Graduate Program in Anthropology
You are here
The field of anthropology at Cornell has a long intellectual tradition. Its current emphasis is on understanding complex social and cultural systems through the analytical lenses provided by sociocultural anthropology and archaeology. We deal with past and present sociocultural systems through our courses, taking special concern for cultural diversity in communities around the world.
The graduate program in anthropology aims to combine anthropologically-grounded knowledge with an understanding of the history of the discipline and the development of current theoretical debates. Methodological training emphasizes ethnographic and archaeological techniques embracing allied approaches that range from the humanities to the physical sciences.
Most members of the field of anthropology are also members of one or more of Cornell's many area studies, ethnic studies or interdisciplinary programs. Students can take courses and work with faculty from any of these programs.
Cornell's unique structure, which joins the private university to the land grant university, provides students with the opportunity to gain substantial training in a broad range of theoretical and practical applications of the discipline. Cornell's Libraries offer extensive holdings of special interest to anthropologists, including the world-renowned Wason-Echols Collections on South, Southeast, and East Asian history, cultures and languages in the Kroch Library.
The field of anthropology considers applicants for admission only once a year, for admission in the fall term. THE DEADLINE FOR RECEIPT OF APPLICATIONS IS DECEMBER 15TH. Please note that applications are submitted and reviewed online, so make every effort to prepare digital versions of all supporting material. We urge fellowship applicants to apply as early as possible, to ensure that their folders will be complete prior to the fellowship competition review in late January/early February. (Please see Financial Assistance for related information.)
An important component of the application is the statement of purpose. The admissions committee reads this essay to evaluate an applicant's focus in anthropology, to assess both his or her level of preparation and the fit between the applicant's aims and Cornell's resources. Please consider this essay an opportunity to explain not only why you seek training in anthropology, but why you seek it at Cornell, stating clearly the plan of study you propose to undertake.
All applicants whose native language is not English must provide proof of competency in the English language. All international applicants must demonstrate proficiency in the English language by submitting official test scores from TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or IELTS (International English Language Testing System). Cornell must receive official TOEFL or IELTS scores before the university can process your application. TOEFL and IELTS scores are valid only if dated within two years of our application deadline. Scores must be submitted directly to the Graduate School by the Educational Testing Service.
For applicants living in regions where the TOEFL iBT is not available, Cornell will accept scores for the paper-based test (PBT). The Graduate School's official minimum sub-scores for each element of the TOEFL iBT are:
Send scores to Cornell University Graduate School, Code # 2098.
Photocopies of TOEFL score reports will not be accepted.
Take the TOEFL early enough to have the results submitted at the time of your application. Exam dates are posted on the TOEFL web site.
The Graduate School requires an overall band score of a 7.0 or higher on the IELTS.
When you register for the exam, you may select up to five institutions to which you would like to have your Test Report Form (TRF) mailed. You may also submit a request to your test center to have additional TRFs sent to institutions not originally listed on your registration form.
Have IELTS send your Test Report Form (either by postal mail, or electronically) to Cornell University -- Graduate Admissions. Please do not e-mail a scanned copy, or mail a photocopy of your TRF.
The English language proficiency requirement may be waived if the applicant meets at least one of these criteria:
- is a citizen or permanent resident of the United States, or a citizen of the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand or Canada (except Quebec). Applicants who are citizens of India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Singapore, etc. are not exempt from the requirement.
- at the time you enroll at Cornell, you will have studied in full-time status for at least two academic years within the last five years in the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, or New Zealand, or with English language instruction in Canada or South Africa. Even if English was the language of instruction at your school, if you did not study in one of these countries you are not exempt from the requirement. You must submit a transcript that shows you attended college in one of the approved locations, and that your academic program was at least two years in length.
Be sure your complete application includes the following:
- The completed application form
- Transcripts from all relevant institutions (undergraduate and graduate schools)
- Three letters of recommendation
- Academic Statement of Purpose
- Personal Statement
- Writing sample (e.g., a term paper relevant to Anthropology)
- For some non-native speakers of English, the TOEFL score
The application is online at the Graduate School website (http://www.gradschool.cornell.edu/)
Students are free to design their own program of study both within the discipline and across disciplines, within a framework of requirements set by the field or the graduate school. Since individual students' backgrounds and objectives differ, it is not possible to define a "typical" program. The actual program for each student is determined by the student in consultation with, first, their temporary advisors and then with the three or four faculty who form their special committee. In general, Ph.D. students spend three years taking courses before initiating dissertation research. Dissertation research typically takes 1-2 years, followed by 1-2 years of dissertation writing. Entering students can therefore expect to spend a minimum of six years as fulltime students before receiving the doctoral degree.
