet the following criteria:
- Satisfaction of the Graduation Writing Assessment Requirement
- Classified Graduate Standing
- An approved MA degree study plan on file in the college graduate studies office
- Completing a minimum of 12 units of the MA study plan with an over B (3.0) GPA or higher
After meeting these requirements and when you know your thesis topic and committee chair, you should complete the GS-10 Form, which requests that you formally be advanced to candidacy and requires the signature of your thesis committee chair. All forms are available on the website of the Office of Graduate Studies.
Steps to Completing a Thesis
After submitting the GS-10, students should focus on the other steps necessary to complete the thesis. These steps should be completed in the order they are listed:
- Develop a thesis project idea and find 3 faculty members who support your research idea and will serve on your thesis committee. Two of the 3 must be tenure-track faculty members in the department of anthropology; the third may be an adjunct faculty member in the department of anthropology, a faculty member in another department or institution, or an independent expert with an M.A., Ph.D., or another graduate degree, with authorization from the Office of Graduate Studies.
- Write and submit a proposal for research that is approved by your thesis committee. The proposal should be in the range of 8-10 pages, typed and double-spaced. It should clearly explain your research question, any background the reader needs to understand in order to assess your research question, an explanation of your data collection and analysis methods, a brief review of the literature on the topic and how your research relates to this already existing literature, and a discussion of why this research is important and what your scholarly and/or applied contributions will be. The department coordinators can give you the cover sheet that the committee members must sign. Your proposal will be kept on file. Proposals may only be submitted in the fall and spring semesters.
- If you are doing research with living human subjects, you may be required to complete an application for approval from the Institutional Research Board (IRB). IRB review ensures that you are following the highest standards for ethical and legal research protocols. IRB approval or formal exemption is required for all projects that involve interviews, surveys, ethnography, photography or film, or other examination of human subjects. Some projects may qualify for exemption from IRB review, but you must meet the conditions for exemption and you must apply for it. You need one faculty mentor to apply for IRB approval with you. See the webpage for the Office of Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activities for more information.
- If you are doing a project on animal subjects, IACUC (Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee) approval will typically need to be obtained, and a faculty supervisor will need to work closely with you on this application. Your faculty supervisor will be listed as the Principal Investigator (PI) on the project. CSULA's IACUC meets only a few times each semester, so a careful review of application deadline dates is warranted. Completed IACUC applications are due 30 days before each deadline date. Contact ORSCA for more information.
- Once your proposal has been approved by your committee and you have received IRB or IACUC approval or exemption, you may proceed to collect and analyze data and write the thesis. Do not begin data collection before having your proposal approved and before receiving IRB or IACUC approval.
- Work with the chair of your thesis committee to determine when your thesis draft is ready for all committee members to read. Your thesis chair/major advisor is responsible for ensuring that the draft thesis is polished and well developed before other thesis committee members read it. You must submit the complete thesis draft to all committee members with sufficient time for them to give you feedback and for you to implement that feedback before the deadline to submit your thesis. That means that you should look up the deadline for submission in the semester in which they hope to graduate and give the draft to committee members no later than one full month before the university submission deadline. It is the student’s responsibility to ensure that all thesis committee members receive drafts in a timely manner, that all of them are able to provide feedback, and that they approve of the finalized draft.
- Upon completion and submission of the thesis, students must submit the completed GS-13 form with signatures of approval from all committee members. All forms are available on the website of the Office of Graduate Studies.
- Students may submit completed theses to the university in the fall, spring, or summer semesters with the approval of faculty committee members.
- There is no oral defense of the thesis in anthropology. The thesis committee chair should work with the student and other committee members to ensure that this process is proceeding correctly and that the student will be able to submit the thesis and comply with all regulations during this process.
- Students completing theses should take the thesis workshops at the library and must arrange to meet in person with a thesis reviewer at least once before submitting it online.
