Graduate School Question and Answer Guide

The Anthropology Student Question-and-Answer
Guide to Applying to Graduate School

Richard W. Franke: 19 November 2003

1. Are you sure you want to go to graduate school in anthropology?

  • Yes, I want to be a university professor and researcher. Go to question 2.
  • No, I did not realize that was the only likely job for a Ph. D. in anthropology. Stop here; you probably want some other kind of career.
  • No, I did not realize that for most applied positions a Masters degree is sufficient. Stop here. Ask your favorite faculty member about possible M.A. programs in applied anthropology.
  • I’m not sure, but I want to find out more. Go to question 2.

2. Do you know which subfield of anthropology you want to study?

  • Yes. Go to question 3 below.
  • No. Go back to question 1 and answer “No.”

3. Do you have some idea about a geographical area and/or subject area within your anthropological subfield you would want to write a Ph. D. thesis on?

  • Yes, go to question 4 below.
  • No, go back to question 1 and answer “No.”

4. Do you know WHERE you want to go to graduate school?

  • Yes, I have studied the American Anthropological Association Guide to Departments of Anthropology and have checked out appropriate programs on the relevant websites. I know which universities offer programs consistent with my interests.
  • No, but I plan to study the Guide soon.

5. Are you limited geographically in your choice of graduate schools?

  • Yes, I have personal or family responsibilities that compel me to stay in the metropolitan area.
  • No, I can go anywhere.

6. Do you have about $300 to risk on graduate school applications?

  • Yes. Go to question 7.
  • No. Go back to question 1 and answer “No.”

7. Have you discussed your graduate school ideas with the MSU faculty member who knows you best?

  • Yes, I am ready to make a decision on how to proceed.
  • No, but I plan to do it right away.

8. Do you plan to be a full time graduate student?

  • Yes. Go to question 9.
  • No. Go back to question 1 and answer “No.”

9. Do you have a plan to raise about $15,000 per year for 5 years?

  • Yes, I have the money now. Go to question 10.
  • Yes, I plan to work as a teaching assistant, to take out loans, and to get a partial or full graduate school fellowship. Go to question 10.
  • No, I cannot imagine raising that kind of money. Go to question 1 and answer “No.”

10. Is your undergraduate grade average 3.5 or better in all courses, not just anthropology courses?

  • Yes. Go to question 11.
  • No, but I have extenuating circumstances and/or my grades have been getting better and my recommenders can make a good case despite some early low grades. Go to question 11.
  • No. Go to question 1 and answer “No.”

11. Can you get two MSU faculty members or at least one MSU faculty member and one other person who knows you academically to write strongly positive letters of recommendation?

  • Yes. Go to question 12.
  • No. Go to question 1 and answer “No.”

12. Are your GRE scores high enough to get your application past the first round of elimination? If you did not yet take the GREs, use your SAT scores as estimates of the GRE scores you are likely to get.

  • Yes, for prestigious schools such as Berkeley, Chicago, the Ivy League, Arizona, and CUNY I have or expect to get at least 600 on each part of the test.
  • Yes, for second layer schools such as NYU, SUNY Binghamton, Florida, or American University, I have or expect to get at least 550.
  • Yes, for any of the less prestigious schools, I have or expect to get at least 500.
  • Go to question 13.
  • No, a 500 is out of my range. Don’t go to question 1 and answer “No” quite yet. Come and talk to department faculty members who know you about your possibilities. One such possibility is to invest a few hundred dollars in the Princeton Review or another exam preparation course.

13. Do you have a resumé ready?

Yes. And it has been checked over by a member of the faculty. Go to question 14.

No. Go to and follow the instructions. First, ask a fellow student to look over your resumé and make suggestions. Then ask an MSU faculty member to look over your resumé and make suggestions. Go to question 14.

14. Do you know how to write a good grad school application essay?

  • Yes, I have it ready and it is a gem.
  • No, but I want to learn how. I have asked Professor Franke for a copy of the hints page prepared by the University of California at Berkeley. In either case, go to question 15.

15. Have you decided how many places to apply to and how to arrange them in terms of difficulty?

  • Yes, I will apply to one or two places I most want to go to but are difficult to get admitted to and to one or two places where I have a good chance of getting in but are not my highest priority. Go to question 16.
  • No, I am applying only to one very prestigious school and putting all my hopes into that one. Go to question 1 and answer “No.”

16. Do you know all the dates and deadlines for your application, for taking the GREs, and for getting all your transcripts and recommendations sent on time?

  • Yes, I have organized all my materials and I know what to do in what order. Go to question 17.

17. Have you properly prepared all your letters of recommendation for your recommenders?

  • Did you give them the forms with stamped, addressed envelopes if appropriate?
  • Did you give them copies of your essay and of your resumé?
  • Did you check the box giving up your right to see the letter of recommendation?
  • Yes, I realize that my letters of recommendation will be more effective if the committee reading them knows I will not see them. I also realize that some or all MSU faculty will give me a copy of their letter anyway.

18. Do you plan to share your application materials, essay, and experiences, and the results with at least one faculty member so the information can help future MSU students apply successfully to graduate school?

  • No, I don’t want to help future students or the MSU Anthropology Department. Go back to question 1 and answer “No.”
  • Yes, I will be pleased to assist future students by sharing my experiences, whether successful or not. Good luck and we hope to hear from you when you receive your Ph. D.