Skip to content
November 25, 2012 / Matthew Wolf-Meyer

So You’ve Got a BA in Anthropology…

ImageEvery year, graduating seniors are struck with bouts of anxiety when it comes time to think about what to do after graduating. I’m never entirely sure how to address this anxiety — when I graduated with a BA in English Literature in 1998, I went to work as a substitute teacher for a year, first in Ohio then Michigan, which was fun but not ultimately what I wanted to do — but here’s what I tell most students:

1) Most importantly, stay busy. Many students take time off after graduating, but it’s pretty important, both psychologically and professionally, to stay active. It can be really tempting to grant yourself a short vacation upon graduating, but unless you have a job lined up, a short vacation can often become a long one as you go through the process of looking for a job when you return to being active. And it doesn’t have to be your career — a job at your local coffee shop will do nicely, as will some weekly volunteering — but it does need to be something to get you out of the house and provide you with a bit of structure. After 17 or more years of having a life governed by school, a little bit of structure can be a very important thing in fighting off malaise and anxiety.

2) Find a volunteering gig. Idealist.org is a pretty good place to look for both volunteer and intern positions by area; InterAction seems to favor international opportunities. Ronald Hicks maintains a good list of more general internship opportunities for anthropology majors, but it might mean sorting through websites or relocating for a position.Your alma mater probably has a career center of some sort that can help you both with volunteering and an eventual job, and your home department might be able to help with volunteer positions as well.

It might not seem too important to spend 4-10 hours each week volunteering or interning, but: most of the other people in any volunteering gig are usually volunteers themselves, and they have contacts. If they know you through your volunteering, they might be impressed enough to connect you with people who have jobs available or even offer you a job that they have. Or, a volunteer organization might sometimes offer you a job, if you’re a dedicated and thoughtful person and they have a job to offer. Volunteering is really playing the long game: it might not get you something in the first couple of months, but it might turn into something great over time.

3) Start looking for a career. There are many, many job websites on the internet, and I can’t really recommend one over the other. But know that there are plenty of employers that are interested in the kinds of work that anthropology BAs can do; UC Berkeley and the American Anthropological Association both have overviews of kinds of career paths anthropology graduates have followed after graduation. If none of that sounds appealing, there are many programs to teach English abroad, like JET — just google ‘teach english [place you want to live]’ and see what comes up. Some programs seem sketchier than others, so it’s worth sussing them out a bit, but they all seem to pay equally poorly in exchange for you spending a couple of years abroad. There are also opportunities like Teach for America and the Peace Corps. Teach for America gets you teaching in exchange for teaching credentials, whereas Peace Corps volunteers can be asked to do any number of things based on their skills in exchange for pay. Really, there’s no shortage of low-paid, idealistic work for Anthropology BAs to do… But these are the programs that I’ve known former students to have worked with, and they’ve generally benefited from their experiences.

Remember two things: your first job probably won’t be your last job, so don’t despair if you hate it — it’s experience and at the worst lets you know what you don’t want to do in the future. And, secondly, every job is a step towards a career. As you winnow out the things you don’t want to do, as you build professional contacts and skills, you’ll be moving towards being employable in better and (hopefully) better paid positions. This might mean you’re perpetually on the job market, but that’s okay — ultimately, this is about finding a career that you tolerate if not enjoy.

4) Consider a practical Master’s degree. If everything isn’t working out on the job front, take a look at Master’s programs that can help you land a better class of job — M.A.s like Public Policy, Public Health, Social Work, and Education. Many of these programs are 1-2 years long and will cost you a fair amount of money, so look locally and benefit from paying in-state tuition. (Often the degree granting institution doesn’t matter as much as the content of the education, which is usually pretty similar from one institution to another, since it’s a much more practically focused curriculum.) They may require letters of recommendation, but letters from faculty and employers can work; and, some employers will help to offset the cost of your education if you come back to work for them for a while. Or, if you want to go on to get a Ph.D., this can be a way to get fresh letters of recommendation and training that might help you be employed on the other side of your Ph.D.

5) Or you can pursue a Ph.D.

