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STUDENT AFFAIRS

Graduate School: Getting Accepted and Financing Your Future

Caryn M. Berg and Eden A. Welker


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As archaeology has increased in popularity, so has the competition for graduate school slots. It is important to plan ahead for your graduate education and take steps to increase your chances of getting accepted.

Where Should You Start?

Fact finding is crucial and will help you choose programs that are right for you. Defining your goals is an important first step. Begin by looking at the American Anthropological Association's (AAA ) Guide to Departments. Carefully research possible departments and faculty members; apply to those with interests compatible with your own; verify that adequate facilities are available for your intended research at those departments.

Request applications early (September or October at the latest) and review the requirements. Many application deadlines are in January and you want to start as early as possible. Having time to look over the application forms and organize your materials will help avoid last-minute frantic efforts. Apply to several departments that fit your criteria to increase the odds of finding a place where you want to spend the next few years of your life.

Making Contact

After identifying faculty members doing the kind of work you want to do, contact them (via phone, email, or in person), explain your career goals, and explore the possibilities of working with them. Visit the campus, if possible, and prearrange interviews with faculty and students. This will give you a chance to: (1) meet members of the department in person, (2) demonstrate your initiative and interest, and (3) personalize your application by putting a face with the name on the application.

Be sure to talk to graduate students as well as faculty--they will provide great insights into the program. Try to talk to a range of students (e.g., first year and fourth year) to get an idea of what the entire graduate experience is like.

The Statement of Purpose

A clear statement of purpose is an important part of the application and deserves careful consideration. The statement should be two to three single-spaced pages, maximum. Write concisely and emphasize your research goals. Describe your general research interests and intended regional focus and tailor it to each particular school; provide the specific information requested and outline your intended career trajectory. Every faculty is judging your degree-of-fit in their respective department. Let them know how you will fit into the department, and identify the appropriate faculty members and their areas of research that you hope to work with.

Because the statement of purpose is so important, don't write just one draft and be content to send it off! Instead, have several advisors review it for you. Take their comments seriously so you can effectively revise your statement of purpose for each school's particular focus.

Other Tips

Good GPA and GRE scores are important! If your GPA isn't outstanding, explain why in your application. Study for the GREs. GRE courses are offered for a fee to help you prepare, but if these are beyond your price range, buy a GRE book at your local bookstore and study it thoroughly! Remember that the GRE test given in November is usually the last one you can submit on any applications due in January.

Choose people who know you well to write references, and get your references early. You may ask for references right after you complete a class. See if your school has a service to file reference letters and send them out upon request. Having letters on file is much easier than calling people years after graduating and hoping they still remember you! Whether you are taking time off between degrees or going straight to graduate school, contact people early to write references. Don't wait until the last minute!

Funding Graduate School

Once you are accepted into a graduate program, the biggest question is: How do I pay for this? Paying for graduate school is not easy, and finding funding is often very time consuming. It is well worth the effort to explore all funding options to successfully finance your education.

First, check the university funding resources. Each institution has different strategies to fund graduate students. At a minimum, contact the department of anthropology, the graduate school, and the office of financial aid for information. Beware that it is unwise to rely totally on institutional funding; money is tight everywhere, and institutions frequently cannot meet all your school and living expenses.

Institutional sources for funding fall into two main categories: departmental and university. Departmental assistance includes teaching assistants, research assistants, graders, fellowships, and nonresident tuition waivers. University assistance can be sought through various places on campus: graduate school, deans' offices, other departments (e.g., some departments without graduate programs might need some help), and tutoring programs

Remember there are also many funding opportunities off-campus, such as grants, scholarships, fellowships, and part-time jobs. Known for their support of students are Ford Foundation Fellowships, National Science Foundation, National Association of Graduate and Professional Students, state archaeology offices, and regional archaeology societies (e.g., Colorado Archaeological Society, Arizona Archaeological and Historical Society), to name a few.

The Graduate School Funding Handbook by A. Vahle-Hamel, M. Morris-Heiberger, and J. Miller-Vick is available from the University of Pennsylvania Press. Also, look for books in your local bookstore that list funding sources for graduate school (e.g., Free Money for Graduate School, Graduate Scholarship Directory, or Financing Graduate School). Search the web for funding (e.g., http://www.dla.utexas.edu/depts/anthro/ grants.html). And consider government loans--they have low-interest rates and are a reasonable alternative to a low-paying job off campus.

This list is by no means exhaustive. Again, you may have to search for financial aid--on or off campus--but money is available to fund your education. Be creative. It may require a lot of initial leg work, but your success will make it worthwhile!

Other Funding Tips

Whether or not you are planning on getting financial aid through the university, be sure to fill out a Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA). In this way, you will be in the system if a work study position or other university-related aid becomes available. Many students have missed funding opportunities because they neglected to do the paperwork.

You can also negotiate between universities for increased funding, research opportunities, and facilities. If one university offers you some money but another offers you more, call the first university and let them know that you have a better offer elsewhere; if they really want you they may increase their offer.

Graduate work offers an opportunity to focus your attention on specific research and spend time in an environment of advanced learning and scholarship. With the increased job competition, it places you in a better position to pursue a career in archaeology. Make the most of your effort to find a graduate program that is right for you!

Caryn M. Berg is chair of the Student Affairs Committee and is a PhD candidate at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Eden A. Welker is vice-chair of the Student Affairs Committee and recently received her PhD from the University of Colorado at Boulder.


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