Anthropology Graduate School Personal Statement Examples

If you have questions we haven't answered, contact Bernice Pattersonor (919) 684-4544 and she will be happy to assist you.

How selective is the process of being admitted?

It is a very competitive process. Typically, we get anywhere from 120 to 150 applicants a year, and are able to admit 5 students with full funding.  All those admitted are invited for a campus visit (usually in March), at our expense, to learn more about the department, university, and the area.

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How will I be able to pay if I am admitted?

Students are given full funding for 5 years, including tuition, fees and a living stipend, as long as they are making good progress towards their degree. But they are also expected to apply for other fellowships within and outside Duke, especially for their field research and write-up years. We encourage applicants to apply also for an NSF Graduate Fellowship, which pays most expenses for 3 years. If you receive an NSF, it will give you more overall flexibility in choosing a graduate school, as having your own funding increases your likelihood of acceptance. In addition, those students who are successful in winning an outside fellowship to support their field research (e.g. Wenner-Gren, SSRC) will be able to "bank" an additional year of departmental support.

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What should I include in my personal statement?

This may be the single most important part of your application. There is no single formula for writing a strong statement, but it should not be a simple autobiography and focus instead on your interest in Cultural Anthropology. We are looking for evidence that you know how to think critically about questions of society and culture, and are able to make use of social theory to make sense of a particular research topic or theme. You do not need to specify a single narrow topic (and many students change their topic in graduate school), but you should use the statement to delineate your prime research interests in terms of geographical area and/or subject. It is often also a good idea to explain why you think our department, in particular, would be a good fit for you. Please include three keywords indicating your area of interest. To assist you, we have provided some sample personal statements from successful applicants. 

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What is the department’s record in placing its graduates?

We have an excellent record of placing our graduates in tenure-track jobs, including many at top universities. Of our graduates in the last 5 years 58% are in tenure track university positions, 25% are in visiting or adjunct university positions, and 17% are in either non-university positions or not working (usually fulfilling family obligations). We have graduates now professors at Harvard, U.C. Berkeley, University of Washington, University of Chicago, Wesleyan, and many other leading institutions.

Some of our Ph.D.s choose non-academic careers, including taking museum directorships or working in government or for Non-Governmental Organizations.

Click here for a more complete list of our placements.  

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What should my GPA be?

On average, our new students have an overall college GPA of 3.7 or above, but a lower average does not necessarily disqualify you. We look at your entire application, and pay strong attention to your personal statement, writing sample, faculty recommendations, and areas of interest. 

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What about the GRE?

We pay more attention to the Verbal and Writing parts of the GREs, since Cultural Anthropology does not involve much quantitative work. Most successful candidates have Verbal GREs of at least 600 and are in the top 80 percent in the Writing section; but a lower score does not necessarily disqualify you.

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When should I take the GRE?

GRE testing must take place within the 5 years prior to your application to our department. An official report of the scores, sent directly from Educational Testing Service, must be provided, institution code 5156. There are no exceptions as this is a Duke Graduate School rule. If you need to retake the GREs, please do so early enough that your scores will reach us by December.

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What kind of writing sample should I send?

You should submit a sample of relatively recent writing, 10 to 20 pages in length. It can be a paper for a course, or a part of a senior thesis or other longer essay.

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What are the language requirements for the Ph.D.?

All candidates for the Ph.D. degree in Cultural Anthropology are required to demonstrate proficiency in one foreign language. These tests will be administered by a qualified individual within or outside the Department, as appointed by the Director of Graduate Studies. International students from non-English speaking countries do not have to fulfill this requirement, since they already know two languages.

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Does the graduate program involve an examination system?

No. We have instituted a portfolio system where the students work in close collaboration with her or his committee members to put together a portfolio of research papers, book reviews, reading lists, syllabi, a dissertation and proposal, and other materials in the course of the first 3 years at Duke prior to passing into candidacy. A portfolio workshop is held at the end of the student's third year to review her or his work and discuss final plans for the dissertation. For more information on this system, see the Portfolio page.

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What is Durham like?

Durham is a dynamic, creative, and hard-working city known for its history of political activism, cultural life, and great mix of people. It has terrific housing opportunities for graduate students at reasonable rates and the area has much to offer with its famous food scene, easy access to beach and mountains, excellent state park system, and the add-ons of nearby Chapel Hill and Raleigh. Duke students may take courses for credit at UNC-Chapel Hill. Look at our graduate Living in Durham section.

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Preparing a Statement of Purpose

The personal statement that accompanies your application for graduate study at Northwestern is very important to the admissions committee and is often a crucial factor in the decision to admit. A clear, well-focused statement reveals your potential for graduate work and may compensate for average grades and test scores.

Tips for success

  1. Your statement should show a commitment to a compatibility with the goals of the Northwestern program.
    Review the anthropology department’s Guide to Graduate Study to make sure that your interests in graduate work can be met in an area of study offered at Northwestern. If possible, email those faculty members with whom you would most like to work.
  2. Be as specific as possible about (1) the direction you wish to pursue in the area of your interest, and (2) your educational objectives.
    Provide details about types of anthropology problems that interest you, the kinds of methodologies and approaches you want to learn more about, and what parts of the world you want to study. If you want to work with specific people in the Anthropology Department (or even elsewhere in the University) you should mention this in your essay.
  3. Write clearly and persuasively.
    Your statement should demonstrate the clearest and most persuasive effort of which you are capable. The admissions committee needs to be able to evaluate your ability to analyze problems and organize your thoughts on research interests or problems in Anthropology.
  4. Proofread your statement carefully.
    It’s a good idea to have a friend or faculty member at your undergraduate or M.A. institution look over your statement before you submit the final copy. 

Remember, the graduate committee is looking for people who have focused  interests, and who are strongly motivated, self-sufficient students. Our ultimate goal is to train people as scholars who can define and solve problems on their own.

The more you show the committee that you know what you want to do, and what training you want to get in order to do it, then the better your chances of admission and funding. 

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