Applying to Our Graduate Programs
This information is designed to help those considering applying to our department for a graduate degree (whether an MA in Anthropology, a joint MA in Anthropology and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, or a PhD in Anthropology). We are committed to welcoming students from diverse backgrounds, including first-generation college (or graduate) students. We hope that this document can help to demystify aspects of the evaluation process.
You can find additional tips and examples in this brochure from The Leadership Alliance, a partnership between American universities and private industry which is dedicated to helping underrepresented scholars attain research, educational, and professional opportunities. Note that this external guide is provided as a general reference; refer to the content below for specific information about the statement of purpose and the writing sample.
We welcome outreach from prospective students with questions about admissions to our program. Questions about the intellectual life of the department can be directed to our Director of Graduate Studies, Jonathan Anjaria, and to individual faculty members with whom the applicant may wish to work. Questions about the logistics of applying and finances can be directed to our department administrator, Laurel Carpenter. (First, however, please read this document to see whether it addresses your questions!)
The Brandeis Anthropology PhD program receives over 50 applications each year and, in the past few years, we have been able to admit approximately 2-3 students per year, a number determined by the Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. The Master’s Program has had entering classes of about 8-11 students (including those in the joint Anth/WGSS programs); some of those are students who applied directly to the MA, and others applied to the PhD but were offered an MA spot instead. Each year the program receives many more applications than we can possibly accept, and with great regret we must turn down many very well qualified candidates. If you are not accepted, please do not take it as a negative assessment of your potential.
You should start this phase a year or more before applications are due, which is in the late fall and early winter for most graduate programs. During this phase, you will want to take stock of your graduate school options to determine if graduate school is right for you and, if so, whether to pursue a PhD or another degree.
You will also want to decide whether to enroll in graduate school directly after your undergraduate studies or take a gap year to pursue a post-baccalaureate course of study, volunteer, travel or gain additional research experience. While there are exceptions, we have found that many of our stronger PhD applicants have some form of work experience or experience conducting an independent research project outside their undergraduate career.
Once you decide on a degree program (PhD or MA), you will want to gather information on potential schools and departments and make an application list, plan, and budget. As you consider different anthropology programs, the American Anthropological Association search engine is a great way to start looking.
As you add schools on to your application list, you may wish to seek out fee waivers to ease the cost of applications. View a helpful list of FAQs about applying to Brandeis graduate programs (including how to request a fee waiver).
Please note that there are so few fully funded doctoral spots in the USA, and the competition is so great, that most applicants to doctoral programs usually apply widely to maximize their chance of getting into one.
All students admitted to the Brandeis PhD program in Anthropology receive five years of tuition waiver and a stipend. This stipend is intended to support the estimated living expenses of a single graduate student during each year of regular enrollment, but due to the high cost of living in the greater Boston area (51% higher than the national average), you may need to supplement this funding with savings or part time work. Doctoral students are also encouraged to apply for external grants for fieldwork and perhaps writing-up, so that they can defer use of their 5-year stipend. Fieldwork grants are competitive, but with engaging proposals and several rounds of feedback and revision, in dialog with your advisor, they can be attainable. When the stipend runs out, students often need to secure outside employment or another source of funding to assist with living expenses. (Note: international students cannot work off campus due to F-1 visa restrictions.) While some of our doctoral students have been able to finish the program in six years, the nature of anthropological field research means that the average time to completion is closer to 7-8 years (this is true nationwide). We are striving to help our students finish as efficiently as possible, but we want prospective students to apply with awareness of these matters of funding and timing.
The Graduate School does not provide tuition waivers or stipends for MA students, but most MA students are eligible for partial need-based and merit-based tuition scholarships. MA students in Anthropology are eligible to apply for paid teaching assistantships after their first semester; while many of our MA students do serve in this position, we cannot usually employ all of those who apply. The occasional research assistantship may also come up (note that these are typically time-limited positions, paid hourly) and other campus jobs, such as working at Brandeis’ Writing Center or assisting our higher education administration. Most of our MA students complete the program in two years, though we occasionally have some who are able to finish it in one year and one summer (during which they write the MA paper), or one-and-a-half years.
Your statement of purpose will be the most important determinant of your admittance to a Brandeis anthropology graduate program. (While the other components of your application are important, a strong statement of purpose is a sine qua non.) Your statement of purpose is your only opportunity to give application reviewers a sense of your potential as a student of anthropology in your own words. Moreover, it is your best opportunity to tell the application reviewers why the Brandeis department would be a good fit for you, and vice-versa.
At the most basic level, we want your statement to answer the questions of what research question you’ll explore in graduate school, why you need this degree in anthropology, and why Brandeis is the right school for you. Some students have found this blog post useful in formulating their statements of purpose.
When we read your statements, faculty often have additional questions like the following in mind:
- How does your mind work? What kinds of things do you notice about human worlds, what you are fascinated by, and how does your writing reflect your thinking?
- What kind of training have you had in anthropology and related fields? You can certainly refer to courses you’ve already taken, fieldwork you may have conducted, theoretical readings you’ve acquainted yourself with, and so forth, but we would love you to show us the results of this training as much as you tell us that you’ve had it. How is this training reflected in the way you think and write about societies and people?
