Top Anthropology Schools
The study of what makes us human, anthropology, is a diverse social science offering a wide range of study. The classic “four-field” approach includes education in cultural, linguistic, physical, and archaeological anthropology. There are many good schools for undergraduates and graduates alike depending on their particular interests, many of which still use this approach. However, schools tend to have at least one sub-field in which they specialize such as cultural anthropology, within which the faculty research typically dictates the program focus. For example, the sub-field of cultural anthropology covers an incredible breadth of epistemologies and geographic areas of study. No two programs are remotely alike. Similarly, the sub-field of physical anthropology, or biological anthropology as it is more recently called, has its own areas of specialization such as bio-archaeology of the Americas, study of the human fossil record, and primate behavioral ecology.
The prospects for a general list of the top programs in anthropology may seem hopeless given the above information, but it is possible to select a short list of schools based on their unique qualities, a process that is more qualitative than quantitative, but that may be more advantageous to students. Here are five programs, in no particular order, that either have proven track records within their respective sub-fields at the graduate level, or which have been producing recent PhDs who are going on to conduct interesting and high-caliber research.
Caveat: this list is highly subjective and is based on my opinions, having spent the last eight years in the anthropology world, both cultural and physical.
City University of New York (CUNY) – The Graduate Center
CUNY is a rare school, providing an excellent and relatively inexpensive education in anthropology, with a strong program in cultural anthropology as well as physical anthropology and archaeology, being a member of the New York Consortium for Evolutionary Primatology (NYCEP). NYCEP is composed of the CUNY system, New York University and Columbia. It is also affiliated with the American Museum of Natural History. Students have access to all affiliated institutions and take courses from a diverse pool of professors. I must admit some bias in choosing CUNY for this list as I received my master’s degree in anthropology from Hunter College, a CUNY school. Nevertheless, I have researched many anthropology programs over the years and CUNY truly is unique and worth exploring.
New York University (NYU)
As mentioned above, NYU is a member of NYCEP, a program for the study of primate and human evolution making it an excellent place for physical anthropology. NYU also has a strong program in cultural anthropology with faculty specializing in topics ranging from medicine to media and the arts, research that is still fairly new to the larger world of cultural anthropology. Of course NYU is considerably more expensive than CUNY, but they are able to fully fund many, if not all incoming PhD students.
It is almost a cliché to list Harvard here, but it remains one of the best institutions for anthropology, both cultural and physical, although the departments did diverge several years ago. Now the anthropology department has a cultural focus incorporating archaeology and social anthropology, while the department of human evolutionary biology covers the physical anthropology realm and includes genetic studies. This division may have advantages in terms of being more focused, but in my opinion it does a disservice to many students who perhaps did not have a classical “four-field” undergraduate education. Regardless, Harvard provides a top-notch education and fully funds their students. Furthermore, a PhD from Harvard continues to open doors, something that remains important at the end of the day.
University of California – Berkeley
Similar to Harvard, I would be remiss if I did not list Berkeley here. Also similarly, their department split several years ago, though not as clearly as Harvard’s. UC Berkeley’s anthropology department does contain a PhD in physical anthropology, but most of the courses and faculty are actually in the integrative biology department. I like to think of this as the hard-core physical anthropology program as you really need a strong biology background in order to get in. Their cultural program has traditionally been strong and they place an emphasis on the growing field of Medical Anthropology.
University of Texas – Austin
UT Austin is one of those schools that most people don’t immediately think of when applying to graduate school for social sciences, unless they are fans of the city of Austin. UT Austin’s anthropology program has rapidly gained weight in terms of its academic value. While I cannot speak for its cultural anthropology program, though it appears to be robust, the physical anthropology wing is becoming a force to be reckoned with in the arena of primate evolutionary studies. Their recent PhDs have quickly become important researchers in their respective specialties and there is every indication that the current batch of students will do just as well. UT Austin is definitely a school worth checking out.
There are many more programs that deserve mention on this list such as George Washington University, Duke, University of Chicago, Yale, Princeton, Arizona State University, and University of Michigan, to name a few. The schools that I discussed were chosen because they have strong programs in both cultural and physical anthropology or because they have shown dramatic improvement in the quality of their scholarship. If I were to include programs that also have strong linguistic anthropology and archaeology programs the list would become overly cumbersome. For students of anthropology looking for a graduate school, these five are a good place to start looking.