Program FAQ

FAQ for MAA (Master in Applied Anthropology) Admission


FAQ for MAA (Master in Applied Anthropology) Students

What are applied and practicing anthropology?

Applied anthropology generally refers to the application of anthropological knowledge and methods by academically employed anthropologists apart from their teaching and scholarly activities. Practicing anthropology refers to a different role, one in which the anthropologist’s primary employment is nonacademic and where they may be “practicing” anthropology within and on the very organization that employs them. The basic anthropological skills of each are similar.


What is applied anthropology at San Jose State University?

The SJSU graduate program in applied anthropology is designed to help you develop skills in applying or using anthropology and not linked to preparing you for specific job titles. Specifically, its mission is to enable students to build on their knowledge in cultural anthropology, physical anthropology and archaeology, and to develop skills that will allow them address real world problems and issues. The program is not a “cookie cutter” one in which all students develop similar expertise. Rather, it seeks to provide a structure through which students can develop as distinct practitioners by working closely with faculty.

The program is organized around a set of common skills in the (1) analysis of social systems and their environments, (2) evaluation, and (3) planning, policy and design. These foundational skills are then applied to one or more content areas selected by a student:

Health Care. This area has been identified as the area of greatest job growth in the region. Anthropological expertise in needs assessment, program development, and evaluation of programs in a culturally diverse area is critical and in demand.

Business and Industry. The region is a hub of technology development and international trade. Anthropologists are increasingly employed in positions related to technology design and development, and in working with a culturally diverse workforce. The need for culturally sensitive practitioners who can identify opportunities for product and service innovation within the global telecommunications infrastructure will be critical in the future.

Immigration and Immigrant Services. A high proportion of the regional population is foreign born, and providing culturally sensitive services to the immigrant population is a priority at all levels of government. Because many immigrants retain close connections to sending countries, including participation in globally-extended families and communities, new needs and opportunities are constantly emerging.

Sustainable Regions. Developing sustainable regions in an era of soaring energy costs, long commutes, high housing prices, economic polarization and heightened security concerns is increasingly challenging in the region. Innovative ways to alter basic living arrangements and infrastructures will be increasingly important as various resources remain constrained and regions’ positions in a global economy shift.

Students complete courses to deepen their understanding of anthropology, as well courses in other departments to broaden their skills and knowledge to include how other fields and disciplines address comparable topics. An internship is required to provide practical experience, as is either a thesis or project report.

Students who successfully complete this program will:

  1. understand a range of anthropological research methods and be able to conduct research relevant to problem solving in various settings and for different clients/partners;
  2. know basic models of applying anthropology in different settings and have the skills to be able to function as practitioners of several;
  3. be knowledgeable about (1) the discipline of anthropology in general and how it contributes to understanding and improving contemporary society, and (2) a particular field of anthropology in greater depth;
  4. be able to function effectively in at least one content area;
  5. understand personal, political and ethical issues inherent in research and application;
  6. develop professionally as  practitioners with skills in contracting, project management, and budgeting, as well as the ability to communicate about project goals and findings and the discipline of anthropology to diverse audiences; and
  7. be knowledgeable about the region as a social and cultural system with complex state, national and global interconnections.


How do I apply to the program?

Students apply for admission to both the university and the department. The program admits students every fall semester and both the university and department applications must be submitted by the university deadline for fall applications.

University requirements for admission (including deadlines) to its Graduate Division are available at the Graduate Studies and Research Office: They include (1) a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution and (2) a minimum GPA of 2.5 for the past 60 semester units. The application to the university is submitted electronically through CSUMentor, which has a link on the Graduate Studies and Research website and the Anthropology Department website. University application dates are subject to change and we encourage potential applicants to use the Graduate Studies website to find current information.

Minimum department requirements for admission to the program are a BA/BS degree in anthropology, a 3.0 grade point average (B or better) in the last 60 semester units of undergraduate work and in anthropology coursework. The application to the department should be sent to: Graduate Coordinator, Anthropology Department, San Jose State University, One Washington Square, San Jose, CA 95192-0113. The following materials should be submitted:

  1. a current curriculum vita or resume
  2. unofficial (photocopied) copies of university transcripts
  3. two letters of reference
  4. a letter of intent that addresses (1) how your background prepares you for our program and (2) how our program fits into your career plans
  5. a sample of your writing (8 page minimum)


How are students admitted to the program?