Life after university can be tough and existential crisis-provoking — I only made matters worse by spending my free time reading Borges and Burroughs at my local city park when I should have been reading something more uplifting. Staying busy is essential, as is thinking about the kind of future you want, and working towards it. Faculty aren’t always the best people to talk to about this kind of stuff — we all chose a Ph.D. over other opportunities, after all — but talking to faculty early and doing volunteer work or internships prior to graduation can definitely reduce stress levels after commencement…

Advertisements

11 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Mia / Nov 26 2012 10:54 am

    So, I’ve got a B.A. in Anthropology, even got honors in the major and wrote a double thesis. I also happen to have a B.A. in Political Ecology as well. A recent report came out expressing that Anthropology is the top five for graduates least likely to get a job. It is just a little something I read that makes me warm and fuzzy.

    I’ve been working since I was in 10th grade. Pastry chef, Soup Chef, Barista. You name it. Throughout college, I worked at the campus coffee carts, babysat, tutored, and co-chaired one of UC Santa Cruz’s most popular student organizations. I held off applying to graduate school for a year because I was studying abroad and carrying out field research in India when applications were due for the fall after graduation. Admittedly, I am still working on my grad school applications today to the nine universities I am applying to.

    In the mean time during my “year off from school,” I work for Friendship Circle, a non-profit organization that provides programs and activities for children and young adults with special needs and their families. My official job title is program coordinator, but I also find myself in the whirlwind of non-profit duties like grant writing. I also intern with Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice. Even though Greenaction is based in San Francisco, I have expanded Greenaction’s campaigns to include Los Angeles, where I am making efforts to monitor and prevent new, potentially precarious “waste-to-energy” conversion technology enterprises from basing their operations in marginalized communities around the county.

    I never anticipated that this would be my life after I graduated from university, but life has its own way of happening. Certain circumstances — like being chosen for an outstanding internship in San Fransisco but then being turned down because the UC system extended one week longer in June than the previous year — guided me to the life that I am leading now. Though I live in Los Angeles, I convinced Greenaction to let me intern for them. Regardless of the fact that life runs its own course, life is what you make it and you have to demand the things you want. When I moved to LA, I was persistent, personable, and demanding which enabled me to get multiple job offers and let me choose what position I thought was best for me…. and gets the best pay.

    Having said all this, my last quarter at UC Santa Cruz was full of fear and anxiety because I did not have a job lined up, I did not have housing lined up, I did not apply to grad school like I always thought I would, and graduation came a lot sooner than I imagined.

    Life is what you make it, so go make it happen.

  2. Karen / Nov 27 2012 11:11 am

    With my BA in Anthropology (focused on Physical), I graduated with the intention of preparing myself to go back to school for Occupational Therapy. I moved up to San Francisco and got a job in a large PR agency working with clients in the health field…and I hated it. PR felt so impersonal, and the agency atmosphere was horribly silo-ed. After 6 months, I ended up quitting with nothing lined up.

    After a month of looking for work strictly within the health industry, I had no luck and eventually broadened my search to the tech field that dominates SF. My friend suggested I apply to her favorite website: they were looking for a PR voice, and I fit the bill. Here I am almost 2 years later, incredibly happy to be working for the DIY website Instructables.com. In case you’re not familiar with Instructables, we’re the largest project-sharing community online. We provide a completely free platform for any and everyone to share how-to instructions for whatever it is they’re making: robots, cakes, tables, robotic-cake-tables, etc. We have about 90k projects now, and 15 million unique visitors each month. I fill the role of Marketing and PR Manager – which is very unique for our company, as I’m not marketing a product, but instead a community. My Anthropology degree has set me apart from the rest of my marketing team, because I have a deep appreciation for the community itself, and I strive to maintain that personal voice when communicating to the press or our authors. The importance of this might be obvious to anthropology students, but in the business world I find the consumer and their *actual* wants are often overlooked.

    Joining this team 2 years ago, I found myself immersed within the first rumblings of the “Maker Movement,” which, at this point, has grown into a pretty big thing – and it’s absolutely fascinating. There are a lot of theories on why people are reverting to making again, and I enjoy chatting about this with my coworkers and authors. The wonderful backbone of the movement is how open people are about their designs. It is not about designing and capitalizing on the sales of your invention – it is about sharing that invention with others, and learning and growing off of everyone’s discovery. Our site is the leader in this open-source/shared space, and I feel blessed to have a front row seat to see what thoughtful, creative, and funny things people are coming up with.

