Rantin' and Rovin'

Academic Programs

NOTE: This page is not actually going to list all the archaeology programs in the world.  There are far too many, and many of them are good programs.  Instead, I’m going to give some advice here about finding a good program for what you want to study.

High School/Secondary School

I’m going to be honest – there aren’t too many opportunities for teenagers in archaeology.  If you’re still in high school, but you know you want to study archaeology in college, then I have a few recommendations:

  1. Take as many history and social studies classes as you can.  While these fields aren’t archaeology, they are fairly connected to archaeology and are probably the closest thing you will be able to find.
  2. Look online to see if you can find a field school that will take high school students.  Not all of them will, but some do.  Many projects also take local volunteers, which is another option if you can’t participate in the field school itself.  Check out the field opportunities page for more info.
  3. Work on learning another language.  Whatever your native language is, learning the language of the area you want to study as an archaeologist will net you some major points in terms of getting into programs and it will come in very useful when you start working/researching that area.
  4. Find a good undergraduate program and work on getting admitted.

Finding an Undergraduate Program

If you are currently in high school and hoping to study archaeology in college, there are a few things you should look for in a program:

  1. Try to find a programs where archaeology (or anthropology in the US) is its own separate department.  Size doesn’t matter so much (though larger departments often have more opportunities for fieldwork, a wider variety of classes, and a wider range of expertise on the part of the professors).  What matters at the undergraduate phase is that you are studying archaeology (or anthropology in the US, concentrating on archaeology).  If the anthropology/archaeology department is merged with another department, then it might be better to look elsewhere.  (Note: this doesn’t mean that merged departments are bad departments.  The point is that merged departments generally have fewer faculty, and in a system like the US, where archaeology is 1/4 of anthropology, a merged anthropology department is far less likely to have any archaeologists).
  2. If there are only one or two archaeologists in the department, check a list of courses to see if you can get the sort of experience you’re hoping for out of that department.  Again, this doesn’t mean small departments are bad – I did my bachelor’s degree in a department with one archaeologist and absolutely loved it.  But if you go into a small department, you need to be alright with the possible limitations in terms of courses and field opportunities offered.
  3. Check to see if a program has field opportunities.  Not every department will, and a lack of field opportunities doesn’t mean the department is bad (again, mine didn’t have any and was fantastic).  But you should be aware of the field work available and be prepared to find your own opportunities if you need to.
  4. Try to find a program that has a good balance between courses about specific areas and time periods, courses about archaeological (or anthropological) theory, and courses that teach the practical side of archaeology.  You probably won’t find a program with the perfect balance, since that is incredibly difficult to do.  But you should look for one that tries to have a good balance and has opportunities for students to seek out the knowledge that program is lacking.
  5. Send a kind and professional email to a professor at the department, preferably the person whose work you are most interested in or to the head of the department.  Keep it brief: “Hello, my name is Jack and I am looking to study archaeology at the University of X.  I am very interested in the Inca and was wondering if you had any suggestions for things I could be doing over the next year to prepare for university study in archaeology.  Thank you for taking the time to read this and for any advice you might have.  Best regards, Jack Smith.”  Don’t use exactly those words, make it your own.  You might not get a response (professors are very busy), but it doesn’t hurt to send the email.  If you do get a response, take the advice they give and (most importantly) send a thank you email!  Everyone likes being thanked for something they’ve done, and thanking the professor makes it more likely that they will help you in the future.  Not sending a thank you message shouldn’t keep you from getting into the university, but it will reflect poorly on you and make the professors less inclined to help you (and possibly others) in the future.
  6. If you are visiting the university, email the head of the department and ask (in a kind, professional manner) whether anyone from the department could meet with you to ask a few questions.  It is far better to email ahead of time instead of showing up on the day because (as I’ve said before) professors are very busy people.  If you do get the chance to meet with someone, write a list of questions you might have beforehand.  You may not refer to it, but it at least helps you figure out what sort of information you’re looking for.

Undergraduate Studies

So, now that you’ve gotten into a program and you’ve moved into your dorm, signed up for classes, and are on your way to getting a bachelor’s degree, there are some things you should remember/consider:

