When you’re choosing a degree, you want to make sure whatever you decide to study will set you up for a variety of job opportunities when you graduate. And one sometimes-overlooked major that delivers on that promise is anthropology.
Anthropology is an incredibly versatile course of study that will help set you up for a variety of career paths. But what transferable skills will you gain and what types of jobs can you pursue with a degree in anthropology? Read on to find out.
Before we jump into the different types of jobs you can pursue with an anthropology degree, let’s quickly define what, exactly, anthropology is.
“Anthropology is the study of humans, our societies, our diversity of expression, and our place in nature,” says Christopher Stojanowski, anthropology professor and director of the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at Arizona State University. “Anthropologists study the deep past of our beginnings, how past societies functioned, and how present peoples find meaning through social interaction.”
There are four different subsets of anthropology:
- Cultural anthropology “is the study of living societies and cultures using a method called ethnography, which involves both observation of and participation in those communities,” says Elizabeth Sobel, a professor and program coordinator at Missouri State University’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology. For example, a cultural anthropologist might study how technology impacts a community by immersing themselves in said community and gaining first-hand knowledge of technology’s impact through observation, research, and interviews.
- Archaeology is similar to cultural anthropology, but looks at past societies, Stojanowski says. “Archaeologists excavate ancient sites to learn about people’s lives in the past.”
- Linguistic anthropology “considers human spoken expression—how language defines our identities and is used to generate meaning in our lives,” Stojanowski says. Basically, linguistic anthropology is the study of language as a part of culture. For example, a linguistic anthropologist might research the history of a language, how it’s changed and developed, or what role it plays in specific types of interactions or situations (such as negotiation or political events).
- Biological anthropology “is the study of humans from a biological perspective and includes the study of human biocultural evolution, biocultural adaptations, and primate relatives,” Sobel says. Biological anthropologists study human evolution, both from a physical and behavioral standpoint. For example, a biological anthropologist might study how diseases have evolved and influenced certain communities or how different cultures approach pregnancy and childbirth.
Studying anthropology can help you develop a variety of skills that will come in handy over the course of your job search and career (whatever you decide to pursue!), including:
- Understanding of—and respect for—diversity: Because anthropology majors spend so much time studying different cultures and societies, “anthropology provides students with an appreciation for variation and diversity,” Stojanowski says. And that can be a major asset during your job search. Employers in all professions are looking to hire people who understand and respect diversity “because these individuals are more likely to work successfully with diverse colleagues, clients, and customers in our increasingly globalized world,” Sobel says.
- Data collection and research skills: Many of today’s most in-demand roles require candidates to have solid research and data analysis skills—which play a major role in anthropology coursework. “Anthropology students take field courses, lab courses, and internships where they develop interview, survey, mapping, archival, laboratory, excavation, and data analysis skills,” Sobel says. “Employers seek individuals with this training because many jobs require these or related skills.”
- Critical thinking skills: “A degree in anthropology hones your ability to think broadly and critically about the world around you; it trains [you] to seek not only the right answer but to ask the right questions,” Stojanowski says. And these critical thinking skills are incredibly valuable for any job, role, or career. “Anthropology courses require students to evaluate issues from multiple perspectives, informed by careful research,” Sobel says, which fosters “abilities essential to any job that requires you to take initiative and solve problems independently and effectively.”
- Writing skills: “The importance of writing to success in any career cannot be underestimated. Employees who can write well often rise quickly,” Sobel says. “Anthropology courses often emphasize writing, particularly the writing of papers,” she adds. “Due to this emphasis, as well as the relatively low student-to-teacher ratio in anthropology courses, anthropology students generally develop good writing skills.”
Clearly, the skills you develop while studying anthropology can be an asset when you start your career. But what jobs can you get with an anthropology degree (that is, if you decide not to pursue a career as an anthropologist or archaeologist)?
Average salary: $81,526
Diversity managers—also sometimes known as diversity and inclusion (D&I) managers or diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) managers—typically work under a human resources or people department. Depending on the organization, diversity managers may be responsible for a variety of tasks, including developing training programs; researching and implementing more inclusive recruiting and promotion practices; identifying barriers employees may face due to racial, gender, and other biases; coming up with strategies to remove those barriers; or resolving discrimination and other D&I-related complaints within the company.
This is a role that allows anthropology students to draw on their deep understanding of and respect for diversity to ensure all employees and candidates feel safe and respected, have equitable access to opportunities and resources, and can thrive in their jobs.
Average salary: $70,335
PR managers take on the task of building awareness and creating positive associations for a product, person, or organization. On any given day, they might be writing press releases, building strong relationships with the media, brainstorming and implementing public-facing campaigns (for example, a coordinated media campaign to support a new product launch), or developing strategies to minimize the impact of negative press.
PR managers need to have excellent written and verbal communication skills, research skills (to help them understand the competitive landscape and the people they’re trying to reach), and the ability to tailor their pitches and approach to different types of audiences and situations in real time—a skill set candidates will develop during their anthropology studies.