Assignment of a Temporary Advisor
The Director of Graduate Studies will assign entering students a temporary advisor from the members of the field. This advisor will help the student develop a preliminary program of study and research, advising the student on how to fulfill the field requirements or, where applicable, on how to petition for exemption.
Anthropology Field Course Requirements
During the first year of graduate study, all students in sociocultural anthropology are required to take History of Anthropological Thought and the Proseminar in anthropological theory. In addition to this core sequence, all students in sociocultural anthropology must take a qualitative research methods course (typically in the Fall of the student’s second year) and Proposal Development (typically in the Spring of the student’s second year) before completing the Admission to Candidacy Examination (see below). This core would constitute four of the approximately 15-18 courses students would take while pursuing a normal two- to three-year program prior to the Admission to Candidacy Exam. Students with previous graduate training in anthropology may, in consultation with their advisors, petition the Director of Graduate Studies and the Graduate Affairs Committee to waive one or more of these requirements. Students who have formed their special committee can petition their committee directly. The Special Committee can grant exemptions to any field requirement.
During their first year of study, all students in archaeological anthropology are required to take History of Anthropological Thought (Fall) and the Proseminar in anthropological theory (Spring). In addition, all students in archaeological anthropology must take one graduate-level course in archaeological theory. During their second year, students are encouraged to take Proposal Development (Spring). Archaeological anthropology students are also encouraged to take the one-credit Craft of Archaeology class offered each fall. Graduate students in archaeology are strongly advised, moreover, to be informed of subject matter and issues in related subfields, and the disciplines that articulate with their individual programs of study and professional aspirations, e.g., sociocultural anthropology, biological anthropology, the natural sciences, humanities-based archaeologies, area studies and statistics. Regardless of subfield, students with previous graduate training in anthropology may, in consultation with their advisors, petition the Director of Graduate Studies and the Graduate Affairs Committee to waive one or more of these requirements. When students have formed their special committees, they can petition their committee directly. The Special Committee can grant exemption to any field requirement.
Forming a Committee
Students should form their own committees in the course of the first year of study, although if they do not get a chance to work with relevant faculty they may delay forming a three person committee until the third semester. The structure of the committee reflects the students' own intellectual objectives. Any member of the field may serve as the committee chair for anthropology students. The remaining two or three members may be drawn from the graduate faculty at large. Thus, students' committees may reflect focal interests within anthropology; for example, all members are drawn from within the field or they may reflect interdisciplinary objectives, such as minor fields, area studies and/or other disciplines.
Within Anthropology, students can choose among the various concentrations: sociocultural anthropology, archaeology and biological anthropology.
Ideally before the end of their first year, but by the end of their third semester at the latest when the Graduate School requires that each student forms a three person Special Committee, students must convene a meeting with their committee called a "Qualifying Exam" ("Q Exam"). The contents of this exam are determined by the committee and focus upon defining an appropriate course of pre-fieldwork study.
At the discretion of the committee, students may be required to learn one or more foreign languages pertinent to their proposed area of study and research.
Admission to Candidacy Examination
This exam, often called the "A Exam," is taken between the fourth and sixth semesters in residence and is the culmination of pre-dissertation fieldwork preparation. It is administered by the special committee. The examination consists of written and oral parts and successful completion formally admits a student to candidacy for the doctoral degree. Students who successfully pass these A-examinations are awarded a Masters Degree.
Teaching is a vital part of training in the field of anthropology at Cornell. Graduate students are expected to gain active experience as teachers before being awarded the Ph.D.
Dissertation Field Research
The Cornell program in anthropology values intensive field research. Our students regularly undertake two full years of largely independent work, funded externally with the advice and backing of their Special Committee.
After completing their fieldwork, advanced graduate students are expected to offer a colloquium in the Anthropology Department. Students are encouraged to consult with their advisor and committee members on the topic and timing. Students on a typical timeline would offer a colloquium during their second year of dissertation writing.
The final exam, often called the "B Exam," is an oral examination of the thesis. This exam is administered and evaluated by the Special committee.
You may access the PhD Handbook to learn more about our program.