  1. As an undergraduate, the best thing you can do is concentrate on doing well in your degree.  This doesn’t mean completely giving up your social life; it means recognizing that you are at your university for a reason and that reason is (probably) costing a lot of money.  When I was an undergrad, a friend of mine did out the math and realized each individual 1.5 hour lecture we attended cost us over $150.  One question you have to ask is whether skipping class or botching an exam is worth the money you’re paying for it.  You also have to ask if the course you’re currently in is worth the money you’re paying.  If it’s not something that you think will help you in your goals and isn’t required by your university, then you might want to consider taking a different course.
  2. If you are serious about doing archaeology, attend a field school and find opportunities for field work.  This gives you practical experience and makes you incredibly marketable once you graduate for whatever path you try to take in archaeology.
  3. Try to find any opportunity to do lab work.  Most archaeology is actually done in the lab, not the field.  Ask professors if they need help with anything – you’d be surprised how many would love to have volunteer assistants.
  4. Try to take classes that will also give you practical skills in archaeology.  GIS, statistical analysis, scientific analysis, and human osteology are incredibly useful in the field.  So are zoology, geology, and history.  Languages come in handy depending on where you plan to work/study.  Don’t only stick to classes in your own department – branch out a bit and make those GenEds work for you.
  5. Seek out opportunities for independent research within your university.  Some universities have student research schemes for undergraduates and many have the option to do a senior research project or an undergraduate Honors thesis (dissertation in the UK).  Always look for ways to build up your experience.
  6. Try asking the local historical or archaeological association if they are in need of volunteers.  More likely than not, they will say yes and ask for help with archiving material or some other related activity.  This gets you experience outside your university and gives you contacts who will be useful when applying for jobs or further degrees.
  7. If you are in the UK (particularly the ancient universities) do an Honours degree.
  8. In your final years, try to work with professors to attend (and possibly present at) conferences.  This is not essential as an undergrad, but it certainly helps in many, many ways.
  9. Be sure to thank everyone who has helped you or worked with you over the years and keep their contact information.  You never know when you might work with them again or need their advice.

Finding a Postgraduate Program

There are several paths you can take after you finish your undergraduate degree (congratulations, by the way!), but this is the Academic Programs page, so I’m sticking to academic programs in archaeology.  For those who want to continue for a postgraduate degree, here’s some advice in finding the right program:

  1. If you are looking for a Master’s degree, be aware that many programs in the US do not allow you to apply for a terminal masters – you can only apply for a PhD and you will get your master’s along the way.  Make sure you can end after your master’s degree.  You may want to consider getting that degree outside the US (say, the UK or Canada), since those programs are far more receptive to students finishing at the Master’s level.
  2. Whether you are looking for a masters or a PhD program, your primary approach should be to figure out what it is you want to study (i.e. region, time period, artefact category, etc).  You need to be more specific about this when applying for a PhD program, but you should have a general idea for the Master’s as well.
  3. Search for people who are already doing research in the area you want to study.  For example, if you’re interested in Vikings, look for scholars who work on Viking material and see how many are at universities.  As a postgraduate, who you study under matters more than where you got your degree.  If I want to study metal age Indonesia, then studying at the University of Glasgow makes very little sense (despite it having one of the best archaeology departments in the UK) – no one in the archaeology department studies Southeast Asia.  I would do better to go to the University of Illinois at Chicago or the University of Wisconsin-Madison or University of Hawaii-Manoa or University of Washington.  Figure out who you want to study under, and that will help you decide where you want to study.
  4. Search for funding.  For many of us (wherever we may be), we don’t have much in the way of savings and some of us (many from the US) have likely already taken out tens of thousands of dollars in loans.  Many of us require some form of funding for postgraduate studies, and you should start looking at your options as soon as possible.  Many scholarships or fellowships or grants have deadlines in October or November (as do many graduate programs in the US), and if you miss the deadline, you miss funding for that year.
  5. Remember that the best program may not be in your own country.  This doesn’t mean programs in your country aren’t good, it just means that they may not be suited to what you hope to study.  There are very few places to study Celtic archaeology in the US; there are many more options in the UK.  That’s just how it works.  Remember to consider studying outside your own country and take any extra expenses into account when making your decision.
  6. Just as you did for your undergraduate program, email the person you want to study under for a postgraduate degree.  Ask if they would be interested in supervising you for a PhD if you’re considering that route or ask what they would recommend you do to help with an application for a master’s degree.  You can also ask if they can recommend sources for you to read through and get some more background (particularly if you can’t take classes in that particular topic at your own university).  PhD applications are usually decided by the department itself, and having a connection to the faculty means they are more likely to push for your admission.  While admissions for master’s degrees aren’t usually decided by the department, previous communication with professors will help establish a relationship with them and will probably get you some valuable advice.  Again, you won’t always get a response, but that is somewhat rarer for prospective postgraduate students.  As always, if you do get a response, take the send a thank you email!  Everyone likes being thanked for something they’ve done, and thanking the professor makes it more likely that they will help you in the future.  Not sending a thank you message shouldn’t keep you from getting into the university, but it will reflect poorly on you and make the professors less inclined to help you (and possibly others) in the future.
  7. Be sure to research the application requirements both for the university and the department itself.  If you are going to be an international student, be sure you know the visa regulations.
  8. As always, thank everyone who helps you out in any way and apologize for the mistakes you make.  Manners get you a lot of places, and graduate school is no exception.

I know this isn’t exhaustive, and I do apologize that it ends here (I haven’t entered the PhD phase, and I feel it would be amiss if I gave advice on something I’ve not done).  I do hope it has helped you in some way, though.  If you still have questions, feel free to email or use the contact page.

Also, If you know of good archaeology programs at the graduate or undergraduate level, feel free to email me at hchristie@rantinandrovin.com or use the contact page to make suggestions and I can start compiling a list.

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