Skip to main content

Applying to graduate school in forensic anthropology

Generally, the process for applying to anthropology graduate programs in the United States involves choosing a program to apply to, and submitting the required application documentation which typically includes: grades and grade point average (GPA) via academic transcripts; scores from the graduate record examination (GRE); a letter of intent/personal statement; letters of recommendation, preferably from undergraduate professors/advisors; and a curriculum vita (CV).

Passalacqua and Garvin (2018) surveyed students and professionals in biological anthropology that focused on careers in human skeletal biology, like forensic anthropology, and found that the average GPA of students accepted into MA/MS and PhD programs was 3.6, and the average combined verbal and quantitative GRE score was ~312. When asked about the relative importance of the topics for acceptance into graduate programs, faculty ranked letters of recommendation the most important factor, followed by letters of intent, and GPA (Passalacqua and Garvin 2018).

Like all forensic sciences, forensic anthropology graduate programs and careers are competitive. What this means, is that in order to get accepted into graduate programs focusing on forensic anthropology, students need to be able demonstrate their ability to successfully perform in an academic program, as well as to successfully design and complete a research project. Additionally, prospective students should consider their potential future career options and how a graduate degree will support these future opportunities (Passalacqua 2018). Passalacqua and Garvin (2018) surveyed graduate faculty advisors, asking what qualities graduate students need in order to be successful and generated a wordcloud from these responses where the larger word is, the most common response:

Qualities of good grad students


The most difficult choice to make for prospective graduate students is which school(s) to apply to. Most students apply to five graduate programs at a time (Passalacqua and Garvin 2018), however it is important for prospective students to consider that graduate program applications include a processing fee which can range from ~$50.00-$200.00 per application. Graduate programs will vary in a number of ways, but the most important factors for prospective students to consider are: compatibility of student and faculty advisor research interests; availability of funding for students; and cost of tuition/cost of living.

Passalacqua and Garvin (2018) found that the average time to complete a master’s degree was 2.5 years, and the average time to complete a PhD degree was 6.1 years, with over 60% of respondents taking some time off either before or between graduate degrees. They also found that about half of the respondents accrued no debt during their graduate degrees, but for those that did accrue debt, the average debt for a master’s degree was ~$28,000.00 and ~$34,000.00 for doctoral degrees. Passalacqua and Garvin (2018) also surveyed graduate faculty advisors, asking what qualities graduate programs need in order to be successful, and generated a wordcloud from these responses:

Qualities good graduate program anthropology


Passalacqua NV. 2018. Are careers in biological anthropology sustainable? American Journal of Physical Anthropology 166:772-776.

Passalacqua NV, Garvin HM. Experiences in the application and attendance of biological anthropology programs focused on human skeletal biology. Forensic Anthropology.

Office of Web Services