Students are admitted under classified or conditional status. Minimum requirements for classification in the program are a bachelor’s degree in anthropology or a core of courses in introductory cultural anthropology; physical anthropology or archaeology; upper division methodology in ethnography, or archaeology or osteology; upper division anthropological theory; and six elective units in upper division anthropology (approximately 18 units); a 3.0 grade point average (B or better) in the last 60 semester units of undergraduate work and a 3.5 grade point average in anthropology. 

Students admitted conditionally must meet specific conditions before they become classified graduate students. These conditions are typically met by taking particular courses.


What if my background is not in anthropology?

Entering students must demonstrate skills and knowledge of anthropology. They may do so by having completed an undergraduate degree in anthropology or by completing an 18 unit preparatory track for the Applied Anthropology Program: ANTH 11 Cultural Anthropology; ANTH 12 Human Evolution or ANTH 13 Archaeology13; ANTH 149 Ethnographic Methods or 155 or 168 or equivalent experience; ANTH 131 Theories of Culture; and 6 units of upper division anthropology coursework. Equivalent courses from other universities may be accepted. Contact the graduate coordinator for assistance in determining how best to prepare for the program.


What are the requirements for the graduate degree in applied anthropology?

A total of 36 units are needed to complete the MA in Applied Anthropology. These 36 units are made up of the following course requirements:

  • 18 units of Applied Anthropology Core courses
    • ANTH 230 Advanced Theory, 3 units
    • ANTH 231 Applications Core, 3 units
    • ANTH 232 Applications Core, 3 units
    • ANTH 233 Fields of Application, 3 units
    • ANTH 234 Advanced Research Methods, 3 units
    • ANTH 235* Quantitative Methods, 3 units

* Advisor approved elective may be substituted for ANTH 235

  • 6 units of Anthropology Depth
    • Two 3-unit upper division anthropology courses approved by faculty advisors
  • 6 units of Field of Application
    • Two 3-unit upper division SJSU courses approved by faculty advisors
  • 6 units of Thesis or Project Requirement
    • ANTH 280, ANTH 298, or ANTH 299


How do I know what courses to take in order to make good progress in completing the requirements?

The program can be completed in two years if courses are taken as follows.

Year One
   Fall semester
  • ANTH 230 Advanced Theory.
  • ANTH 231 Applications Core.
  • ANTH 233 Fields of Application.
  • One upper-division or graduate-level anthropology course (Anthropology Depth Requirement) OR one upper-division or graduate-level SJSU course (Fields of Application Requirement)
   Spring semester
  • ANTH 234 Advanced Research Methods.
  • ANTH 232 Applications Core.
  • ANTH 235 Quantitative Methods or SCWK242, GEOG 195 or 279, SOCI 200B or HS 267
  • One upper-division  or graduate-level anthropology course (Anthropology Depth Requirement) OR one upper-division or graduate-level SJSU course (Fields of Application Requirement)
Year Two
   Fall semester
  • One upper-division  or graduate-level anthropology course (Anthropology Depth Requirement) OR one upper-division or graduate-level SJSU course (Fields of Application Requirement)
  • ANTH 280 Internship/Structured Fieldwork
   Spring semester
  • One upper-division  or graduate-level anthropology course (Anthropology Depth Requirement) OR one upper-division or graduate-level SJSU course (Fields of Application Requirement)
  • ANTH 298 Project or ANTH 299 Thesis


What graduate courses in anthropology are offered?

