Master of Arts in Anthropology

At SF State, graduate work in Anthropology focuses on the development of research and professional skills in four subfields. 


Historical, Political, Indigenous Archaeology and Zooarchaeology

Woman kneeling down and digging for artifacts

The Field of Archaeology

Archaeology is the investigation of human culture via the study of material remains. Archaeology offers a unique perspective on human history and culture that contributes to our understanding of where people lived and how they lived, by examining everything from subsistence practices to structures of power and social inequality. The field of archaeology is also political, situated at the intersection of knowledge production and power. We encourage our students to think critically about the role of archaeological practice and interpretation in re-affirming contemporary structures of inequality, as well as how archaeology can be used as a means for advocacy and activism.

Research Directions

At the M.A. level, our goal is to provide students with a strong foundation in the discipline by giving them the skills to succeed in both private and public sectors of archaeology. Graduate students receive rigorous methodological and theoretical training while fostering open-minded enquiry into the most demanding challenges facing the field today. We support students through politically engaged and ethically oriented research, whether in the classroom, the laboratory, or in the field. Our aim is to promote diverse perspectives amongst our students, whether through material culture studies or art and archaeology. Dr Meredith Reifschneider is an historical archaeologist, whose research interrogates the impacts of colonialism and enslavement in the recent past and their continuing legacies in the present. Her research spans a range of topics to include African Diaspora studies, histories of medicine and healthcare, and the archaeology of military institutions in the Bay Area. Her students similarly engage in a range of topics and theoretical perspectives including European colonialism and gender studies, archaeological collections management, zooarchaeology, and transnational studies. Professor Doug Bailey has extensive experience in the archaeology of art and visual representation, as well as the prehistoric archaeology of Europe. Current research ranges from the uses of imagery in the presentation of the past, to the active roles that archaeological archives play in modern community debate over identities and political history, and on to the generation the new sub-discipline of art/archaeology. Bailey’s students work across a wide range of periods, regions and periods paying particular attention to material and visual cultures.

Current Projects

Professor Reifschneider currently trains undergraduate and graduate students in zooarchaeology and faunal analysis, artifact analysis, and collections management. Dr Reifschneider is currently researching a collection of artifacts recovered from the Presidio of San Francisco, a project made possible by a collaborative partnership between SF State Anthropology and the Presidio Trust. This collections-based research project involves cataloging and analysis of over 3,500 artifacts recovered from the US Army men’s quarters. Dr Reifschneider actively engages students in the project through independent studies courses (699/899), culminating experience projects, and volunteer opportunities. She also encourages current graduate students to engage in Museum Studies programs at SF State and to reach out to other Bay Area agencies and organizations, to include Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) and local Cultural Resource Management (CRM) firms. Professor Bailey works most closely with students seeking to understand the roles that visual culture and art play in prehistoric, ancient, history, and modern societies, as well as with those who want to exploit the connections between archaeology and modern political and social challenges, including the archaeology of the contemporary past.

In addition, the department is at the center for the development of a new sub-discipline: art/archaeology. Professor Bailey and his students lead this initiative as it emerges as new and provocative research field. Applications are particularly encouraged from prospective students who wish to work on the following topics: visual representation in archaeology; the agency of the archive; art practice as archaeology / archaeology as art practice; radical re-interpretations of ancient and prehistoric art; archaeology as montage/collage; and the application of DADA and Surrealism to archaeological production. Potential applicants interested in this area of work are encouraged to contact Professor Bailey via email at

Successful applicants to the program will have interests that intersect with the work of Professors Bailey and Reifschneider. Prospective students are advised to review these faculty member's websites for further details and then to contact them by email to discuss possible areas of mutual interest.

