How to Apply

The application cycle has closed for the 2024-2025 academic year. Check back in September for updates regarding the 2025-2026 application cycle!

How To Apply

Follow this link for information about applying and to fill out an online application: The department does not use paper applications; all applications must be submitted online. Please do not mail any documents to the Department of the University; we will not use any paper documents in our review of applications. 

Applications will be accepted beginning October 2024. The application deadline is late December/January for both Masters and PhD.

The application fee is $90. It may be possible to waive this fee under some circumstances. Our fee waivers are managed by the Grad Division of the School of Arts and Sciences. To request a waiver, you should email Patricia Rea, Associate Director for Admissions, with a brief letter stating the reason for your request. Please be advised that applicants must demonstrate a clear and compelling case of financial hardship and fee waivers may be considered for U.S. citizens or permanent residents only. If you are granted a waiver, you will receive a code to enter into the application at time of submission. Please do not submit your application while your request is pending.

Any technical issues with the CollegeNet application should be addressed to Technical Support on the CollegeNet application system and not with the Graduate Anthropology Department.


Application Requirements

Following are the required components of the application:

  • Personal statement (1,000 words maximum.) In this statement, all Ph.D. applications within the Graduate Division of Arts & Sciences should address the following prompt:
    • Please describe how your background and academic experiences have influenced your decision to pursue a graduate degree and led you to apply to Penn. Your essay should detail your specific research interests and intellectual goals within your chosen field. Please provide information about your educational trajectory, intellectual curiosity and academic ambitions. If you have overcome adversity and/or experienced limited access to resources or opportunities in your field of study, please feel free to share how that has affected the course of your education. We are interested in your lived experiences and how your particular perspective might contribute to the inclusive and dynamic learning community that Penn values and strives to create.
    • All undergraduate and graduate transcripts. Scan and upload unofficial versions.
    • Three letters of recommendation.
    • Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). This is required only for international students who are not native English speakers. The TOEFL/IELTS exam is not required if you are currently enrolled in or have already graduated from a school where English is the language of instruction, or if you are a citizen of a country where English is an official language.
    • Writing samples. Though not required, these are highly recommended. They should be no longer than 25 pages and include a bibliography. The bibliography pages do not count towards the 25-page limit.


*Please note that GRE scores are optional for all applicants. If a student chooses to submit GRE scores, they will be considered as part of the application package. There is no minimum GRE or TOEFL score requirement. The Institution Code for the University of Pennsylvania is 2926. There is no department/major field code. If you choose to take them, please arrange to take your exams by a date that will guarantee that your scores will be forwarded to the University of Pennsylvania by the January 2nd deadline.*


Evaluation Criteria for Ph.D. Applicants

We evaluate applicants holistically, taking into careful consideration the full picture of how each applicant’s unique experiences have prepared them for success in graduate school. Here are some skills and traits that we look for in highly competitive applications to our program:

Academic preparedness and research experience. The applicant demonstrates academic preparation and skills that equip them well for graduate coursework and research in anthropology. The applicant has taken advantage of relevant available research opportunities and has a realistic perspective on how to conduct a research project.

Writing ability. The applicant demonstrates the strong writing skills necessary to succeed in coursework, grant applications, and, eventually, the doctoral dissertation.

Analytical skills. The applicant has the analytical skills necessary to grasp and advance in the learning and teaching processes required for the anthropology Ph.D. program generally and their proposed doctoral dissertation research specifically. Their academic work so far suggests potential for innovation and original thinking. 

Fit with our department. The applicant understands what anthropology is and what kinds of research areas our department specializes in. The applicant's interests overlap with the interests of at least one, and ideally multiple, faculty and graduate group members. Their materials articulate why they are excited to join our unique intellectual community.

Curiosity, initiative, passion, and creativity. The applicant demonstrates genuine curiosity, initiative, passion, and creativity in thinking broadly about big anthropological and/or social scientific questions. They demonstrate a strong ability to work both independently and collaboratively, problem-solve, as well as a willingness to work steadily towards long-term goals.

Contribution to the intellectual community. The applicant stands to enhance and enrich the experience of other cohort members and to become a valuable contributor to the intellectual community of the graduate group, including enhancing its diverse learning environment and working towards equity and inclusion in the field. They demonstrate maturity through clear communication, ability to work collaboratively as part of a team, strong organizational skills, and ability to multitask.