  • ANTH 230 Advanced Theory. In-depth analysis of anthropological theory and accompanying methodology, including recent innovations in theory and method. Research design. 3 units.
    • Prerequisite: ANTH 131 or instructor consent.
    • Comment: Existing course and current catalogue description.
  • ANTH 231 Applications Core. Methods for the analysis of sociocultural systems, ethnographic evaluation, and program/design development. Emphasis on professionalism, project management, budgeting, ethics, and contracts. 3 units.
    • Prerequisite: ANTH 105 or instructor consent.
  • ANTH 232 Applications Core. Methods for the analysis of sociocultural systems, ethnographic evaluation, and program/design development. Emphasis on professionalism, project management, budgeting, ethics, and contracts. 3 units.
    • Prerequisite: ANTH 231A or instructor consent.
  • ANTH 233 Fields of Application. Survey of domains in which anthropological skills and knowledge are applied. Topics include health, business and industry, sustainable regions, and immigration. Emphasis is on opportunities for anthropological contributions. 3 units.
    • Co-requisite: ANTH 231A or instructor consent.
  • ANTH 234 Advanced Research Methods. Advanced research methods including individual and group interviewing, structured observation, and formal analytical methods. Emphasis on data management, ethnographic writing, and presentation of data through different media. 3 units.
    • Prerequisite: ANTH 149 or equivalent.
  • ANTH 235 Quantitative Methods.  Understanding of quantitative methods for the analysis of various data sets.  Emphasis on determining appropriate statistics, interpreting statistics in reports and scholarly literature, creating databases, and using statistical software packages (e.g., SYSTAT, SPSS), and comprehension of statistical results. Quantitative approaches in anthropology and their relevance to regional issues. 3 units.
    • Prerequisite: STAT 095 or equivalent.
  • ANTH 280 Internship/Structured Fieldwork 3 units.
  • ANTH 298 Project (course to be developed) or ANTH 299 Thesis (existing course number). 3 units.


What is the internship/supervised research requirement (ANTH 280)?

ANTH 280 allows students to gain real-world experience in conducting research or applying anthropology. ANTH 280 is required on all students, regardless of whether they ultimately complete a thesis or a project report (see below). In an internship, a student is working on behalf of an organization and is being supervised by one of its staff. Alternatively, a student may conduct research under supervision by a member of the graduate faculty. How you fulfill the ANTH 280 requirement should support your longer term educational and career goals, and be undertaken in consultation with appropriate faculty members. What you do to fulfill this requirement can be independent of and unrelated to what you ultimately do for your graduate project or thesis (ANTH 298 or ANTH 299), or it can segue into either. Again, talking with the faculty and other students is recommended.


How do I choose between Plan A or Plan B?

Students must choose between Plan A or Plan B in order to graduate. In both cases, you must submit (to the department) and have approved a proposal for the work you are undertaking. Plan A students complete a thesis under supervision of a department committee (and enroll in ANTH 299) and then it is submitted to the University Graduate Studies Office for final approval. Plan B students undertake a project in applied anthropology and prepare a report documenting the process and results (and enroll in ANTH 298 instead). The report is submitted to the anthropology graduate faculty, but not Graduate Studies. All research or professional activity must conform to the ethical standards of the discipline of anthropology as outlined by the American Anthropological Association, the Society for Applied Anthropology and the requirements of the university’s Institutional Review Board.   

Whether you follow Plan A or B, your graduate work will be guided by a committee and you will probably work most closely its chair. There are important differences between the plans and understanding them is critical to making the right decision for you: what is best for one student or topic might not be best for another.

A thesis is a scholarly contribution to general knowledge. It follows a fairly standard, traditional form across disciplines and fields, and your thesis must conform to the format required by Graduate Studies and Research. Typically, a thesis has an introductory chapter that includes a problem statement, a literature review chapter followed by one on methodology, one or more chapters of data and findings, an analytical/interpretive chapter and a concluding chapter. This basic template can be modified to best meet your needs, but it must be done in consultation with your committee chair to insure it meets university requirements.

A project report documents some activity that you undertook to apply anthropological skills and knowledge. Because it is not submitted to Grad Studies, it does not have to meet that office’s thesis requirements. Specifically, its length and organization are more variable and must be negotiated with your committee chair and the graduate faculty of the department. Project reports may be as brief as 50 pages and as long as several hundred. The report will typically document the problem, question or issue that stimulated the application; a literature review that includes both the history of the specific problem and its context, as well as comparable problems elsewhere is included. It will document in detail the application (i.e. what you did), its rationale (i.e. why you took the steps you did), and the outcomes (i.e. what happened). Although the emphasis will be on solving or addressing a particular problem, the report will also include systematic reflection on what happened and why, the larger lessons you learned, and how they might inform practice in the future.