    Not only is the Maker Movement interesting to follow with my background, but more importantly I am deeply intrigued in this online trend we’re seeing now: people from all over the world are connecting through open online communities like ours. Not only are they adding what they know from where they are to the community, but a new kind of culture is forming online. You can see this yourself in all kinds of social media, and in our growing dependency on our computers and mobile devices. Technology, and how we interact with it, is so rapidly changing – everyday I find myself looking back on my studies at UCSC and trying to figure it all out.

    If any of you are interested in the Maker Movement, the emerging internet culture, or both, I’d love to talk in person you. This is some incredibly rich material to look at, and if it intrigues you, I’m happy to share more about my experiences.

    • gameeldesigns / Apr 2 2015 8:39 am

      Karen,

      I am very interested in the Maker movement and would love to take you up on the offer to talk more about it.

      Feel free to email me at gameeldesigns@gmail.com

      Best,
      Kymberlie

  3. Leif / Nov 27 2012 9:48 pm

    I recently graduated with my BA in anthropology and have been working for a local Cultural Resource Management (CRM) firm in Santa Cruz. We’ve been traveling to Santa Clara to do archaeology work in preparation of upcoming major construction. I only took one. archaeology class at UCSC and did a field school so I did not plan this post-graduation route as I am still more interested in enviro-anthro, landscape architecture, city planning, etc. The CRM job is at a halt for the winter due to rain so in the mean time I sell classy beer and spirits at 41st Ave Liquors and brew beer in my spare time.

  4. Tye / Nov 27 2012 10:45 pm

    I graduated with a BA in anthropology (focus on medical anthropology) in June 2011. After graduation I had no jobs lined up and was living in my parents house paying rent to them with my leftover student loans while I tried to decide what to do with my life. Anthropology to me was always more a way of life and an attitude than a career path, I’m fascinated by people, especially the kind of people who just live in the world and probably won’t ever run it. So I chose anthropology as a major because I figured I couldn’t go wrong if I studied something I actually wanted to learn about.

    After 3 months of job interviews and no job offers a friend of mine offered me a job working with her as an electricians apprentice. I had nothing else going for me and I figured it would be a cool new experience so I took her up on it and quickly discovered that I wanted to be doing manual labor about as much as I wanted to be in academia (aka not at all). After 6 months she didn’t have the money to pay me anymore and I was unemployed again.

    Another friend of mine had worked briefly with an organization that provides in home services for developmentally disabled adults (they will pretty much hire anyone so if you want a job and you’re reading this check out Oceanside Supported Living. I’ll be a reference.). She took me in to meet the woman who runs the organization and I took a job with them and worked awful hours for minimal pay and THEN ALL OF A SUDDEN I realized that I actually loved it because I working one-on-one with marginalized people and actually making a difference in their life. The only catch was that I was essentially an indentured servant and would never be able to pay back my student loans, buy a car, afford a house, or live a life worth living.

    SO here’s what I did: I started talking to anyone who would listen and was an adult with a real job about my crisis and about what I loved. I eventually talked to my friend’s mother who happens to be a professor of special education at SJSU and she said I should go talk to the woman who runs the early childhood special education credential program at SJSU. I immediately set an appointment with her and we chatted and she mentioned that if I was interested she would be writing a grant for the coming school year and I could do the program tuition free. What a dream.

    I did all the footwork to apply to the program and was accepted! I hopped on edjoin.org (go there for a job if you need one) and applied for a job in my new field. That is how I got the job I have now, working in a preschool for students with autism. I still don’t get paid much but it’s enough to live on and now I’m in school getting my credential in early childhood special education. My loans are on hold for the time being so I’m just paying off my car in the meantime and once I graduate I’ll be making enough to finally be able to make a dent in the big bad loans. I have a friend who says that “student loans are like herpes: they pop up once a month and you treat em, but they are with you for life.” I hope that’s not going to be my truth but it’s definitely tough graduating at this time. I hope my story helped you a little bit, it will work out, I promise. Just keep talking to people and putting yourself out there. Accept that you won’t get a $50,000 salary out of college, but realize that with an anthropology degree you are in a unique position to understand and help people in a way that a computer science major probably can’t.