- Students submitting theses must complete 3 units of ANTH 5990 Thesis. Students may not enroll in thesis units until they have finalized their thesis proposal. To sign up for thesis units, students need to complete a form available in the anthropology department office in order to obtain a permit to enroll in ANTH 5990 Thesis. Students may elect to do all 3 thesis units in one semester or may spread them over several semesters. Students may elect to register for one thesis unit with each member of their thesis committee in order to recognize the work done by each thesis committee member, or they may elect to complete all thesis units with one member of the committee such as the thesis committee chair. The only mechanism by which faculty are paid to work on thesis committees is through thesis units and independent study units (ANTH 5980). Students must be sensitive to the fact that faculty are not adequately recognized or paid to supervise theses and that this work is enormously time-consuming for faculty.
- Students must be enrolled in something during the semester in which they submit their thesis and thesis units may be used for this purpose. If students complete all coursework and thesis units and still need to enroll officially in order to complete or submit the thesis, they can enroll in UNIV 9000 through the College of Professional and Global Education (PaGE), at a cost of $350 per semester.
- The Graduate Resource Center in the basement of the library provides writing help to graduate students.
- The Office of Graduate Studies provides limited funding to help defray the costs of doing research for a thesis. Go to the Office of Graduate Studies website or contact them directly to get more information about funding. In general, there is limited funding for M.A. theses and students should plan to do research with little or no funding.
Guide to Comprehensive Exam
Why Take the Comprehensive Exam?
Graduate students may choose between two culminating experiences to complete their M.A. in anthropology: a thesis or the comprehensive exams. Once a student has enrolled in the comprehensive exams, they may not change their option to the thesis. However, students who seek to complete a thesis but find that they are unable to complete it may later opt to take the comprehensive exams. Students should complete all course requirements by the semester in which they are completing their culminating experience.
Students often struggle to choose a culminating experience. Students completing theses and exams may be equally desirable to Ph.D. programs depending on a number of other factors, so you need not complete a thesis to be accepted into a Ph.D. program. The best reasons to do a thesis are that you have a strong project to propose, you are passionate about your research topic, your project will contribute in substantive ways to the scholarship on the subject, the project is feasible to complete with minimal or no funding, and you have the support of faculty mentors who will work with you. Completing a thesis will take students longer than taking the comprehensive exams. Students who cannot develop a strong thesis project or who wish to graduate faster should consider taking the comprehensive exams rather than trying to complete a thesis. Comprehensive exams are offered in the fall and spring semesters, but not during summer sessions or intersessions.
Prerequisites for Signing up for the Comprehensive Exams
In order to be eligible to complete the comprehensive exams, students must first be advanced to candidacy. In order to be advanced to candidacy, the student must meet the following criteria:
- Satisfaction of the Graduation Writing Assessment Requirement
- Classified Graduate Standing
- An approved MA degree study plan is on file in the college graduate studies office
- Completing a minimum of 12 units of the MA study plan with an over B (3.0) GPA or higher
- Approval of the Anthropology Department (capitalize)
- Approval of the Dean of the College of Natural and Social Sciences
The Department staff will complete the paperwork to advance you to candidacy once you have met these requirements. If you believe you have met these requirements but have not yet been advanced to candidacy (you can see if you have or not in your GET report), please see the department for more information.
Registering for the Exams
In addition to being advanced to candidacy, students wishing to take the comprehensive exams must complete a form available in the Department of Anthropology that must be signed by three tenure-track or tenured faculty who agree to write exam questions for the student and serve as readers for the completed exam. After completion of the form, students can request a permit to enroll in ANTH 5960 Comprehensive Exams. The cost of taking the exams is $10 and students need not be enrolled in anything else when taking the exams.
Exams are different for each of the graduate tracks, though each track has 3 separate exams. Biological track students (independent of their focus within biological anthropology) take exams in biological anthropology, Sociocultural track students take exams in sociocultural anthropology, archeology track students take exams in archeology, and general track students take a 3-fields exam encompassing biological anthropology, sociocultural anthropology, and archeology. Exams for biological anthropology, sociocultural anthropology, and archeology all follow a similar format: one exam on methodology, one exam on theory, and one exam on a topic of interest to the student within their chosen field. Exams for students in the general anthropology track are distinct and include one exam on biological anthropology, one exam on sociocultural anthropology, and one exam in archeology. Exams are scheduled on three separate days of the same week. They usually take place in a computer lab on campus and are proctored by department faculty.