Descriptions of Subdisciplines for Ph.D. Applicants

Archaeology(Archaeological Anthropology) is the study of past humans through material culture. Whether ancient or recent, archaeology examines the physical remains of the past in pursuit of a broad and comprehensive understanding of human culture and social processes through time and throughout the world. Archaeologists not only reconstruct the nuances of a particular past society but situate their studies in a greater comparative perspective to more broadly contribute to our understanding of the human experience.

Biological Anthropology includes the study of various features of humans - including their anatomy, behavior, biology, cognition, genetic diversity, language and life history - from an evolutionary perspective. It takes an inherently comparative and interdisciplinary approach to the study of humankind that draws upon evidence from ethology, linguistics, neurobiology, and primatology, among other fields, as well as attempts to situate the bio-behavioral features under study within the social and cultural contexts in which they evolved. Importantly, biological anthropology asks fundamental questions about how our species evolved from a primate and hominin past, what makes humans distinctive from other species - biological, culturally and socially - and how an understanding of our evolutionary history promotes an understanding of human adaptation, health and disease, and phenotypic variation.

Cultural Anthropology is the study of cultural processes in relation to the social contexts in which they operate, including communities, peoples, ethnicities, and institutions from the local to the global. Through ethnographic and other methods, cultural anthropologists study the social, cultural and material relations with which societies, polities and environments are made, the discourses, institutions and formations of difference (race, class, gender, indigeneity) that these relations produce, and the ways in which emergent epistemes, institutions and worlds are inhabited. This includes critical inquiry into colonialism, modernity, imperialism, and other conditions through which concepts of culture emerged.

Linguistic Anthropology studies the manner in which human language equips its users to typify actual or imaginable states of affairs of the universe, to articulate conceptions of the world in which they live and the world as they would re-make it, and to formulate and inhabit the institutional arrangements—whether of science, politics, commerce, law, religion, or any other—within which the affairs of collectivities become intelligible and legible to members through communicative activities that link them to one another. 

Medical Anthropology brings interdisciplinary perspectives to bear on problems of health, wellbeing, and disease within and across cultures and socio-political contexts. Its field-based approach and evolving critical concepts allow exploration into the ways the body, psyche, and healing practices are crafted and mediated across diverse settings. Addressing problems of inequality, such as those linked to race, class, ethnicity, and gender and their disproportionate health impacts, informs core disciplinary commitments—as does connecting these impacts to communities, systems, and environments in ways that can dismantle unjust formations and foster innovations in responsiveness, accountability, and care.

Cultural Heritage is the study of the past in the present — the places, practices, material culture and museums that have a diversity of values for different communities today. Cultural heritage encompasses all the elements that a community uses to construct its identity and its sense of the past, the present, and the future. These essential elements include artifacts (ancient, historical, and contemporary), decorations, art, traditional crafts, buildings, physical spaces, mythological locations, the natural environment, plants and animals, memories, games, traditions, language, music, performances, and people.

For more information and advice about applying to and thriving in graduate school from current Penn Anthropology faculty and students, see:

Guidelines for PhD Applicants. Every year, the Penn Anthropology department receives many applications for the PhD program. Two of our current graduate students have written this short piece with the goal of demystifying the application process at Penn and beyond, as well as linking to other resources that might help prospective applicants. Questions about the technical or logistical aspects of the application process can be directed to the Graduate Coordinator of the program you are applying to. Also see this blog post for detailed advice about how to plan for this process.

Grad School 3, 2, 1. Associate Dean Beth S. Wenger engages in brief conversation with Dr. Deborah Thomas discussing three recommendations for first-year students, two pieces of advice for graduate students in anthropology, and one thing she knows now that she wishes she had known when they were in graduate school. [embed video:]


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The University of Pennsylvania values diversity and seeks talented students, faculty and staff from diverse backgrounds. The University of Pennsylvania does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, creed, national or ethnic origin, citizenship status, age, disability, veteran status or any other legally protected class status in the administration of its admissions, financial aid, educational or athletic programs, or other University-administered programs or in its employment practices. Questions or complaints regarding this policy should be directed to the Executive Director of the Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Programs, Sansom Place East, 3600 Chestnut Street, Suite 228, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6106; or (215) 898-6993 (Voice) or (215) 898-7803 (TDD).