Recent M.A. Theses in Archaeology

  • 2021 Erica R. Hill “Chinese Childhood Play: Deconstructing Hegemonic Narratives in Northern California Chinatowns”
  • 2019 Sheyda Ashrafi “Nationalism and the Development of Archaeology in Iran”
  • 2019 Megan Elizabeth Hall “The Archaeology of Zoroastrianism”
  • 2018 Karin Dahl “Unpacking the Bale: An Archive of Post-Consumer Clothing.”
  • 2018 Candice Ward “Textiles and Identity at the Presidio during Spanish Colonial Occupation: 1776-1822”
  • 2017 Laura Yadira Maldonado “The Archaeology of Obesity: Discourse Analysis and Implications for North American Obesity Research”
  • 2017 Shane Kennedy Davis “Indus figurines: The Role of Representation and the Construction of the Human Form at the Bronze Age City of Harappa”


Contextualized Skeletal and Dental Analyses, Health of Past Populations and Osteology in a Medico-legal Context

Four people in hard hats bent over and digging for artifacts

The Field of Bioarchaeology

Bioarchaeology is the contextualized analysis of human remains from historical and prehistorical archaeological sites as a means to understand the lived experiences of the communities represented in the burial samples. The field incorporates data, theories and methods from archaeology, geology, archival research, human and developmental biology, evolutionary biology, medicine, genetics, and epidemiology. Conceptually the modern approach to bioarchaeology interprets the data in a cultural-historical context within the framework of social theory drawing upon a wide range of academic fields such as cultural anthropology, political economics, ethnic studies, disability studies, and women and gender studies. Thus the scope of the field transcends the mere study “of bodies” to engage with larger sociocultural phenomena in past societies.

Research Directions at SF State

The M.A. Program in Bioarchaeology at SF State is distinguished by its research strengths in dental anthropology; the effects of biomechanical/occupational stress on the skeleton; and paleopathology (both dental and skeletal). Dr. Griffin’s research has examined the interaction of cultural practices and the oral microbiome in populations from ancient California and the contact period of the Southeast U.S. Ongoing collaborative research projects with students include the examination of dental decay and periodontal disease in ancient Native American populations of the Bay Area. Dr. Wilczak has done extensive research aimed at unraveling the complexity of biological and mechanical factors contributing to changes at the skeletal attachments of muscles and ligaments (entheses) and has conducted studies of bone-forming diseases (e.g., DISH, HFI). On-going research projects with graduate students include studies of orbital lesions and non-lethal cranial trauma.

M.A. Student Opportunities

The bioarchaeology program at San Francisco State welcomes M.A. students with research interests in all aspects of human skeletal biology but with particular emphases on dental anthropology, paleopathology and the effects of stress on the skeleton. In addition to required seminar coursework in archaeology, cultural, visual, and biological anthropology, students can tailor electives in paleopathology, bioarchaeology, human osteology, fossil humans, archeological theory and methods, zooarchaeology and historical archaeology to complement their background and research interests. The NAGPRA program at SF State has also provided practical training for our M.A. students.  Students interested in forensic applications receive training in the basic research methods of forensic anthropology and internships with city and county agencies can provide applied experiences. The department has two competitive student scholarships to help you finance additional field experiences or M.A. research projects.  Watch a video interview with one of our former students to learn more about the opportunities available and how to leverage your M.A. program to reach your career goals.

Our program is appropriate for students wishing to pursue doctoral studies or those seeking an M.A. as terminal degree in preparation for careers in museum collection management and education, cultural resource management, NAGPRA lab assistants, forensic anthropology technician, archaeological survey and science journalism. Recent bioarchaeology graduate students have entered Ph.D. programs at UC Berkeley or found employment with the California Academy of Science; the San Mateo County Coroner’s office; lecturer and coordinator of the Human Anatomy Lab at San Francisco State University; California Department of Water Resources (Environmental Planner).

Dr. Mark Griffin mentors student research projects in dental pathology and contextualized bioarchaeological studies of precontact Californians although student’s with other geographic regional interests can be supported. He also welcomes students with interests in forensic taphonomy and in validation studies of human osteological markers of individuation that are relevant in a forensic context. Learn more about Dr. Griffin’s research projects.

