Graduate programs in most majors are competitive. Admissions will look at grades, letters of recommendation, perhaps an essay on why you want to attend the respective school, and references. Schools typically accept more students in proportion to the popularity of the degree. Business degrees were first at the undergraduate level, with 19% selecting this major in 2017-18 (National Center for Education Statistics/NCES). According to the most recent NCES data, graduate business degrees were again at the top, with 23% opting for this discipline. Education was in first place until the 2010-11 school year when business surpassed it.
The NCES doesn’t specify archaeology on their data for fields of study. Generally, in the United States, archaeology is placed in the category of social sciences and history. The number of graduates with a master’s degree in this group in 2017-18 was 19,884. Compared to 192,184 in business and 146,367 in education for the same school year.
Although field experience before pursuing a master’s in archaeology may not be mandatory, it might improve your chances of acceptance into a graduate program. Preparation can begin in high school by studying history, religions of the world, geography, mathematics, and languages. You would have to master several languages, which is not feasible, as archaeological fieldwork takes you to different foreign countries. Most high school curricula do not offer some of these subjects, requiring intense self-study to expand your knowledge.
Museums, historic sites, magazines such as Archaeology and Biblical Archaeology, and history clubs are possible sources to pursue. Check out Educational Tours. There are locations on the continent, particularly in Central and South America. Machu Picchu in southern Peru sits at an elevation of 7,970 feet. Here you will be amazed how the Inca built the magnificent stone structures at that elevation in the Andes Mountains. Closer to the U.S. are the pyramids located in Central America. The Maya, Aztecs, and Toltecs built impressive stone temples and pyramids across this area.
Because of the highly competitive nature of graduate programs in archaeology, prior experience can be beneficial. Also, some schools receive more applications than openings, which results in the institution denying further applicants. Therefore, during your undergraduate years, try and find a field school that conducts archaeological research. Participating in one of these trips is one way to receive training in the field and gain college credits. Two to eight weeks is the typical length of these field trips at locations around the world. One place to obtain additional information is the American Anthropological Association. The Archaeology Fieldwork and the Archaeological Institute of America are other resources.
Aspiring archaeologists probably see themselves in the role of Indiana Jones – the fictitious blockbuster series of movies highlighting Dr. Henry Walton Jones’s adventures. Created by George Lucas and directed by Steven Spielberg, the original (Raiders of the Lost Ark) debuted in 1981. Sequels followed in 1984, 1989, and 2008. Armed with only a bullwhip and revolver, the Egyptologist/archaeologist Jones extricated himself from many on-screen predicaments and perils. The movies may have instilled an interest in some individuals as it glorified the expeditions of an archaeologist.
The reality is a different picture. In the field on an archaeological dig, you might be in dusty, hot conditions, or humid bug-infested area while tediously scraping and hand-shoveling dirt from artifacts or remains. If this environment appeals to you, the field experience may improve your chances of being accepted into a graduate program. You can undoubtedly cover this in the Statement of Purpose required by some schools, such as the Department of Anthropology at Northwestern University. The statement is a summation of your research desires, experiences, and study areas of interest. Of the four compulsory admission requirements at this school, there is no stipulation of prior fieldwork. To reiterate, anyone with field experience should include this in the Statement of Purpose.
Field experience is not needed to apply for a graduate degree in one of the many areas associated with archaeology. Admissions to master’s programs are generally the same for most graduate degrees, whether economics, computer science, or linguistics. An example is Boston University, whose Master of Arts or Science all have uniform requirements. These are:
- Official college transcripts
- Three recommendation letters
- Personal statement/statement of purpose
- Writing sample
Some learning institutions may ask for test results from the GRE (Graduate Record Examination). Others list the test scores as optional.