Forensic Anthropology Graduate Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Program Info

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What will you learn in a forensic anthropology program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of a master's and PhD and potential careers.
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Master's and PhD degrees in Forensic Anthropology at a Glance

Forensic anthropology is a specialized field that applies physical anthropology theory to legal cases. Forensic anthropologists primarily work to identify human remains and determine information from those remains as a way of answering questions important to specific legal cases or matters of law. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), positions for anthropologists in general are expected to grow 21% in the 2010-2020 decade, which is considered faster than average (www.bls.gov). Forensic technician positions are expected to grow 19% in the same years, a rate in line with the average for all industries.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in working with law enforcement to identify human remains People who want to work in academia as professors or researchers
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Forensic anthropologist ($56,000 - average for all anthropologists)*
- Forensic science technician ($52,000)*
Same as master's, plus:
- University anthropology professor ($75,000)*
Time to Completion 2-3 years full time 5-8 years after the master's
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 10-18 graduate level courses
- Master's exams
- Master's thesis
- Roughly 20-25 more graduate level courses
- PhD qualifier exams
- Dissertation proposal
- Dissertation
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree in anthropology or related field Bachelor's or master's degree in anthropology or related field
Online Availability Some courses available None found at this time

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's in Forensic Anthropology

Master's degree programs dedicated solely to forensic anthropology are rare, but they do exist. You will be much more likely, however, to find graduate programs in the broader field of anthropology that offer courses or training in forensic anthropology. Programs that offer physical anthropology as a subdiscipline may provide training in forensic anthropology as well. A master's degree program in forensic anthropology can prepare you to take part in the identification of human remains, as well as determine other information such as cause and time of death, especially in cases of radical decomposition.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • The master's degree is generally considered the basic professional degree for working anthropologists of all types
  • A master's degree in forensic anthropology takes significantly less time to complete than a doctoral program
  • Master's programs in forensic anthropology train students in both theory and practical application in legal cases

Cons

  • Because of the small size of the field of anthropology, even a relatively high employment growth rate means a limited number of new jobs
  • High competition for anthropology positions of all sorts is expected
  • Although a master's degree is considered the basic professional degree, because of high levels of competition within the field, students may be competing with PhD holders

Courses and Requirements

To prepare to become a forensic anthropologist, you should study both biological anthropology theory and the physical aspects of the discipline. Crime scene and legal aspects are covered, as well as bone identification, facial reconstruction techniques, data analysis to determine sex and gender, and decomposition patterns. Some topics of interest that might be addressed are:

  • Osteology and human anatomy
  • Outdoor crime scenes
  • Forensic analysis
  • Bioarchaeology
  • Forensic experimental design
  • Forensic anthropology and the expert witness
  • Forensic anthropology field methods

Online Degree Options

Because of the hands-on nature of forensic anthropology, at this time there are no programs that offer a full master's degree in forensic anthropology. At the graduate level, the laboratory and field requirements of this training are best taught in a face-to-face environment. Nonetheless, some courses in specific topics may be available through distance learning.

Stand Out with This Degree

If you are looking to stand out with a master's degree in forensic anthropology, then you may want to look into getting involved with ongoing research as quickly as possible in your program. This will give you the opportunity to develop close professional relationships with respected names in the field, to become involved in research publications and to get the kind of work experience that will strengthen applications to either jobs or doctoral programs.

Doctorate in Anthropology with a Focus on Forensics

At the doctoral level, specific forensic anthropology programs are very rare. Much like with master's degree programs in the field, you might be more likely to find PhD programs in physical anthropology that allow you to focus on forensic anthropology. A doctorate in anthropology with a focus on forensics is generally considered to be the proper professional training for an academic career in the discipline. Research can take place in a number of venues, but most famous are probably the 'body farms,' a handful of U.S. research facilities associated with universities, where human decomposition is studied.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • A doctorate in anthropology is the normal path of career development for those seeking academic employment in forensic anthropology
  • Doctoral programs train students in research methods in preparation for both the dissertation and its publication
  • Programs may offer graduate teaching positions to students, providing both economic support and work experience

Cons

  • Tenure-track university teaching positions have become more rare and competitive in recent years, and most growth is being seen among part-time adjunct instructors
  • Forensic anthropology is a fairly small and specialized field within anthropology, already a small field
  • Completion of graduate programs, combining the master's and doctoral levels, can take up to ten years

Courses and Requirements

Courses for doctoral programs in physical or forensic anthropology are not too different from those found in master's degree programs in the field, with additional requirements in research and analysis. In addition to osteology, anatomy and physical anthropology theory, students will also study methods of analysis. Experimental design, data collection and statistical modeling can all assist in the research focus of these degrees. Coursework, both inside anthropology and from other departments, should be selected to prepare for the dissertation process.

Online Degree Options

Doctoral programs' focus on academic career development, combined with the necessities of research, make it unlikely that online doctoral programs will be offered in forensic anthropology. Students and doctoral candidates will wish to develop their field experience and fulfill research obligations, and will need to access and examine human remains collections as part of training.

Stand Out with This Degree

In order to stand out with a doctoral degree in forensic anthropology, you may want to select a specific area of focus that will develop your salability both to research positions and to applied aspects of the field. In order to secure funding, you may want to tie your research to your home institution's research goals. Further, you may seek mentoring from some of the prominent names in the field, through attendance at conferences, contacts through advisors and correspondence regarding research.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Johns Hopkins University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Liberal Arts
      • Master of Arts in Museum Studies
  • Online Programs Available
    2. University of the Rockies

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Public Sociology
      • Master of Arts in Public Sociology - Medical Sociology
      • Master of Arts in Public Sociology - Applied Sociology
    Bachelor's
      • Master of Arts in Public Sociology - Medical Sociology
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    3. Utica College

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    Master's
      • MS in Data Science: Social Science Analytics
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    4. Excelsior College

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MA in Liberal Studies
  • Anchorage, AK

    University of Alaska

  • New Haven, CT

    Yale University

  • Philadelphia, PA

    Temple University

  • Wichita, KS

    Wichita State University

  • Middletown, CT

    Wesleyan University

Featured Schools

Johns Hopkins University

  • Master of Liberal Arts
  • Master of Arts in Museum Studies

What is your highest level of education?

University of the Rockies

  • Master of Arts in Public Sociology
  • Master of Arts in Public Sociology - Medical Sociology
  • Master of Arts in Public Sociology - Medical Sociology

What is your highest level of education?

Utica College

  • MS in Data Science: Social Science Analytics

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Excelsior College

  • MA in Liberal Studies

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Yale University

Wichita State University