Dr. Cynthia Wilczak mentors student research projects studying the effects of mechanical stress on the skeleton (entheseal changes or non-metric stress lesions); paleopathology (both skeletal and archival research) and general skeletal biology.  She would support new cross-disciplinary projects with medical anthropology students conducting ethnographies with individuals living with diseases that impact the skeleton. She also welcomes students with computer programming skills who are interested in developing data collection and database management applications. Learn more about Dr. Wilczak’s work.

Recent M.A. Theses in Bioarchaeology

  • 2021 Alycia Davis “Levels of Certainty in the Diagnosis of Cranial Trauma: A Test Case from the Channel Islands, CA.” 
  • 2020 Vanessa Moreno “Ancestry isn’t the Past, it’s the Future: Human Genetics Research and Race.” 
  • 2018 Sophie Minnig “Entheseal Changes in an Ancient Egyptian Skeletal Collection”
  • 2018 Hannah Miller “Pathological Cranial Lesions in a Juvenile Cranial Collection”
  • 2018 Devan Glensor “Assessing Post Mortem Interval of Sus domesticus in a Northern California Environment.”
  • 2017 Cheryl Tripathi “Dem Bones: Curating the Anatomical Collection at San Francisco State University.”
  • 2017 A. Devon Botham “Are Nonlethal Cranial Injuries Being Over-diagnosed in the Archaeological Record? An Interdisciplinary Literature Review of Diagnostic Criteria for Healing, Depressed Cranial Fractures”

Cultural Anthropology

Political Activism, Health Equity, Human Rights, Community-based Participatory Research and Popular Culture

Person riding bike away with plants/flowers on the back

The Field of Cultural Anthropology

Cultural Anthropology focuses on the critical and comparative study of diverse human cultures and societies. One of the “four fields” in classical anthropology (with biological anthropology, linguistic anthropology and archaeology), Cultural Anthropology emphasizes the use of in-person ethnographic data collection as its fundamental method of understanding how people behave, perceive, think, feel, express themselves and relate to one another. Cultural Anthropology has traditionally been cross-pollinated by theory and methods from other academic disciplines, including Critical Race Theory, Cultural Studies, Ethnic Studies, Geography, History, International Relations, Political Economy and Women and Gender Studies. As a holistic discipline, cultural anthropology provides a historicized cross-cultural, transdisciplinary approach to recognizing and understanding the lifeways and challenges of individuals and societies around the world.

Research Directions at SF State

The program in Cultural Anthropology is strongly informed by the promise of our discipline to identify and critique social inequities. A critical anthropological approach draws the field’s robust tradition of advancing social justice along the lines of gender equity, antiracism, anti-colonialism, and socioeconomic equality. SF State also has a strong tradition in medical anthropology. Fundamentally, medical anthropologists recognize that social and cultural factors strongly shape the experience of health and embodiment as well as illness, disability and mortality. Both formal and informal medical systems tend to human bodily concerns, expressing cultural priorities at the same time that they seek to improve patient’s health. Medical anthropologists often draw on other disciplines to develop their research, including Economics, Epidemiology, History, Medicine, Psychology, Public Health and Statistics.

Dr. Dawn-Elissa Fischer is a political anthropologist and educational ethnographer. She writes about popular culture, policy and political activism with a focus on race, new media and education in a global context. She teaches courses about racism, language, gender, globalization, hip hop and virtual ethnography. Dr. Fischer evaluates racial equity and strategic planning in K-12 as well as postsecondary education. Incorporating linguistic and cultural anthropological research methods, she’s examined hip hop as international Black popular culture, as well as art and music in Japan and the United States for over twenty years.

Dr. Martha Lincoln, a cultural and medical anthropologist, has conducted research on post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse and dependency among military veterans, biopower under socialism, ghost beliefs in Vietnam, and the cultural politics of infectious disease. Her research has taken place in Southeast Asia and the United States.

M.A. Student Opportunities

M.A. students in Cultural Anthropology develop original research on cultural and social issues at field sites of their choosing. The San Francisco Bay Area provides a fertile multicultural setting to pursue studies in anthropology. Graduate students in our program can take advantage of the cultural, ethnic, and economic diversity of the Bay Area in applying Cultural Anthropology to research on everyday life and real-world problems in this global setting. M.A. students are encouraged to develop thesis topics focused on social issues (e.g., political activism, racial justice, homelessness, addiction, health equity), and to realize the relevance, usefulness, and value our discipline has in contributing insightful solutions to complex problems.