Average salary: $53,201
Nonprofit program managers are in charge of running and overseeing projects for an organization—and making sure those projects are in line with the nonprofit’s mission and goals. Depending on the nonprofit, their work can include everything from creating budgets, brainstorming ideas for new programs, developing curricula, and planning and managing events. For example, a nonprofit program manager for a children’s nonprofit might oversee the development of a new after-school program for the communities the organization serves.
Nonprofit program managers need to be organized, excel at verbal and written communication, and have a deep commitment to making their community a better place. Anthropology students gain those organization and communication skills during their studies, and because they’re so interested in studying humans, they’re also typically committed to making the world a better place for said humans—perfect for a career in the nonprofit sector.
Average salary: $59,312
As you may have guessed from the title, public policy analysts study how education, healthcare, environmental, and other policies impact different communities—and then leverage that research to make recommendations on how to change or update policies to provide a greater benefit to those communities. For example, a public policy analyst may run focus groups to get a better understanding of the consequences, both positive and negative, of a community’s longstanding education policy in a particular community—and then use that research to make recommendations on policies to improve the education system in that community (and communities like it).
Anthropology majors study how different cultures evolve and how social, environmental, and other factors influence groups of people—an ideal background for public policy analysts.
Average salary: $61,229
Marketing strategists are responsible for developing plans to promote their business, product, service, or initiative to their target audience. Depending on the organization (and what they’re trying to promote), marketing strategists may handle a variety of tasks, including conducting market research and focus groups; analyzing marketing data; developing creative assets and marketing messaging; and implementing, overseeing, and optimizing campaigns.
For example, if a company is gearing up to release a new product, the marketing strategist would be responsible for developing a plan for how to build buzz around the product and drive sales. It might include launching an ad campaign to support the product release, producing videos to share on social media, and getting the word out about the product through email marketing—all with consistent messaging they’ve predicted (based on their research) will land with the people they’re trying to reach.
In order to succeed in the role, marketing strategists need impeccable research, writing, and analytical skills. They also need a deep understanding of the people they’re marketing to, including what drives their behavior, what messages will resonate, and how different cultural and environmental elements factor into their buying decisions. Basically, marketing strategists need to understand what makes people (or humans) tick, making anthropology a great foundation for the role.
Average salary: $48,606
Social workers provide services that help people and communities navigate a variety of challenges—social, mental, physical, and emotional. For example, social workers might help people gain access to mental health treatment, food assistance, or housing services; support folks dealing with a challenging health diagnosis; or act as case managers for those transitioning out of the criminal justice system.
Because social workers typically work with diverse populations and need to understand the cultural and social issues contributing to the problems they’re trying to help people solve, an anthropology undergraduate degree is a great place to start—although you’ll also need to get a master’s in social work (MSW) and be licensed in the state you’re working in.
Average salary: $68,478
HR managers are responsible for everything related to humans—a.k.a., the employees—within an organization. Their tasks and projects might encompass overseeing a company’s organizational culture (for example, by rolling out initiatives that reinforce the organization’s values), onboarding new team members, managing benefits, and handling employee complaints. They’re often juggling several of these responsibilities at once, so they need to be extremely organized.
Because anthropology, by definition, is the study of humans, an anthropology degree is a great precursor to a career in HR. And while most HR professionals start off in a more junior role before progressing to a management position (for example, as an HR coordinator), most HR manager roles only require a bachelor’s degree.
Average salary: $87,818
If a company is going to design a product, they need to know that the end product is going to make sense for their target customers; that not only is it going to be a product they want to use, but that it’s also going to be a product that’s easy and intuitive for them to use. And to make sure that happens, companies turn to user experience researchers. UX researchers collect data on target users (which might include researching the target demographic, conducting user interviews, or running product focus groups)—and then use that data to drive the design process and ensure that the end product fits the customers’ needs.
To successfully do their jobs, UX researchers need extensive research skills (both quantitative and qualitative), communication skills, and the ability to understand a variety of customer demographics—skills that anthropology majors gain through their major.
Average salary: $86,292
Attorneys are responsible for knowing the ins and outs of the law—and then applying specific laws to a variety of situations, whether that’s drawing up an airtight contract, negotiating a corporate merger, or defending a client in a civil dispute. Attorneys can work in a multitude of settings (including in the business world or in the legal system, either in criminal or civil court) and, depending on the type of law they practice, may be responsible for extensive legal research, advising clients, writing and filing complaints and motions, representing clients in court, drafting contracts, ensuring an organization’s compliance with federal and local laws, developing legal strategies, and more.
Because attorneys need to have both extensive research skills as well as the ability to understand their clients and any potential adversaries they may face over the course of doing business (for example, a rival business challenging a patent or a District Attorney’s office preparing a criminal case against a client), anthropology is an ideal undergraduate course of study. Of course, in order to become an attorney, candidates will also need to graduate from law school and pass the bar exam in the state where they plan to practice.