For each exam, students will be asked to answer 2-3 separate questions and will be given a choice of questions to answer. While one individual faculty member drafts the exam questions each year, all draft exam questions are reviewed and edited by all tenure-track faculty in that field before the exam is set. No single faculty member works alone on comprehensive exams at the stage of preparing exam questions and at the stage of grading exam questions. Each exam lasts 3 hours; students registered with the Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD) may request alternative arrangements for the exam through OSD. For theory and methods exams, older sample questions are available in the department of anthropology for students to get a sense of the scope and nature of exam questions. Students taking exams on a topic of interest within their chosen field must ask a tenure-track professor to develop those questions for them.
Grading Procedures and Expectations
In general, students should write 3-5 pages of double-spaced text for each question they answer. Students are expected to answer the questions thoroughly and accurately. Answers must be written in essay format and written with care. Students should refer to individual anthropologists, schools of thought, and publications with accuracy and correct spelling in their answers. Exam questions assume your competence in your chosen field and cover readings and topics that may have been presented to you in your graduate seminars as well as works that your instructors may not have chosen to use in classes and seminars, but that are central to the field. Expect to be required to read and study additional texts, as well as seminar-assigned texts. This is a test of MA competence in the discipline and while seminars are necessary launching pads, seminars alone are not enough to gain MA level competence and proficiency in the discipline. Students who do well on comprehensive exams have generally spent 6-8 months preparing with an advisor, by reading texts and using these texts to write practice answers. Writing practice answers also help students by preparing them to work to the 3-hour timed deadline, once the exam begins. It is the student’s responsibility to work with faculty readers to understand the faculty’s expectations regarding passing exam answers.
Students complete their exams on approved campus computers and may not access the internet or use notes while taking the exams. Each day, the answers for the exam are saved on a flash drive by the exam proctor and given to the department coordinator, who saves and distributes them to exam readers. Each exam will be assessed by 3-4 faculty readers with expertise in the chosen field. If these readers cannot come to a consensus on the grading of the exams, an additional reader may be invited to help assess the exam answers. Exam answers are graded on a pass/fail basis. Faculty readers confer with each other to come to an agreement on whether the student passed or not. Unlike a seminar grade, no one single faculty member grades or determines a comprehensive exam result on her own.
Students are allowed to attempt the comprehensive exams 3 times if they do not pass on the first or second attempt. Students who pass 2 of the 3 exams during one attempt will be permitted to retake only the one failed exam rather than have to attempt all 3 over again; however, students who pass only 1 of the 3 exams during one attempt will have to retake all three exams at the next attempt.
Students will be notified of the results of their examination as soon as faculty readers have come to a consensus, no later than the day on which grades are due during the semester the exam was taken. Students who do not pass an exam may seek feedback from individual faculty readers but no students will be given their completed exams, which stay on file in the department office.
Preparing fro the Exams
Students should start studying for the exams no later than 6 months before the exams are to be taken. Students can find old exam questions in the anthropology department office to guide them as they prepare, and they should work on individualized exam questions for the interest area exam with their faculty mentors/readers. Students should work with faculty members to create a reading list of works relevant to the exams. Students should write draft answers to sample exam questions as practice, ideally using the 3-hour time limit to mimic the exam structure. However, students should expect that early in this practice, it will take longer to draft an answer. Students who practice writing sample questions generally reduce the time they require to answer a question with practice. Regular and disciplined writing practice greatly improves skill at dissecting the questions and synthesizing the information required. Students may request help from faculty readers when preparing for the exams but must be mindful that unless you sign up for an independent study (ANTH 5980) to work with your faculty reader, they may have only limited time to help you. It is your responsibility to prepare for the exam with or without faculty support. However, for your interest area exam, you must have a faculty supervisor who agrees to draft questions. You should start preparing for the exams with every graduate class you take by making bibliographies, taking notes, and organizing the information in an accessible way.
Some students find it helpful to form study groups with other students both in seminars and in exam preparation. Other strategies for preparing for the exam include making timelines of schools of thought, major works, and major ideas; creating charts, lists, and flashcards of major concepts and their authors; rereading books and articles; reading secondary sources on anthropological theory and methods; and making draft outlines to sample and possible exam questions. Remember comprehensive exam questions require students to compare, contrast, analyze and synthesize material, not simply memorize a list of concepts and authors.