  5. Nancy / Nov 29 2012 2:56 pm

    I graduated with a BA in Anthropology in June 2011. I didn’t have a job lined up, but kept checking Idealist.org and applying. I also applied to a bunch of Americorps opportunities during my last quarter at UCSC, and would make it to the last round, but never get selected. I finally heard back from a school in Honduras offering me a job, and I immediately accepted it. I did enjoy it but it was also challenging. The educational culture is very different there and I honestly didn’t know much about Honduras and I had forgotten all my high school Spanish. I can give more specifics to anyone interested through email. We were paid well and able to travel during long weekends and breaks, and many parts of Honduras are really gorgeous. I think teaching abroad was a great experience, and I would do it again, but maybe in a different location.

    If you’re interested in teaching in Honduras:
    This is the school I taught at: http://www.abshonduras.net/
    Here is another school with a great reputation: http://mayatanfoundation.org/ This school is located in Copan, where the Mayan ruins are, and is a cute city with good food and lots of travelers.
    There’s also some schools in Lago de Yojoa (gorgeous area), La Ceiba, Gracias, and Olancho (dangerous area according to my friend who taught there but loved it).
    Dave’s ESL Cafe International Job Board frequently has postings for Honduras and other Central American countries.

    Now I’m back in the States, applying to Americorps and other jobs again, and trying to figure things out.

  6. Ivette / Dec 5 2012 11:58 am

    Can I just say how awesome this website is? I think I would have felt so much better when I entered my senior year. I just graduated Santa Cruz this past summer (2012) with a focus in Physical Anthropology. My dream was to become a Forensic Anthropologist, somewhat of a Bones person. That didn’t really work out for me. I did not have straight A’s and I did not have a field school to back me up, so getting into a graduate school for that focus was challenging in my case. So I went with my second choice: I applied for several jobs who only required a B.A. in Anthropology. These were all non-profit organizations around the Bay Area. During this time, I also, however, applied to graduate school for a Master’s in Education. As you can see, I was all over the place. In the end, I only got one job interview but because I was such a novice and didn’t have enough experience, I didn’t get the job. Eventually, I was admitted to a couple graduate schools and I ended up at Mills College. I am now studying to get my Master’s in Education and I almost done completing my Teaching Credential. I am student teaching at an International High School in the East Bay and I can honestly say that I am loving every minute of it. Even though I am not doing what my ultimate dream was, I find ways to incorporate my passion of Anthropology into my teaching (and there are many ways to do it!). So, by the end of June I will hopefully be a credentialed teacher and will continue to teach International students. I guess, my advice would be to have back up plans! I don’t regret having done this major, it prepared me very well for graduate school and teaching. I also think its important to not to beat yourself up over it. Like I said, have a plan A, plan B, and plan C.

  7. Grace / Jan 5 2013 12:00 am

    Greetings to you all from Jogjakarta, Indonesia! I also got a BA in Anthropology (with a BA in History of Art and Visual Culture as well). I just graduated last June 2012 and I am now working for a non-profit organization called Volunteers in Asia which I signed up for just before graduation. The organization has year-long posts throughout Asian countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam, China, Myanmar, Thailand, and Cambodia. I am here in Central Java in Indonesia working at a university called Universitas Gadjah Mada, one of the oldest universities in Indonesia which is also known for being a top-notch school in Asia. I have been doing some community work with rural villages just outside of Jogjakarta, teaching English to villagers and students, and doing a few side jobs here and there. I was originally supposed to be posted in Surakarta, just north of Jogja, however due to terrorism issues, our post had to be canceled (scary, I know). Indonesia is amazing and incredibly cheap, which is great. I’ve met some wonderful people, I’m working on learning Indonesian and Javanese, the food is fantastic, and I love exploring the culture here (plus I’ve been able to travel a bit too)!

    This year-long post also has its’ difficulties though; I miss my family dearly (especially now around the holidays), my living situation is sub-par, the roads here are dangerous and scary, and in general, there are many difficult things to deal with here that we just don’t have to worry about in the United States. All in all though, I am extremely happy with my decision to come here, work, explore, and have lots of eye-opening cross cultural experiences and interactions with locals. For an anthropologist and art historian, it is great! I still have about 7 more months with VIA, and I was considering extending and staying for another year abroad here, but I think I’ll be coming back home and looking for a job in the bay area (what field that will be in, however, I have absolutely no idea). Shameless plug here: if you know of any jobs at UCSC, let me know! I would love to work on campus again!