The major sources of financial aid for entering students in anthropology are listed below. Some applicants manage to obtain funding from sources not usually tapped by anthropologists. Your college advising center can help you in this search. We advise prospective graduate students from abroad to apply for any appropriate grants offered by public or private institutions in their home country or by American or International agencies (such as Ford Foundation, Fulbright-Hays, Harvard Yenching Foundation, Organization of American States) that support foreign nationals undertaking advanced study in the U.S. All continuing students, regardless of nationality, are eligible to apply for teaching assistantships and other Cornell awards.
Cornell University Fellowships Students who are offered admission to the PhD program who have no outside funding sources are simultaneously awarded a package of support consisting of a combination of Cornell University Fellowships, usually for the first academic year, and Field guarantees (a promise to provide an assistantship should other sources of fellowship support not be forthcoming) for support during subsequent years of a student's program. It is the goal of this field to provide some form of tuition and stipend support support for a minimum of four years to all students who are admitted. Continuing students are expected to apply to external sources of support in order to increase the Field's total resources available for graduate training.
Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowships (FLAS)
Citizens and permanent residents of the U.S. who plan to minor in one of Cornell's International Studies Programs (ISPs) (East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, Latin America, Western Societies, Slavic and East European Studies) should request a FLAS application form from the fellowship office, Sage Graduate Center. Applications become available in November and are due in January. Any applicants considering research that involves one of the following languages should contact the relevant area program for a FLAS application. These fellowships provide a stipend and tuition fellowship. Programs likely to receive federal funds this year are:
- Africa: Swahili, Yoruba (For further clarification, contact the Africana Studies Program.)
- East Asia: Chinese, Japanese, Korean (Separate application procedure; contact East Asia Program, 140 Uris Hall, 255-6222.
- Latin America: Portuguese, Quechua (Not available 2008-2009)
- South Asia: Bengali, Hindi-Urdu, Nepali, Sinhala
- SouthEast Asia: Burmese, Khmer (Cambodian), Indonesian/Malay, Javanese, Tagalog, Thai, Vietnamese
- Institute for European Studies: Dutch, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Swedish. (For further clarification, contact the Institute for European Studies.)
Teaching Assistantships (TAs)
TAs spend about 15 hours per week assisting the faculty in undergraduate courses. Second- and third-year students who are making satisfactory progress toward the PhD degree have priority in the allocation of TAships. TAs are paid a stipend and are offered full-tuition fellowships. Other teaching positions are also available through the John S. Knight Institute.
National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships
The fellowships are intended for U.S. citizens or permanent residents who are college seniors or first-year graduate students at the time of application. Awards are for a period of three years and provide a 12-month stipend plus a cost of education allowance. The deadline for receipt of preliminary applications is in mid-November.
In addition, NSF Minority Graduate Research Fellowships are available to U.S. citizens who are members of an ethnic minority group underrepresented in the advanced levels of the nation's science talent pool. Minority fellowships are available on the same terms as the NSF graduate fellowships. All eligible candidates should make timely application for this fellowship. For more information please visit https://www.nsfgrfp.org/.
Financial Assistance for Continuing Students
The Director of Graduate Studies and other faculty members assist graduate students in locating financial support to continue their studies and conduct field research. In addition, summer research funds and support for conference participation are also available on a competitive basis.
Cornell-Nepal Study Program
The Cornell-Nepal Study Program is a joint program of Cornell University and Tribhuvan University, the national university of Nepal. Qualified graduate students work with faculty from both universities to prepare for and undertake field research projects in Nepal. Students receive 15 credits per semester. Application is through the Cornell Abroad Program.
The field occasionally permits an applicant to register for coursework only, without admitting the student to either the doctoral or MA program. Non-degree candidates include graduate students at other American universities who wish to devote one or two semesters to intensive study of the language or culture of the region where they will later do fieldwork, students from abroad who desire some exposure to American anthropology and employees of government agencies or corporations who have been sent to Cornell for specialized training, among others. In all cases, the admissions committee must pass on the applicant's qualifications and must approve the specific objectives he or she has in mind. The field does not regard non-degree candidates as graduate students on probation, and strongly discourages anyone from applying for this status with the intention of improving his or her chances for admission to the PhD program later on. Non-degree candidates pay the same tuition as degree candidates. Non-degree candidates are not eligible for fellowships from Cornell sources.
Graduate Student Profiles
View our List of Current Graduate Students to learn more about their interests and projects.