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Anthropology | Resources for Master's Students

This page is designed to inform students about department, graduate school and university policies, procedures, requirements and regulations that are in place to earn a graduate degree at American University.

It is the student’s responsibility to see that her/his file is complete and up-to-date at any given time; current students’ files are kept in the main Anthropology office and may be accessed by asking the administrative assistant to get the file. If a student has difficulty getting a faculty member to process a form or complete an evaluation, see the Graduate Program director or the department Chair.

Students must:

  • note schedules and deadlines for exams, stages of thesis preparation, etc. 
  • secure appropriate forms and submit them in a timely fashion to the correct University office 
  • make appropriate payments to the university upon completion of a stage of graduate work

It is the advisor’s responsibility to be accessible to students and advise them well. Where needed, advisors must fill out and process forms promptly and accurately.

It is the faculty’s responsibility to evaluate student work promptly and thoroughly, to make themselves accessible to students, and to provide frequent feedback and advice to students.

It is the Chair of the Graduate Program’s responsibility to insure that regulations are followed and, together with the Graduate Studies Committee, evaluate exceptional cases and recommend decisions to the Anthropology Council. Final graduate clearance is overseen by the grad program director.

It is the comprehensive examination coordinator’s responsibility to arrange for comps exams to be written and taken as scheduled, by students who have registered themselves in a timely fashion. The comps coordinator also reports comps grades back to students and to the registrar.

FILES AND FORMS are kept in the main Anthropology office and in the Sociology mailboxes on the right side. Students must maintain their own files that are kept, alphabetically, in the filing cabinet marked “Graduate Files A – Z”. The department MUST have copies of EVERYTHING for your file or you risk problems and hang-ups later on.

All department, grad school and university forms needed to record progress through the graduate program/s are available in the filing cabinet under FORMS or in the first column of mailboxes to the left of the main entrance to the main office.

As a matriculating student in either the MA or PhD program, you must maintain your matriculation by registering for at least one credit hour every spring and fall semester through graduation. You must apply for a leave of absence if you do not enroll in any courses during a given semester.

A course load of nine credit hours is considered “full-time”. Full-time study is required for international students and students with financial aid awards, and usually for students with loans. In order to maintain “full-time” status during periods of study for comprehensive exams or while doing research, writing, etc., you may fill out an “In Lieu of” form, having it signed by your advisor, and submitting it to the registrar. Be sure to file a copy of this form in your personal file.

Students are assigned a faculty advisor upon admission. These assignments are considered “best matches” based on admissions material, but students may change advisors as their interests develop. If a faculty member is going on leave, it is her/his responsibility to work with each advisee to arrange for another faculty member to serve as advisor during the absence.

Advisors can provide information regarding internships, career development, courses outside the department (in the University and Consortium), field schools, conferences, grant applications, selection of committees for comprehensive exams, NTOs and thesis/dissertation. Be sure to maintain a close relationship with your advisor!

Students’ advice about advisors!!!
To ensure good relations with your advisor, be persistent and clear about communications. Come to your advisor with plans and options. Sometimes pertinent information can be obtained from the department administrative assistant, departmental committee chairs and more senior students.

If you experience communication problems, talk to more senior students, to the Chair of the Graduate Studies Committee, the department chair, or identify a professor you can talk to.



Requirements for the MA degree in Public Anthropology include at least 30 semester hours of approved graduate work, with an earned cumulative GPA of 3.00 or higher. Students who elect to write a thesis in partial fulfillment of course requirements (see below) must be registered for at least 6 hours of the Thesis Seminar (Anth 797).

Please see complete MA Public Anthropology Degree Requirements in the AU Catalog.


INTERNSHIPS (Anth 691, taken for variable credit) are encouraged as part of the Public Anthropology M.A. degree (and for the PhD degree). Internships within museums, government or private agencies provide opportunities for hands-on experience in the fields of anthropology. Many students have obtained research positions and paid employment through this program, and have landed permanent employment through their internship opportunities. Students have also assisted faculty in developing research proposals and carrying out programs to explore areas of cultural diversity in Washington, D.C., economic development in rural Mali, ancestral language maintenance on Indian reservations, organizing the World Archaeological Congress. Students have held internship positions in places such as Smithsonian Institution, U.S. Agency for International Development, the Inter-American Development Bank, the National Congress of American Indians and National Association of Retired Persons.