There are several things to keep in mind as you consider which plan to pursue. In Plan A, the emphasis is on the final product of your labor, the thesis. In Plan B, the emphasis is more on the activity you are documenting. Not everything need “work” for you to be successful, only that what you did reflected professional standards of practice and that you learned from what happened. If you plan to subsequently pursue a doctorate, the Plan A thesis may provide better preparation. If you are planning a career as a practitioner who solves particular problems in communities and organizations, then Plan B may be best. There are no differences in the effort that students will expend on a thesis versus a project; the effort just takes different forms. Likewise, both the thesis and project report must meet the same standard of quality.

Talk over your plans and ideas with the faculty and, in particular, your committee chair. Try to find the best fit between your goals and interests, and the constraints of thesis or project. Do not try to figure out what is easiest, but look for what is most appropriate.


How do I enroll for the Project course (ANTH 298) or the Thesis course (ANTH 299)?

When you are ready to carry out your project or write your thesis, you should consult with your committee chair and other  committee members. If you are following Plan A you should ask your chair to set up a section of ANTH 299 and add you to it; if you follow Plan B then you should ask your chair to set up a section of ANTH 298.  We encourage you to discuss the timing of your ANTH 298 or ANTH 299 with your chair. Sections of either course are easily set up at the start of the semester and you add them like any other course by using a permission number provided by your chair.


What goes into a proposal for either a thesis or project?

1.  Abstract (approximately 250 words)

  • This section should comprehensively and clearly summarize your proposal.  It should succinctly state the problem or objective, the significance of the project, and the methods to be used.  Because it is comprehensive, this section should be written after completing the other sections.

 2.  Statement of Problem (approximately 2000 words)

  • This section should include a detailed statement of the problem that is to be studied (in the case of a thesis) or addressed and even solved (in the case of a project).  Thesis problems can in principle be addressed through research leading to the generation of knowledge, while project problems are typically addressed through an intervention that is informed by applying the skills and knowledge of anthropology.  This section should also elaborate in detail the goals or objectives of the thesis or project.

3.  Significance of Thesis or Project (approximately 500 words)

  • This section should describe how the proposed thesis or project is significant, or provide a justification of its importance.  It should also describe how the thesis or project is relevant to the broader discipline of anthropology.

4.  Review of Relevant Literature (approximately 1500 words)

  • This section should include a comprehensive review of the literature pertinent to the problem.  This review should demonstrate that the student has thoroughly studied the relevant literature in the field, for problem solving is cumulative: it builds on the efforts of other people.  The scope of pertinent literature will vary according to the nature of the problem being addressed, and the student should discuss it carefully with his or her committee members.

5.  Methodological Approaches (approximately 2500 words)

  • This section should state the design of the proposed study or intervention. 

(A)  For a thesis, this includes:

  • the general explanatory interest of the proposed study
  • theoretical frameworks that will inform the study
  • the model, hypothesis, or research questions to be answered and why they are important
  • definitions of concepts or variables
  • overview of strategies for collecting data (sampling, instrumentation, data collection activities, data analysis, and interpretation) and justification of methodological approaches

(B)  For a project report, this includes:

  • a description of the specific organization, agency, company, or site in which the project will occur
  • a detailed description of the proposed intervention or application, including methods of data collection and/or data analysis when relevant
  • an explanation of why this intervention was chosen and why it is a reasonable approach to addressing the real-world problem
  • a step-by-step plan for implementing and adjusting the planned intervention
  • a description of how sponsorship and intellectual property issues will be addressed (each student should carefully work this out with his or her graduate committee chair)

If data collection and/or data analysis is part of the intervention, then it must be explained and justified, just as it would in the case of a thesis.  Remember that conducting a project is not enough.  You must document the intervention and your role in it to prepare the project report.

