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Guide to studying Anthropology

If you're interested in people, their history and the way they work, Anthropology might be the subject area for you.

Kavadi carrier at the entrance to the Batu Caves during the Thaipusam Festival


  1. What's Anthropology?

  2. Why study Anthropology?

  3. What jobs can you get as an Anthropology graduate?

  4. What do graduates do and earn?
  5. What qualifications do you need?

  6. What degrees can you study?

  7. How will you be assessed?

  8. What are the postgraduate opportunities?

What's Anthropology?

Anthropology examines the variety of ways in which human beings live in the world. The two types taught in the UK are:

Social anthropology

This looks at how people in the contemporary world live. Social anthropologists spend years in a particular setting (anywhere from a remote tribal village to the city offices of an investment bank) observing what people there do, how they think and how they relate to each other. This helps them understand a culture on its own terms and the historical, political, economic and ecological factors that have shaped it.

Biological anthropology

This investigates how humans evolved to have such a diversity of cultures – something that distinguishes us from any other species. It compares human social behaviour with other primates, and analyses archaeological and fossil records to see how human life emerged. Biological anthropologists also study the physiological and genetic variations amongst contemporary human populations, examining how they have adapted to the circumstances they live in.

Both branches explore how human biology influences social and cultural behaviour. Some departments offer special courses in cognitive anthropology, or biology and culture, which allow you to explore this issue in depth.

You can also find courses in forensic anthropology, which blend forensic science with anthropology and have an emphasis on human remains.

Why study Anthropology?

The study of Anthropology is shaped by the past and present but looks to the future. Changes occur in the way humans live every day, so there will forever be new discoveries. This makes it an exciting and fast-paced subject to study.

Many courses include the option for a study year abroad. This allows you to experience a different culture and develop your understanding of Anthropology across the world.

Not only does Anthropology extensively inform and prepare you with a cultural understanding of the world that is important to many professions, it also equips you with skills that can be applied in different environments. This includes communication, problem solving, presentation, coherent writing, effective reasoning – all of which are highly valued by employers.

Over 3000 years prehistoric painting in Thailand, Khay Pratu Pha, Lumpang

What jobs can you get as an Anthropology graduate?

Anthropology graduates find jobs at a range of companies, including large multinationals such as Microsoft as well as universities and government agencies.

Jobs related to an Anthropology degree include humanitarian aid worker, university lecturer, social worker, conservation officer, archaeologist, museum worker, public health coordinator and charity worker.

What do graduates do and earn?

In the infographic below, the first table shows what graduates of Anthropology have gone on to do in the months after their graduation.

The second table shows the average salaries of undergraduate Anthropology students entering employment. The three skill levels – high, medium and low – reflect the UK's Standard Occupational Classification's major groups 1–3, 4–6 and 7–9 respectively.

Source: HESA Graduate Outcomes Survey 2017/18

What qualifications do you need? 

No specific subjects are usually required. However, if the course has a biological or forensic focus, an A Level (or equivalent) in Biology may be needed.

Grades and other entry requirements vary with each institution. Make sure to check the requirements of the specific universities and courses you're interested in.

What degrees can you study?

You can get a BA or BSc in Anthropology, Social Anthropology, or Biological Anthropology. Many joint honours courses are available, combining other social sciences or vocational subjects such as Law. Human sciences degrees are often strongly anthropological in content.

How will you be assessed?

Most assessment is via written exams and essays, although biological anthropology courses can include assessed practicals. Many courses include a final year independent research project or dissertation.

What are the postgraduate opportunities?

If you have a good undergraduate degree in social anthropology you can often go straight into studying for a PhD. Public Policy, International Development and Public Health Studies are popular master's choices.

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