- What topical, theoretical, and geographic domain(s) do you wish to learn about and conduct research on while at Brandeis?
- What kinds of analytical questions are you capable of asking? What burning questions, tensions, or puzzles do you wish to explore? Are your interests informed by any particular or bodies of theory, or pre-existing ethnographic or archaeological literature?
- Are you able to generate compelling and focused research plans? This is particularly key for our doctoral students, though MA applicants may wish to describe smaller research objectives; something they can achieve over the course of a summer or an academic year. MA applicants can also describe projects they aspire to work on after their MA degree, should they continue in a doctoral program. We also look for signs of awareness of how realistic your proposed research project is, in light of the language study, logistics, and ethical considerations (for instance) that may need to be involved in carrying off your plan. A successful statement of purpose for a doctoral application will need to articulate a very concrete, well-conceived research project (rather than research interests in general), even if that project changes down the line.
- How do you see your interests relating to the people and resources in the Brandeis anthropology program? Have you had a look at existing faculty and student interests, and the program structure? Is there anything in particular about Brandeis that you think can advance your training? (Note: When listing faculty members you would like to work with, please bear in mind that those listed as “full time faculty” are appropriate advisors for our graduate students, whereas our “visiting” and “affiliated” faculty may not be—it depends, and you can certainly reach out to ask. You should list at least one full time faculty member as a prospective advisor/mentor.)
- Have you read or at least skimmed some of the scholarship by Brandeis faculty you say you would like to work with? (You can sometimes find this scholarship online, especially if faculty have opensource pages on academia.edu; if you can go through a university library portal you’ll have even more access. Note that you can also consider faculty in other departments, such as Sociology and various area studies, as potential resources; you can take courses with them, for instance.) How do you see this faculty scholarship speaking, even indirectly, to your own plans?
- What do you hope to do with your degree? What are your career aspirations? Can you imagine more than one possible career you could pursue with an Anthropology degree (e.g. can you picture both academic and non-academic possibilities)?
Occasionally we come across an application statement that is very enthusiastic about anthropology, but rather vague in its expressions of wonder and fascination. Making your case vividly and specifically will serve you better than broad or general statements or questions. Please be as specific as possible about your experiences, analytical questions, and research intentions.
Please write with a formal but accessible tone. If you opt to use any specialized vocabulary from the discipline, which you need not, we want to see signs that you understand just why such words are crucial to your project (perhaps they encapsulate a key theoretical insight you wish to unpack, for instance). Overall, writing clearly and accessibly will be important to your career success. Be sure to have several people, perhaps including your letter writers, review your statement in time for you to revise it. And be sure to proofread carefully, enlisting others to do so as well.
It can be a good idea to email one or more individual faculty members in the Anthropology Department before submitting your application, though this is by no means required. You should do so when you have a fairly good idea of how you plan to represent your research interests in your statement or purpose. You can find our email addresses on our faculty page, and simply reach out to introduce yourself, tell us a bit about your interests, and perhaps ask a specific question or two about the department. You could also ask how our planned course offerings in the next couple of years might speak to your research interests. (Note: It is conventional to address faculty members as “Professor [Lastname]” until you’re an active student in the department. At that time, some graduate students opt to call professors by our first names.)
A writing sample is also a crucial part of an application. Writing samples that tell us the most go beyond a mere literature review to showcase your ability for original thinking about and interpretation of material. The length of the writing sample can vary, within a suggested range of 10-30 pages. Please indicate if the writing sample is a selection from a larger work, such as an introduction or chapter of a senior thesis.
A CV or curriculum vitae is an extended resume that accompanies your other materials to complete your graduate school application. Your CV is a great place for you to highlight your academic history, research interests, relevant work experience, honors, and accomplishments. It is also a great place for you to demonstrate extensive knowledge in the field and your academic potential.
As for letters of recommendation: We attend closely to reference writers who know you in an academic or research capacity. Your primary letter writers should be individuals who can speak about your scholarly capabilities and those who have taught you in one or more class(es) in which you received a good grade.
Your application will be read by at least three members of the Brandeis faculty: The Department Chair, the Director of Graduate Studies, and at least one additional faculty member (possibly, one with interests that overlap with your own).
Once we have had a chance to consider all our applications, we interview a sub-set of our applicants over zoom. This interview would be conducted by one or two faculty members. The interview is a great chance to connect in (digital) person, to chat about your past, for you to elaborate on your plans and hopes, and for you to ask questions of Brandeis anthropology faculty about our program.
Sometimes, students have to wait quite a while before hearing back from our department. We tend to interview and offer admission in stages, and some names of strong candidates are placed onto a waitlist before we make a final decision.
If we do offer you admission to our PhD or MA program, we will invite you to a spring Open House where you will have a chance to see the campus, meet faculty, active graduate students, and other prospective students, learn more about our program, and attend a class or two.
Your decision about whether to accept our offer will be required around mid-April (the precise date is set each year by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences).
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Director of Graduate Studies
Contact Professor Jonathan Anjaria for more information about the program.
The deadline for applications to the doctoral program, and the priority deadline for the master's program and joint master's program with women's, gender and sexuality studies, is January 15 annually.