Graduate Programs in Forensic Anthropology: Degree Program Overviews

Oct 20, 2021

Essential Information

Forensic anthropology is the examination of human skeletal remains. Professionals who enter this field borrow philosophies and techniques from osteology (bone anatomy) and skeletal biology and relate them to forensic cases. Individuals who enter forensic anthropology are responsible for identifying skeletal remains for law enforcement, museums and government agencies. Graduate programs in this field are offered at the master's degree and Ph.D. levels.

These programs require students to hold a bachelor's degree with a minimum undergraduate GPA for enrollment, in addition to letters of recommendation. Some programs may also require students have preexisting experience in the field. Most programs will end with a thesis statement. Some courses may be available online.

Master's Degree in Forensic Anthropology

A master's degree in forensic anthropology teaches students to identify the remains of human beings by determining their gender, age, stature, and ethnic background. Students develop in-depth knowledge of the protocols involved in the recovery of human skeletal materials and learn ways to analyze soft tissue and bone trauma.

A graduate program in forensic anthropology teaches students how to examine a crime scene and understand the different stages of human decomposition. A master's degree program in forensic anthropology educates students in the theory and practice of biological and skeletal anthropology. Courses give extensive training in the procedures and techniques involved in forensic anthropology and the methods of human identification, including:

  • Forensic anthropology techniques
  • Forensic anthropology procedures
  • Osteology
  • Expert witness testimony for the forensic anthropologist
  • Anatomy for forensic anthropologists

Ph.D. in Forensic Anthropology

A Ph.D. program in forensic anthropology involves researching, collecting data and analyzing data involved in forensic cases. Many individuals enrolled in a Ph.D. program work as teaching assistants and conduct labs and discussion groups for undergraduate students.

Graduates with this degree have an understanding of how populations may have lived and can help identify individuals who died from natural disasters, wars, homicide, accidental death, or suicide. Forensic anthropology coursework often has a hands-on approach. Students gain experience assisting established forensic anthropologists with casework. Topics of study include:

  • Zooarchaeology
  • Water and soil sciences
  • Human gross and functional anatomy
  • Biomechanics
  • Osteology
  • Genetic variation and human evolution

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

Career opportunities are available in government agencies, private crime laboratories, medical examiners offices, museums, or in academic settings. Few jobs are available in this field because of the limited number of criminal cases and lack of educational programs that cover this area. Graduates of a Ph.D. program in forensic anthropology can work on forensic cases, teach classes, supervise projects, and conduct workshops for law enforcement agencies. shows that the median salary for a forensic anthropologist in March 2020 was $49,699, while the BLS reported that in May 2019, anthropologists in general made a median salary of $63,670.

Forensic anthropology graduate degrees are available at the master's and doctoral levels, teaching students to identify human remains from past civilizations. Because job opportunities are not typically plentiful, employment is best for those with a Ph.D.

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