Our program is appropriate for students wishing to pursue doctoral studies or those seeking an M.A. as a terminal degree in preparation for careers in biomedical settings, public health programs, political advocacy, community organization, education or marketing and user experience research. Graduates of the M.A. Program in Cultural Anthropology have gone on to pursue Ph.D.s at universities including UCLA, UC Berkeley, Stanford, Yale and the University of Arizona.

Recent M.A. Theses in Medical and Cultural Anthropology

  • 2022 Emma Mae Abell-Selby “The Experiences of Female Grocery Store Workers from Latin America during the Covid-19 Pandemic.
  • 2022 Ben Holt, “Cannabis Vaporizer Perceptions and Behavior in Sonoma County: User Perceptions and Behavior”
  • 2020 Anya Rossa-Quade, “Give me Oils or Give Me Death: Essential oils as Medicine in the United States."
  • 2019 Lori Pirinjian “Nation as Family and the Causes of Gender-Based Violence in Modern Armenia.” (2019 SFSU College of Liberal and Creative Arts Hood Recipient)
  • 2019  Jessica Dailey, "Choosing Resistance: Social Power and Alternative Birth Care in Sonoma County, California."
  • 2017 Saliem Shehedah, “Social History of General Union of Palestinian Students, San Francisco State University.” (2017 SFSU College of Liberal and Creative Arts Hood Recipient)
  • 2017 Joshua Silver, “Oral Histories of Mental Health and Recovery from Substance Misuse”

Visual Anthropology

Ethnographic and Applied Film Making, Critique of Visual Ideology, Origins of Art, Still Image and Photography

Student in front of two computer screens

The discipline of Visual Anthropology was born in the Department of Anthropology at SFSU with the teaching and publications of John Collier, Jr. and John Adair.  Professor Peter Biella – John’s student - now directs the Visual Anthropology emphases at SF State.  Biella’s concentration is the moving image and video production; Dr. Douglass Bailey, along with Dr. Jeff Schonberg, concentrates on the still image, going back to the prehistoric origins of visual representation and up to the current moment of still photography.

Most Visual M.A. students produce a video as their Creative Work Project; some create multi-media photographic works (ANTH 894). Others write theses (ANTH 898) on historic and interpretative trends, movements and creators. The visual emphasis attracts graduate students who plan to work as independent media makers and teachers, or who continue on to the Ph.D.


Peter Biella, Doug Bailey and Jeff Schonberg are the Department’s core Visual faculty. 

Dr. Biella’s film Changa Revisited (codirected with Leonard Kamerling) recently won first prize at the Astra International Film FestivalDr. Biella’s vita contains links to many of his publications and clips from his films.  

Dr. Bailey has a long record of making provocative work about prehistoric art (see his 2005 Prehistoric Figurines; and his 2010 Unearthed). Current work focuses on the political potential of the visual archive, and the creation of the new subdiscipline, art/archaeology (see his 2018 book Breaking the Surface: an Art/Archaeology of Prehistoric Architecture).

Jeff Schonberg is a full-time lecturer in the Department. He teaches anthropological film and photography as well as medical anthropology.   

Recent lecturers in Visual Anthropology include Leonard Kamerling and Johnny Symons. Visual Anthropology was begun at SF State by John Collier, Jr. and John Adair. Their teaching and Visual Anthropology: Photography as a Research Method book were instrumental in founding the discipline in the United States and the world.


San Francisco State’s Anthropology Department has a dedicated Visual Anthropology Lab with a collection of 600 anthropological films and two hundred film books that can be checked out. In the lab, Visual students have access to two Macs with several versions of Premier Pro, Photoshop and other useful apps. The students may also use several of the university’s dedicated Mac labs. Our video production classes use Sony NXCAM HD camera kits, though students often use their own DSLR cameras. Each video production kit contains a Sennheiser semi-shotgun mike, boom and reflector.

