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Becoming an Anthropologist: A Field Study

How to become an anthropologist--the different fields of study in anthropology, salaries, and job outlook

You’re an observer, someone who enjoys being on the peripheral, noticing what makes people tick. Or you may love to be in the middle of everything, caught up in the magic of the moment and then letting it register afterward, where you can pick apart the event and create an even bigger picture. Humankind fascinates you, end of story. You’re destined to be an anthropologist, a studier of people, places, and things

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Alfred L. Kroeber quote-How to become an anthropologist

Have you ever wondered what it is that makes us human, and have you sought to get an expanded understanding of the whole human experience? It may sound way esoteric and philosophical, but that’s basically what anthropology is: the study of man and the human experience. The word “anthropology” literally translates to the study of humankind. Anthropologists take into account the evolutionary history of humans, their behavior, and how they adapt, communicate, and socialize with their surroundings. Anthropology searches for a unique understanding into every single aspect of being human, from our beginnings through our constant state of development.

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Having any type of background in anthropology is useful to many professions. It gives you a sort of insight into human behavior, thus helping develop a deeper interpersonal skill set that is beneficial to many different career areas. Whether you’re headed into the medical field or business, classes in anthropology are a great addition to your coursework. Anthropology is a connection between our past and present. It is useful in answering the many questions related to where we, humankind, originated and where we are going.

When it comes to the world stage, anthropologists from all four fields are crucial to better understanding the global market and all the moving pieces. For example, a business person traveling to another country is able to research the customs and cultures prior to visiting; this is due to anthropology. Or the study of the bones of the feet, from prehistoric remains to present day, shows us how we’ve evolved both physically and developmentally. The usefulness of anthropology is so profound, because it touches every single aspect of biological life.


Nancy Banks-Smith quote-Career in anthropology

Anthropology has a wide range of studies, so it is broken down into four subtypes. What you’re interested in determines which of the four fields you’d study.

  • Archeology: Archeology studies human history and prehistory through remnants of what was left behind, such as artifacts and skeletal remains. There are a few subsets of archaeology.
    • Classical archaeologists concentrate on the Middle East and the Mediterranean (Egypt, Greece, Rome, and all the other ancient civilizations of that time period).
    • Historical archaeologists work on finding out information about more “modern” societies such as Colonial America.
    • Prehistoric archaeologists focus on societies and life prior to recorded history.
    • Underwater archaeologists examine ancient shipwrecks, lost cities, and other underwater findings and relics.
    • Zooarchaeologists investigate all the animal remains found around a site.
  • Biological Anthropology: Also called physical anthropology, it is the study of humans and their bodies, their environment, their social behavior, and their evolution. Biological anthropology is broken down even further into the following subfields.
    • Paleoanthropology tries to figure out where humans came from and how they evolved from that point forward.
    • Paleopathology studies past diseases found in skeletal or mummified remains.
    • Primatology looks at non-human primates such as apes and chimpanzees and their relation to each other and humans. Two famous primatologists are Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey.
    • Forensic Anthropology analyzes remains to help police determine the sex, age, and sometimes even the time of death of victims in criminal cases. This field of anthropology studies skeletal biology.
    • Human Behavioral Ecology focuses on the evolution of human behavior based on how we foraged, to reproduction, aging, and beyond.
  • Cultural Anthropology: Through intense observation, cultural anthropologists learn more about human behavior through studying how cultures interact, their languages, relationships, and rituals.
  • Linguistic Anthropology: This field is the study of human communication and how it evolved by examining varying forms, such as written documents and other recordings.


If you want to become an anthropologist, expect to get your master’s degree or doctorate. If you’re still in high school and beginning to explore what it takes to become an anthropologist, it’s a good idea to bulk up on high school social science, physical science, and language skills classes. Those will give you a great head start!

Once you’ve graduated from high school, it’s off to college where you’ll spend four years majoring in anthropology and archeology, presumably. You’ll start off with a bachelor’s degree before climbing the degree-ranks toward a master’s and then perhaps, a doctorate. In all honesty, to be competitive in the field of anthropology, a doctorate degree is the wisest choice.

Internships are a requirement for anthropologist students; this is where you’ll obtain some of the necessary experience, plus make lasting connections. After you receive your master’s degree, you’ll be expected to conduct research, especially if going into medical anthropology. All disciplines of anthropology require fieldwork for their graduate programs.

While you’re in school for your bachelor’s degree, you’ll have a chance to decide which of the four fields of anthropology and their subspecialties you want to focus your studies on. Not all colleges will expect you to declare your track, though. This will allow you to sample all that anthropology has to offer. You’ll take courses that introduce you to all the different fields of anthropology, as well as courses in language, animals, sexuality, societies, globalization, culture, violence, and foods. All colleges have similar curriculum, but the names of the courses may be different. Depending on what level of courses you’re taking will determine how detailed the class is, and what subjects are available. Schooling for anthropology takes the better part of a decade.


By very definition, fieldwork is work done by students to gain practical insight through firsthand experience. Fieldwork to an anthropologist is like research to a scientist. It is necessary for anthropologists; it’s their form of exploration and investigation to get an erudite, fully-immersed look into whatever subject they are studying. It can take a year or longer to compile all the necessary data. It’s imperative for anthropologists completing their fieldwork to be thought of as a “native,” which can be time-consuming in and of itself. So, whichever field of anthropology you’re going into, expect to participate in fieldwork study that can leave you near your home or take you to an exotic location.

There are a few different processes of fieldwork.

  • Ethnography: This combines fieldwork and research. It can be time-intensive, requiring you to spend months or years participating in the community or culture you’re studying.
  • Participant observation: Social anthropologists immerse themselves in the daily lives of the culture they are studying.
  • Quantitative data: You’ll do your research through studies such as creating surveys, group interviews, oral histories, studying statistics, or analyzing records. Biological anthropologists use this to map out traits in a certain population. It’s also used when working with other anthropologists in other disciplines.

Once your fieldwork is completed and you’ve collected all your data, you’ll either contribute to a professional journal, or write a report or an article.


Margaret Mead quote-become an anthropologist

For anthropologists, there are four different paths your career can take you: academic, non-profit, corporate, or government.

  • As an academic anthropologist, you’ll teach or work in a research laboratory. You’ll spend much of your time preparing for the classes you’ll be teaching, along with working with your students.
  • You can work in market research on a corporate level using your well-rounded research skills to gain more insight into how to improve products for consumers needs. This is a growing field of anthropology.
  • Working in the nonprofit sector, you may find yourself planning and carrying out programs.
  • Working within the government, you’ll probably be a contract employee working in international development, cultural resource management, or forensic and physical anthropology.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, anthropologists in 2021 made an average of $66,800, with the top 10 percent earning an average of $99,830. Travel and irregular hours are to be expected in an anthropologist's career. Jobs working with the federal government pay the highest.

States With The Highest Salaries in 2021














The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that an average growth rate of 7 percent is expected through 2030 for anthropologists. Corporations are starting to hire more anthropologists so that they can have a better understanding into consumer behavior. Business and consulting firm opportunities for qualified anthropologists are expected to rise. To stand out in the hiring process, you may want to consider getting a PhD coupled with fieldwork.

If you have strong analytical, investigative, and critical thinking skills, and you question “why” about everything around you, then you may find that anthropology is a fulfilling career.