For more information on special opportunities, consult the collection of internship information available in the anthropology office, on the internships bulletin board, or from your advisor. Use the Department of Anthropology Internship Form to establish the supervisor of your internship and the conditions under which an internship will earn Department of Anthropology credit.


Generally, students (part-time or full-time) are expected to complete the M.A. in Public Anthropology after two years of course work, with an additional summer for writing the thesis or non-thesis papers; the university requires completion within three years, with the possibility of two one-year extensions being granted, upon request to the Graduate Committee and CAS (for a total of five years) See “Extension of Candidacy” under PhD program. Students must be enrolled for at least one credit hour in university fall and spring semesters during the entire time of their matriculation, or they must apply in writing for a leave of absence, semester by semester.

No more than six credit hours can be transferred to Anthropology from courses taken at other universities or in other schools/departments at American U. prior to entering the American U. M.A. degree. Students may only transfer twelve credit hours of anthropology courses taken at AU as a non-degree student unless a special waiver is granted from the administration.

One written comprehensive examination (Anth. 008 - Public Anthropology) is required for the M.A. Public Anthropology degree. This exam is offered two times each academic year: in mid-January (during the week before spring semester classes begin) and in late May (the week before Memorial Day). Students must take this exam no later than after their third semester of full-time graduate study. Part-time students must take the exam no later than following 27 hours of coursework.

It is the student’s responsibility to schedule to take this exam by filing the “Registration of Intent” form with the Anthropology faculty member who serves as Comprehensive Exam Coordinator, not your advisor. This form must be filed by Nov. 15th (for the January exam), or by April 1st (for the May exam). Student should also submit to the Comprehensive Exam Coordinator a paragraph describing their primary anthropological interests and the areas they are concentrating on in their studies. This paragraph will guide the construction of questions that focus on specific student interests.

Once scheduled, students must register with the university that they are taking the comprehensive exam during a specific semester. This formality is accomplished by completing the “Application for Comprehensive Examinations” and paying a $25 fee at the Office of Students Accounts.

M.A. Comprehensive Exam Content
The Masters Comprehensive Exam includes material covered in the Public Anthropology core courses, other courses related to your specialization and interests, and items on a departmental reading list prepared by the Anthropology faculty.

The exam will consist of two take-home questions. One question will explore the relationships between the history of anthropology; anthropological theory; and the theories, methods, and practices of public anthropology. The second question will address an area of specialization such as environmental justice, race and public policy, public archaeology, or human rights. Students will take these questions home, where you will have ten days to answer them. Each answer should be approximately ten double-spaced pages long.

Two readers who are ordinarily the student’s academic advisor and one other member of the anthropology faculty will evaluate the exam. Exams will be graded “Satisfactory”, “Unsatisfactory” or “Distinction”. If there is disagreement between the two readers, the Chair of the department will appoint a third reader as tiebreaker.

Once the student passes the M.A. comprehensive exam, the Anthropology coordinator of comprehensive examinations completes the “Comprehensive Completion Form” and places a copy of the signed form in the student’s file. Students should check that this form IS in their file after they have been notified of the results of their exam.

REMEMBER: you will not be cleared for graduation unless you have taken appropriate action here!!!!

MA students must choose between writing two non-thesis option papers (NTOs) or a thesis.

Non-Thesis Option papers
NTO papers are generated from a graduate-level course or from a well-documented internship report, but are subsequently revised to go “well beyond” a term paper or report. NTO papers are considered complete when two faculty readers have accepted them. They are not graded.

1. The NTO process begins by the student completing an Anthropology Department “Non-Thesis Option” form, using a separate form for each NTO s/he intends to write to list topic and title, the course in which the topic originated, and the readers for each paper. Generally, the student’s advisor and the original course instructor serve as the readers for a given NTO. Note that students must be sure both readers will be in residence during the preparation and completion of the NTO; students cannot count on faculty availability during the entire summer.

2. Once both readers have signed the NTO form for both NTOs, the form must be filed in the student’s personal graduate file until needed for “finished paper approval” signatures.

3. Keep in mind that papers will likely go through several revisions before final approval, and final approval should come no later than one month before an expected graduation date. During university semesters, each draft will be reviewed and returned to the student within two weeks -- unless drafts are given to faculty members during the week before or during final exams, in which case students can expect to wait more than two weeks for comments. Students should be aware that faculty may not be available as readers for NTO papers during summer months; be sure an understanding is reached that is mutually acceptable.

4. After approval of the finished papers by the two readers, students must provide a clean copy of each NTO paper, together with each completed and co-signed NTO FORM, to the Department Chair who will forward a “Graduate Academic Action” form to the office of Graduation Clearance, to certify that NTO requirements have been met. Students who expect to graduate in a given semester must get everything finalized and to the Department Chair by one week before the graduation date.

FORMATTING: Remember that you must adhere to one of the following journal styles for citation, footnotes, and bibliography, depending on the subject matter:
American Anthropologist (cultural/social); American Antiquity (archaeology); American Ethnologist (linguistics); American Journal of Physical Anthropology (physical anthropology). Further questions should be directed to your advisor.

Masters-level theses are developed from an M.A. student’s topic of interest, and independently researched with faculty guidance, to make an original contribution to anthropological study. The thesis length can vary, usually between 40-80 pages. Much of what you need to know is in the CAS Guide to Preparation of Theses and Dissertations, available in the CAS Dean’s Office, Batelle-Tompkins, second floor.

The thesis will be written and revised under the guidance of a graduate committee of at least two professors selected by the student. The M.A. thesis committee chair must be a full-time member of the Anthropology faculty, usually the student’s advisor. The second committee member may be from outside the Department of Anthropology and, indeed, from outside American University. The full thesis committee is expected to meet with the student at least once for the approval of the thesis topic, and once for the thesis defense.

Students who elect to write an M.A. thesis must register for six credits of the Masters Thesis Seminar (Anth. 797), best planned to be spread over at least two semesters, or they may take three credits of Anth. 797 and another research course relevant to the thesis.

1. The student approaches her/his advisor to discuss thesis topics & committee composition. The student approaches additional member/s to constitute the thesis committee that then meets to approve the thesis topic and title. At this point, the “Anthropology M.A. Thesis Form” is used to register the approved thesis topic, the proposed title of the thesis, name of committee chair and other member/s of committee, with addresses of non-department committee member/s.

2. Once committee members have signed the M.A. thesis form, the student will file the form in the student’s personal graduate file until needed for “finished paper approval” signatures.

3. Keep in mind that the thesis will likely go through several revisions before final approval. During university semesters, each draft will be reviewed and returned to the student within a month. Students should be aware that faculty may not be available to read thesis chapters during summer months; be sure an understanding is reached that is mutually acceptable.

4. After the thesis committee chair approves the finished thesis, an oral defense is held, attended by all committee members and open to the public. If successful, the following forms are signed:

  • title page of thesis 
  • Anthropology M.A. thesis form (from student’s file) 
  • Thesis/Dissertation Completion Form

Deadlines for completing the final manuscript of a thesis are published in the Schedule of Classes each semester. Observing this deadline, the student circulates a clean and approved copy of the thesis to the Department Chair who will forward a “Graduate Academic Action” form to the office of Graduation Clearance, to certify that thesis requirements have been met. A copy of the Thesis/Dissertation Completion Form, signed by the Department Chair and the Dean, must be taken to the Office of Students Accounts to pay the microfilming fee. The thesis then goes to the Dean’s office in CAS and, with the Dean’s approval, to the University Library.


Application for Graduation

Students are also responsible for filing an “Application for Graduation” with the Office of the Registrar, in which they indicate how their name should appear on the diploma, etc. This application should be submitted early, at the latest during the registration period of the last semester you are enrolled at AU. Submit for the semester that you plan to graduate; you can always resubmit if you don’t finish in time!!!!

Graduate ceremonies occur only in May, but a student can graduate (receive a diploma) in August or December as well. Please consult the yearly Academic Calendar to see the dates for filing the graduation application and the MA Thesis.