Archaeology and Anthropology

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Students who plan on applying to a graduate program in archaeology or a related field need to follow a series of steps early in their undergraduate career, and they should be making detailed plans by the beginning of their junior year.  Some of the crucial components for graduate careers are discussed below.  During your junior year you should take the 1-Credit Graduate Preparation Seminar, ARC 395 in which much of the information presented below will be discussed in detail.

Your Grade Point Average (GPA): Students with graduate program aspirations should have a final GPA of 3.5 or higher.  Some graduate programs may accept a slightly lower GPA if other aspects of your application are outstanding.  It is worth the effort to strive for the highest GPA given the competition for graduate school admittance and the sharp limits on available funding for graduate students.  Top-quality graduate programs may receive 50 or more applications for 4 or 5 slots.

Appropriate Course Work: As listed in Career Directions, students who intend to pursue a particular direction should focus on the best possible sequence of courses prior to applying to graduate school.  For example, anyone who hopes to be accepted into a Forensic Anthropology program must have a specialized biology background.  The list of appropriate courses is very different for those interested in a Cultural Resources Management career.  An academic advisor with knowledge of your area of interest can be of great assistance to you.

Complete your Archaeology Field School as soon as possible.  The Field School is a requirement for the major, and it will also help you find out whether field work is to your liking.

Students should attend several professional archaeology conferences at the regional and/or national level while an undergraduate.  Many UW-La Crosse students attend regional and national meetings each year.  This will allow you to see what is going on in the profession, inquire about graduate programs and faculty, and network.  Professional meetings offer an excellent opportunity to meet distinguished professionals.  You might wish to seek out specific people to ask about their graduate programs and research.  There is limited funding available for students to attend meetings through the College of Liberal Studies and the Archaeology Club.

Some undergraduates present papers or posters at professional meetings.  Such presentations provide excellent exposure and are an important addition to your vita.

Join the Archaeology Club, and Archaeological Studies/UW-L student organization.  The club sponsors field trips to archaeological sites, museums, and universities and attends meetings as a group.  Please don't be shy!  Interacting with other students who have similar interests will help prepare you for the important relationships you will develop in graduate school and your career.  Get involved, be a professional (see Archaeology Club).

Work on research projects is an essential part of your training.  After completing Field Methods (ARC 402), you may be able to do volunteer work in the Archaeology Lab.  From this point you can begin to undertake basic laboratory research and additional field work.  You need to be involved in field and laboratory research as early as possible in your career.  Many students find that their lab or field work forms the basis for their Senior Project/Thesis.  Students who wait until the beginning of the ARC 499 course to select a topic typically experience problems and are left behind by their peers.

Learn a foreign language relevant to your research interest.  Most graduate schools require all students to pass oral and written language competency exams.  By becoming competent now, you will be able to focus your efforts in grad school on your research, and you will also be prepared for field work in a foreign country where you speak the language.

Preparing your vita is an essential element for graduate school or job applications.  A vita is a summary of your professional (academic) career.  It should be a summary of what you have done in a professional sense.  While it is nice that you have volunteered at the local hospital for the past three years, these non-archaeology efforts should be a minor part of your vita.  On your vita you can, however, list your GPA, field experience, professional meeting attendance, laboratory experience, research projects, public outreach activities, and professional references.

The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) should be taken during the junior year by all students who plan to apply to a graduate program.  This exam measures verbal, quantitative, and analytical skills that have been acquired over a long period of time and are not related to a specific field of study.  A GRE Information and Registration Bulletin that provides test dates and fees is available at the UW-L Counseling and Testing (C&T) Center in 112 Wilder Hall.  The C&T Center offers practice tests that will help you become familiar with the test and assesses your potential GRE score.  GRE information is available online at  There are also short crucial courses and booklets available that may help you prepare for the GRE.  Your score may be crucial in the admittance process at most quality graduate programs.

Letters of reference are needed to apply for a job or a graduate program.  In general, you will need 2 to 4 professionals to write you a favorable letter of reference.  If you are a student who has been in the program for 3 years, and have taken only the minimum class work, with no attendance at professional meetings, no lab or field work beyond field school, and no serious research, how will you get quality letters?  Students who show up at a faculty office in their junior year, asking for a letter cold, cannot expect a positive response.  If your only basis for a recommendation is the grade you received in a particular class, what do you think your chances of a good recommendation will be?  That is why you need to be a "player" from the start, attending professional meetings, networking, becoming involved in all the professional activities you possibly can.  Think about it!

For professionals who agree to write you a positive letter of reference, you will need to provide them with the following: 
1) A copy of your vita 
2) A transcript of the courses you have taken 
3) A copy of the best paper you wrote while an undergraduate student 
4) A list of the graduate programs to which you are applying, with 
    a) the exact and complete address 
    b) the name of the person or committee to whom the letter is directed 
    c) the date by which each must be postmarked

Typing or word processing your graduate application forms is highly recommended - neatness counts!  Many applications are available online.

Selecting the right graduate program for you is an extremely important and difficult procedure.  Work closely with a trusted UW-L academic advisor.  Most students apply to 3 or 4 graduate programs.  A helpful first step is to select a faculty person at a graduate program institution who is doing research in an area or field related to your interest.  Then you can investigate this person's graduate program.  Is it just a master's program (M.A. or M.S.), or does it also offer a doctorate (Ph.D)?  Try making an appointment to "interview" the faculty person you are interested in working under as a grad student.  Do you have positive "chemistry" with this person?  If they don't have time for you now, they certainly won't when you arrive at graduate school! 
If you plan to meet with a faculty person at a graduate school of interest, you should do a number of things to prepare: 
1) Make an appointment weeks in advance, and be sure to reconfirm the appointment a day or two before the scheduled meeting day. 
2) Be on time and dress like a professional. 
3) Research the faculty person's academic background on that university or institution's web page or in the Guide to Departments of Anthropology kept in the Sociology/Archaeology department office at 435 Carl Wimberly Hall. 
4) Try to find and read the person's recent publications so you are knowledgeable about their research and interest.  Is this what you are interested in?  Most graduate faculty expect their students to be doing research for their master's and/or doctorate in topical and geographic areas that parallel their own interests.  In many cases they will insist on it.  

During this discussion, you might wish to ask about graduation rates, number of students in residence in the graduate program, laboratory facilities, and the possibilities of receiving financial aid through grants, teaching or research assistantships, or a CRM program.  Money is very limited at all public universities.  Financial aid generally goes to the best qualified incoming students, those with the highest GRE scores, and the highest GPA.  

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