San Francisco is a wonderful place to watch films and make them. We also have two Zoom digital audio recorders. Our graduate students have taken advantage of courses in SF State's renowned Departments of Cinema and Broadcast and Electric Communication Arts. Both have strong documentary emphases.

Recent M.A. Film Projects and Work in the Field

  • 2019  Jana Asenbrennerova, Film: Marilyn records the everyday life of a local, upper-class elderly couple.
  • 2019 Kate Ashton, Film: Scottish at Heart focuses on the different interpretations of Scottish culture by two Scottish social organizations – one established in 1863 and the other in 2017.
  • 2019 Grant Hayes, Film Wanpela Taim: There and Back Again presents the story of anthropologist Allison Jablonko’s return to her original field site among the Fungai-Korama Maring of Papua New Guinea.
  • 2019 Robin Rome, Film: Suzanna Sings and Swim. Confronting stereotypes about blindness, gender, and disability, Suzanna Holland negotiates her lifestyle to suit her personal self-expression in her personality, appearance, and public presence.
  • 2019 Philip Whitfield, Film: Socialism and Resistance explores the life of two members of the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) in San Francisco, and details their stories of radicalization.
  • 2018 Stella Dugall, Film: Naturally Free: Healing and Cultural Consciousness in Black Hair is a collaborative ethnographic film that documents the relationship among Black women, their hair and larger society.
  • 2018 Ellie Lobovits, Film: Birth on the Border breaks stereotypes about Mexican women and cross-border births. The women in the film are legally entering with visas, are middle class and well-educated, and they have complex reasons for giving birth in the US. (College Hood for Liberal and Creative Arts). 
  • 2018 Paula Ochoa, Film: De Tierra A Tierra is a portrait of the filmmaker’s father, and the challenges he faced in becoming a permanent resident. 
  • 2018 Adreanna Rodriguez, Film: Document the Impact shows how Tanzanian female pastoralists see the impacts of climate change through participatory photography. 
  • 2017 Lucila Carballo, Film: Idalia and the Nino Santo follows the life of a 31-year-old Mazatec shaman in rural Oaxaca as she conducts healing rituals through a hallucinogenic mushroom called the niño santo, which translates to “holy child.” 

Register your interest in learning more about the M.A. program

About the Program

By limiting the numbers of students we accept, we ensure small-group seminar classes and close supervisor-student interaction in thesis and project research. Recent graduates of the program are now in Ph.D. programs in universities ranging from Yale, to Berkeley, to the University of Hawaii. About half of our students take the M.A. as a path towards advocacy work, employment in government agencies or in commercial companies. Others work as high school and community college teachers, attorneys, film producers and researchers. For a selection of where some of our recent M.A. students are now go to the Alumni Careers section below.

At SF State, graduate work in Anthropology focuses on four specific areas of research and learning:

  • bioarchaeology: contextualized skeletal and dental analyses, health of past populations, and osteology in a medico-legal context;
  • visual anthropology: ethnographic and applied film making, critique of visual ideology, origins of art, still image and photography;
  • cultural anthropology: political activism, medical anthropology, health equity, community-based participatory research, race and popular culture; and
  • archaeology: historical, political, and indigenous archaeology, and zooarchaeology.

California Tuition is Available to Residents of Many Other Western States

The Provost and the President have approved our participation in the Western Regional Graduate Program(WRGP) which enables students in 16 Western states and territories to enroll in participating public graduate programs as nonresidents, yet pay the lower resident tuition rate.  In other words, eligible out-of-state students can now pay in-state tuition in approved programs.

The M.A. in Anthropology is a 30-unit degree usually completed in two to three academic years and includes core seminars, skills classes, electives and a Culminating Experience (i.e., a final Thesis or Creative Project). Pathways through the program can be individualized and you will fill out a MA Program Worksheet with your thesis committee chair each year.