    Anyways, I’m thinking back to my state of mind just before graduation time, and I remember feeling so anxious, worried, afraid… all those bad feelings mixed together that most people feel before they graduate. To be honest, I thought I would be in graduate school right now. I had taken the GRE twice in my Junior year and I was applying to graduate schools for Anthropology in my Senior year, but I wasn’t accepted anywhere to my dismay. Looking back, however, I realize that I really didn’t have a specific topic that I would have studied in graduate school and I would probably be unhappy in graduate school right now, so I like to think that it ended up for the best. I might still do graduate school in the future, but I don’t see it in the near future as I still haven’t pinned down a topic yet.

    Thankfully, VIA panned out at the last minute a couple months before I graduated (I think I applied in December and found out that I could go to Indonesia in January or February). I accepted since I didn’t have any other prospects and I’m so glad I did! It has been an amazing experience and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

    To be honest, I still feel a bit anxious about what I might do when I come back home to the states, but I know that everything will work out. I agree with everyone elses’ advice for anxious students about to graduate: have back-up plans, work your networks, stay busy, and be flexible. Working abroad and getting hands on experience (especially in anthropology) has been great for me and I certainly hope it helps my prospects in the future. But I think feeling anxious about the future is something that will always be present. Just stay busy, keep making new connections with people, and keep thinking and reflecting on what it is you want out of life, and then work towards it! I still haven’t figured it all out myself yet (like many of us I think), but I believe it’s important to think about what makes you happy and how you can apply your strengths and skills towards a job/career. As Professor Wolf-Meyer said, even if you’re in a job that you don’t enjoy, realize that it doesn’t have to be permanent, and at least you’ll know that whatever you were doing wasn’t right for you. All of your experiences – good and bad – can teach you many things about yourself. It takes time I think, but we are all still young and have time to figure it out.

    If any of you have any questions for me, want to chat about anything, hear more about my life in Indo, or if you just want to say hi, please feel free to email me at gkistlerfair@gmail.com. I would love to chat with Anthro alumni and current students! Good luck to you all and I’m sending lots of happy banana slug vibes from Asia!

  8. Suzanne M / Mar 9 2013 4:02 am

    I got an undergraduate degree in International and Area Studies, which basically means an interdisciplinary degree with a huge focus on cultural anthropology the way that I did it. I did lots of nonprofit internships as an undergrad, because I wasn’t sure if going straight into academia was the right idea for me. I worked for an Asian-American film festival, as an archivist for a folklore collection housed at a state park, and for a contemporary dance company. When I graduated, the dance company offered me a job that I gladly took, in finance and development. I managed daily accounting, wrote grants, did special event planning, and much, much more. I’ve been there for 2.5 years and I’m just now finishing up the graduate school application and selection process. The skills I gained in that job were invaluable, and I had a really good 3 years living and working in the city I went to college in and fell in love with. I didn’t make the big bucks, but definitely made enough to pay rent and pay down on my college loans. I’m also willing to talk to any recent grads interested in the nonprofit world! Email me at yunziyinz@gmail.com if you have any questions.

  9. Heidi / Apr 12 2017 12:52 pm

    Hello, our daughter is looking to major in Anthropology and do her masters in Archaeology. I have read some of the comments and it seems like this degree may be a waste of time and money? Her heart is deep into History and learning anything she can about it. Any suggestions???

    • Matthew Wolf-Meyer / Apr 13 2017 7:12 am

      Frankly, outside of a degree in computer science, I’m not sure that any major definitively tracks into a well paid, full time job immediately after graduation (and that’s based on 16 years of teaching undergrads). Most people need some kind of Master’s degree these days, which is where most of the practical training needed for a job takes place, as well as being where most of the professional networking to get a good position happens. What’s best is having an undergraduate major that a student really cares about and ensures a high GPA so that he or she can get into a competitive MA or PhD program. If your daughter is loving an Anthropology and Archaeology and she’s going to graduate with a strong GPA, that’s much much better than a bad GPA in biology or economics. And, really, an MA in Archaeology sets people up for great jobs with the national park service, museums, contract archaeology firms, cultural resource management programs with native tribes or the state, etc. They tend to be really meaningful jobs for people, well paid, and secure.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: