How to narrow it down?
Q: I surfed around on the internet for anthropology departments at colleges across the country and came up with some information. However, we’ll need to narrow down the list, somehow, based upon someone’s expertise and/or inside information or contacts. Let me know if you have any ideas on how we might go about this.
A: I think that at the end of the day, you may be less in need of someone else’s expertise than you think. After all, even if Claire (a pseudonym) does decide to major in anthropology, there probably will be many other factors playing into her decisions about which schools to actually apply to. For example, she’ll want to think about how far from home she’s willing to study. If distance is not a factor, setting might be. Would she be comfortable in an urban environment? How about at a school that’s pretty far from any major population center? What kinds of students does she want to study alongside of? How important to Claire will the presence of a religious community be? What about racial diversity? Socio-economic diversity? Campus political climate? Opportunities for study abroad? What kinds of extracurricular interests might she be continuing with or starting for the first time at college? Does she want a school that has a fairly structured set of required courses in the first two years, or one with very few required courses? What about size? How big is too big? How small is too small? Does she want to go somewhere where the annual anthropology graduates number in the single digits? Or double? Does she think she might be going on to study anthropology at the graduate level? How big of a factor will financial aid be in her decision? These are all questions that she probably has no answers to now, but will gradually develop answers to as she moves through the search process. Each answer will help her winnow her list of schools down a bit more.
When the time comes, I recommend that students begin their searches with the hardest part, which is finding schools that the student can imagine happily attending (not “safeties” that they’d really rather not) where they are likely to be offered a space. Colleges hold Open Houses for the express purpose of giving students and families a chance to connect with admissions folks and faculty alike, and members of the anthropology department at any school she’s considering will probably be thrilled to go on and on about what they consider the special strengths of their department to be.
You can use the free College Board search engine to generate a list of schools that offer anthropology as a major. Claire’s mission, should she choose to accept it, is to spend some time surfing around these schools’ websites and getting a feel for what distinguishes one program from another. Let HER become an expert. I guarantee you that if she looks at 20 sites there will be some schools that drop right out of consideration… because of some factor that she’ll start to realize is important to her.