First-year Core Seminars

Anth 710: Proseminar in Anthropology

In this team-taught small-group seminar, students focus on one topic (the current class is investigating violence from an anthropological perspective). All faculty contribute to teaching this class, and students have the opportunity to get to know the discipline's different subfields and the department's different faculty expertise and research interests (3-units).

Anth 720: Graduate Seminar in Visual Anthropology

In this class, students undertake an in-depth study of the development of visual anthropology. Special emphasis is placed on the following topics: origins and history of visual anthropology; culture and its visual representation (media and politics); indigenous media; anthropological films and film-making; anthropological photographs and photography; and the active archive (2-units).

Anth 721: Graduate Seminar in Archaeology

In this class, students undertake an in-depth study of the development of archaeological thought. Special emphasis is placed on the following topics: disciplinary roots and racism; culture-history; processual archaeology; post-processual archaeology; cognitive archaeology; materiality; agency and practice; gender, sexuality and the feminist critique; the body; post-colonial archaeology; the politics of heritage; nationalism; and community archaeology (2-units).

Anth 722: Graduate Seminar in Biological Anthropology

Various aspects of current research and trends in Biological Anthropology. Fossil evidence, modern human variation, comparative anatomy, and behavior and evolutionary theory (2-units).

Anth 723: Graduate Seminar in Cultural Anthropology

Directed research in problems in Cultural Anthropology related to a specific cultural area, ethnic group, or specific topic (2-units).

First-Year Skills Classes

ANTH 714 Anthropological Ethics

Exploration of the ethical principles and practices in the subfields of Anthropology. Emphasis on the history of human subjects research and the principles guiding data collection from or related to human populations, with the opportunity for hands-on practice of these principles in research situations and professional activities. Discussion of the subfield ethics and the Institutional Review Board (IRB) process, how to develop research projects and proposals that meet ethical requisites, and ethical issues and debates in Anthropology (1-unit)

Anth 715: Anthropological Writing

Topics range from a review of basic grammar, style, and usage, to the organization of argument and its delivery, and on to strategies to enhance creative thinking. Students review prominent writing styles in anthropology, and learn about the variety of sub-disciplinary, professional association, and publishing house style-guides and submission procedures (1-unit).

Anth 716: The Literature Review

This class provides students with the basic skills needed to write a literature review including the following: the components of the review; the location and assessment of sources; the best ways to categorize, organize, and critically synthesize sources and source content; plagiarism and citation; aspects of literature reviews specific to anthropology; and the development of the appropriate authorial tone (1-unit).

Anth 717: The Research Proposal

In this class, students acquire and practice the basic skills needed to produce a research proposal that is practical and appropriate for their MA thesis or Creative Work including the following: designing a research question; defining and documenting the context of research; choosing and assessing methods to be used; understanding ethnical concerns and gaining permissions required for research; and foreseeing expected results and assessing the significance, impact, and consequences of the results obtaining for existing knowledge and for future research (1-unit).

Second-Year Electives

Electives are normally taken in the second year unless otherwise advised by your thesis committee chair. Student may choose electives from the following list of graduate classes in Anthropology:

  • Anth 710 Sexual Cultures, Sexual Identities (Units: 3)
  • Anth 719: The Research Presentation (1 unit)
  • Anth 723: Seminar in Problems in Cultural Anthropology (2-units)
  • Anth 730: Human Osteology (3-units)
  • Anth 731: Human Fossils Practicum (3-units)
  • Anth 735: Palaeopathology (3-units)
  • Anth 750: Seminar in Visual Anthropology: The Fixed Image (3-units)
  • Anth 755: History of Anthropological Film (3-units)
  • Anth 785: Teaching Anthropology (1-, 2-, 3-units) 
  • Anth 899: Independent Study (1-, 2-, or 3-units): may be taken twice

Students may also select M.A.-level classes (700 and above) offered by other SF State departments (with the pre-approval of your thesis committee chair), and upper division undergraduate classes in Anthropology (provided that upper division undergraduate classes make up no more than 30% of the total number of units awarded for the completion of the M.A.).

