Career Paths for Anthropology Majors

What can you do with an anthropology major? Plenty! An undergraduate degree in anthropology can lead to a surprisingly wide array of rewarding public- and private-sector careers in which people with expertise in human behavior are valued.

Students with an undergraduate degree in anthropology commonly follow any of four main career paths: positions in government, academia, business or community service organizations. Of course, many graduates of anthropology programs choose to become an archaeologist, paleontologist, ethnologist or primatologist. The complement of knowledge assimilated through the study of anthropology is applicable to a wide array of careers. Anthropology undergraduates also may choose to seek further study and advance to graduate school.

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The study of anthropology provides students with a wide range of relevant skills that will equip them well for the 21st-century economy. In the view of the American Anthropological Association, anthropology is the only contemporary discipline that approaches human questions from historical, biological, linguistic and cultural perspectives.

Business Insider magazine, for example, explains why Google hired an ethnographer, Intel Corp. has an in-house cultural anthropologist, Microsoft is reportedly the world's second-largest employer of anthropologists, and why the Adidas shoe company turned to researchers with an anthropological perspective to evaluate consumer buying habits. Documentation by the American Anthropological AssociationThe American Association of Physical Anthropologists and the Society for American Archaeology also offer insightful career information.

Careers in government

Anthropologists work for federal, state and regional government agencies in a variety of capacities in planning, research and managerial positions. Specialties for anthropologists in government include:

  • international development
  • forensic anthropology
  • crime scene investigation
  • cultural resource management
  • legislative staff
  • natural resource management
  • positions in defense and national security
  • public administration
  • refugee services administrator

Careers in education

Many anthropology alumni have established careers in primary, secondary and higher education, as teachers, professors, researchers and academic advisers and counselors. Career opportunities in academia for anthropology alumni include positions in various university programs or departments, including:

  • admissions advising and management
  • cognitive psychology
  • community studies
  • cultural studies
  • ecology
  • education
  • ESL specialist
  • ethnic studies
  • linguistics
  • medicine
  • neuroscience
  • public health
  • student affairs administration

Careers in business

The perspective that anthropologists can lend to corporate management teams is valued. Career opportunities include:

  • clinical research coordination
  • human resources
  • inter-cultural communication
  • international trade
  • lobbyist
  • market research
  • medical anthropology

Careers in health

A Bachelor of Science degree in Anthropology provides a holistic approach to pre-medical, pre-dental, and pre-veterinary training; it also provides the educational background for further training in the health professions, biological and evolutionary sciences, and forensic investigation.
Students that focus on biological processes in Anthropology will be well-prepared to enter advanced training programs in the following fields:

  • Medicine
  • Veterinary Medicine
  • Forensics
  • Dentistry
  • Pathology
  • Nursing
  • Public Health
  • Epidemiology

According to Newsweek Magazine (full article), over the past 20 years, social science majors have had an increasing rate of successful admission to medical school, in comparison to their science-major counterparts. Moreover, students with a broader perspective are now in demand by health professions schools nationwide. This article summarizes this trend by saying that "medical educators are looking beyond biology and chemistry majors in the search for more well-rounded students who can be molded into caring and analytic doctors."

In addition, the American Association of Medical Colleges notes in a 2011 report that, "Health is a product of the interactions among biology, genetics, behavior, relationships, cultures, and environments. Some of medicine’s most promising frontiers for improving health explore the realms of human behavior and social science. . . A complete medical education must include, alongside the physical and biological science, the perspectives and findings that flow from the behavioral and social sciences."

Careers in public service

An emphasis in sociocultural anthropology offers good preparation for numerous public service opportunities, including positions in:

  • advocacy
  • development
  • community organizing
  • historic preservation
  • library science
  • literacy programs
  • museum curation
  • policy analysis
  • political activism
  • social work

Information resources

Consult the websites of these professional associations to learn more about careers in anthropology and preparation for graduate school.

  • American Anthropological Association: the world’s largest association for professional anthropologists, with more than 10,000 members. The Association, which is based in Washington, D.C., was founded in 1902, and covers all four main fields of anthropology: cultural anthropology, biological and physical anthropology, archaeology, and linguistic anthropology.
  • American Association of Physical Anthropologists: a leading professional organization for physical anthropologists. Formed in 1930 and based in McLean, Virginia, the AAPA now has more than 1,700 members throughout the world. Membership in the AAPA is open to professional physical anthropologists, advanced students, professionals in related scientific disciplines, and others who have demonstrated qualification by publication or professional activities.
  • Society for American Archaeology: an international organization based in Washington, D.C., and dedicated to the research, interpretation, and protection of the archaeological heritage of the Americas. With more than 7,000 members, the society represents professional, student, and avocational archaeologists working in a variety of settings including government agencies, colleges and universities, museums, and the private sector.