6.  Time Line of Activities (approximately 1000 words)

  • This section should include all the activities required to complete your thesis or project.  There are different ways to structure this, but you must provide a month-by-month calendar by which you can determine the sequence of activities, their interdependencies, and when it is reasonable for you to graduate.  Remember to include sufficient time for writing and revising the thesis or report.  You should meet with your committee chair to discuss reasonable expectations for turn around time on drafts. Remember that the faculty may not be available to read your work during summers.

7.  Ethical Considerations and Human Subjects Review

  • If applicable, the student must complete a request for approval of research with human subjects and have it approved by the campus Institutional Review Board (IRB).  Students are advised to begin by familiarizing themselves with SJSU IRB requirements (see the Graduate Studies website) and discussing their research or intervention with their committee members as early as possible.  A completed IRB proposal should be attached as the final section of the proposal.


How do I form a graduate committee?

You can start by discussing your interests with the graduate coordinators or with any of the graduate faculty members. A graduate committee plays a critical role in a student’s education by assisting them in preparing a program of study that will help them achieve their educational goals. It is specifically charged with guiding the student through the thesis or project process, and the committee’s approval of the thesis or project report is required in order to complete the degree requirements. Individual graduate committees will differ in how they operate, depending upon the preferences of their chair and the other members, the student’s needs, and the nature of the thesis or project. The main goals of the program’s graduate committee system are to (1) help maintain the quality and integrity of the program and (2) help the student become a practicing applied anthropologist.

Graduate committees in the program must conform to the following policies:

  1. Both thesis committees and project committees are types of graduate committees (depending on which Graduate Studies plan the student is following) and the Applied Anthropology Graduate Program policies governing their composition are the same.
  2. A graduate committee must have at least three members, one of whom is its chair. The graduate committee chair is also known as the student’s graduate advisor. The committee may include additional members if requested by the student and approved by the committee chair.
  3. The committee chair and at least one additional member of the committee must be tenured or tenure track faculty members in the Anthropology Department.
  4. Part-time or full-time temporary faculty, faculty in the early retirement program (FERP), and non-faculty with expertise related to the thesis topic may serve as committee members if approved by the graduate committee chair and if acceptable to the Anthropology Department’s other permanent faculty members.
  5. Students should be encouraged to discuss their interests and goals with the graduate faculty, and to work with a committee chair/advisor of their choosing. It is the student’s responsibility to select their chair, but faculty members are not obligated to agree to any specific request: the selection of chair must be mutually agreeable. A student who is experiencing difficulty in securing a graduate committee chair should discuss the matter with the graduate coordinator or department chair.
  6. Other members of the committee should be mutually agreeable to the student and the committee chair, and, of course, be willing to serve on the committee. The department reserves the right to intervene in assigning the third member of a committee in order to help balance faculty workload.
  7. Once a graduate committee is formed, its composition should be described in a Memorandum of Understanding to be completed by the student, signed by the members of the student's committee, and submitted to the graduate coordinator who will verify that it meets program policies before placing a copy in the student’s file. Any proposed changes in committee membership must be similarly documented and submitted to the graduate coordinator. Prior to approving any committee or changes in committee composition, the graduate coordinator with confirm them with the affected faculty members.
  8. A new or modified thesis or project proposal must be approved by the committee chair if the thesis or project work deviates significantly from the original proposal. Committee chairs determine the need for a new proposal, based on open communication from the student.


Who are the regular graduate faculty?

  • Dr. Charles Darrah, Professor
  • Dr. J. A. English-Lueck, Professor
  • Dr. Roberto Gonzalez, Associate Professor
  • Dr. Marco Meniketti, Assistant Professor
  • Dr. William Reckmeyer, Professor
  • Dr. Guadalupe Salazar, Assistant Professor
  • Dr. Elizabeth Weiss, Assistant Professor


What is admission to candidacy?

General university requirements for admission to candidacy for the MA degree include the satisfactory completion of the English Writing Competency Requirements are outlined in detail in the Academic Regulations section of this catalog. Students typically meet the requirement by completing ANTH 230. After the completion of 9 units in the graduate program, completion of the English Writing Competency Requirements, and completion of a project or thesis proposal the students’ work will be evaluated by the department’s graduate committee.  If the performance of the student is satisfactory and the student is considered to be a potentially competent and mature practitioner, he or she will be advanced to candidacy.  Students who fail to meet the expected standards will be terminated from the program.


How do I apply for graduation?

Graduate Studies controls the process for graduation and you should consult its website in order to learn current policies and procedures.


Who is the Graduate Coordinator and what does he or she do?

The graduate coordinator is responsible for facilitating the discussions that ideally result in a high quality program that meets student needs, while conforming to the faculty’s beliefs about what is good practice. The graduate faculty members are committed to working collaboratively on developing and teaching the curriculum; the coordinator facilitates those discussions. The graduate coordinator is also responsible for making sure that practices in the department are consistent with those of the university so students can graduate in a timely manner. He or she is also responsible for handling the nuts and bolts of admitting students and helping students work effectively with Graduate Studies. The graduate coordinator is here to help students understand the program requirements and to make sure individual students are following them, but your interests may not be the same as the coordinator’s and you are encouraged to seek out those faculty members who can best help you meet your educational objectives.


How can I best work with the faculty?

Faculty members are very busy, often juggling commitments to numerous students and colleagues. Successful graduate students generally communicate well with the faculty, especially those with whom they work closely. Communication does not have to be elaborate, but brief, frequent updates are useful. If anything outside of school is affecting your capacity to complete coursework and projects at a high standard then you should discuss the situation with the graduate coordinator, an advisor/mentor, and/or your committee chair.

Remember, too, that being in a graduate program is different than being in many undergraduate ones. Attendance and participation in classes is expected and few classes will be lecture format. As students, you will be playing a large role in leading and participating in class discussions. Obviously, the faculty expects that you will be prepared for class.

In undergraduate classes, the professor typically frames the questions and the students provide answers. You probably did that quite well, or you would not be admitted to the graduate program. In graduate school you are expected to become the producer of the questions and to further develop skills in answering them. In other words, the faculty will not simply tell you what to do, for being a professional means learning how to apply your skills and knowledge to new situations.


What is the Graduate Studies and Research Office and how do I work with it?

“Grad Studies” is the university office that is responsible for all graduate programs at San Jose State. In order to graduate, you must meet both the department requirements and those of Grad Studies. In particular, Grad Studies controls the deadlines that affect when you will graduate, especially if you are following Plan A and writing a thesis. This office also administers the campus human subjects protections that guide research conducted with people. It is your responsibility to be familiar with Grad Studies requirements and operations. Visit their website (, click on “Current Students” and explore! 


How do I work with Human Subjects and the Institutional Review Board?

Currently, every student whose M.A. work involves human beings is expected to file a protocol to the HS-IRB (Human Subjects Institutional Review Board).  Any student who does not have approval from the HS-IRB will not receive a degree from San Jose State University.  Some projects will be exempt, but that determination is made by the IRB coordinator and an application-protocol must still be filed.  Most of anthropology projects do not involved protected classes of people, such as children, patients with mental illness, pregnant women or prisoners, and so can be expedited, or given a relatively rapid review.  Projects involving protected classes of people must have a full review by the IRB.  Filling out the forms correctly and taking thoughtful appropriate precautions is essential to having a successful experience with the IRB.  Workshops with the IRB will be arranged for you in Anthropology 234 Advanced Research Methods.   Carefully consult the packet for investigators provided through the Graduate Studies website.  Templates for completing the protocol that are adapted to ethnographic research will be available through the Anthropology Department.


Who to contact?

Most of your questions will likely be about planning your courses and project/thesis, and will be answered by your committee chair or another faculty member. Most questions about the Applied Anthropology Graduate Program should be addressed to the graduate coordinator(s). The office staff will also be able to answer many questions and do not forget the Graduate Studies website as a source of information. Finally, the department chair is ultimately responsible for both the graduate and undergraduate programs in anthropology.

 Graduate Coordinator is Roberto Gonzalez (408 924-5715),