Students who enter the program without an undergraduate degree in Anthropology (or without satisfactory undergraduate classes in Anthropology) may be required to take prerequisite undergraduate classes before being enrolled in graduate level classes.

Culminating Experience

Once students have completed their first two terms of study, they must complete their degree through the selection of electives and by successfully completing their Culminative Experience through one of the following classes:

  • Anth 894: Project / Creative Work (3-units)
  • Anth 898: Thesis (3-units)

Routes Through the Degree

There are four normal routes through the degree and students follow the most appropriate depending on whether or not their undergraduate degree was in Anthropology. Full details of the routes are available from the graduate coordinator for continuing students.

While we welcome applications from students with a wide range of experiences and a diversity of undergraduate degrees, we recommend that you have a B.A. or B.S. in Anthropology or an allied field. If you do not, then we have a set of pre-requisite classes that you must take after you matriculate (Anth 100, Anth 110, Anth 120,  Anth 300); some students take corresponding classes at other universities (please check with us for compatibility before you enroll in any non-SF State classes). Read about the courses on the SF Bulletin.


Applications will be reviewed by the Department on a semi-rolling basis and strong applicants may receive early admissions offers as soon as the application review is completed. For full consideration, applications for fall admissions should be submitted by February 15th, but we will continue reviewing candidates up until the start of the term on a space available basis. 

If you have a specific problem submitting your application, please email the graduate admissions coordinator in Anthropology as soon as possible. For more information about applying and how to be successful in gaining admission see our FAQs.

If you are interested in receiving more information about the M.A. in Anthropology at SF State, then send us your contact details by filling out this form on qualtrics.


All application materials are submitted through the CalApply System.

Tips for navigating the online system:

  1. There are four sections in the online application, first fill out the Personal History Section
  2. In the Academic History Section, opt out of transcript entry and GPA entry.
  3. In the Supporting Materials Section:Enter work experience, awards for relevant achievements, if any. For the Statement of Purpose write: "Uploaded to Program Materials Section".
  4. Use the Program Materials Section to upload all documents (transcripts, writing samples, etc).

For more detailed instructions on using the online CalApply system, see the Division of Graduate Studies website.

If you have any questions about the Program Materials (especially with respect to your Statement of Purpose), contact the graduate admissions coordinator in Anthropology by email at

Program Materials

CalApply will request the following Program Materials. These are the documents that the Department of Anthropology will use to review your application.

Statement of Purpose (500 word max)

Explain your experience, interests, and goals as a student of anthropology and your plans post-M.A. In particular address the following topics:

(1) which of the subfields of Anthropology most interests you as an area of specialism (archaeology, cultural anthropology, physical / biological anthropology, visual anthropology);

(2) what parts of your academic (or other experience, including field or lab-based) work has best prepared you to undertake graduate-level work in anthropology; and

(3) which department faculty member would you like to work with; include details of any contact you have already had with that faculty member.

It is essential that you make contact with the particular faculty member with whom you would like to work with. You should talk with that faculty member about your specific interest in anthropology and your initial ideas about your thesis research or creative works project. The Department will not review Statements of Purpose that do not include details of that discussion (the faculty member's name, potential thesis or creative works topics).  To identify the appropriate faculty member with whom you share research interests, consult the People page of the Department website. If you need additional help, you can contact the Graduate Admissions Coordinator by email at

Two Letters of Recommendation

Ask two people with knowledge of your abilities, achievements and character to write letters in support of your application. You will do best to ask former or current teachers, advisors, or others who have supervised your academic or project-based work. CalApply will prompt you to enter details about your evaluators. All letter writer email addresses should be from a professional or academic organizations (ex., or, not personal email addresses. Once contact information is submitted, an email request will automatically be sent to the evaluator on your behalf. Please advise your evaluator to look for this email in their inbox, as well as their spam or junk-mail folder, as emails do occasionally get filtered out.

Writing Sample

Provide a graded essay, undergraduate thesis chapter or other written work (e.g., if you have published professionally) which most clearly shows your ability to communicate in written form. We will use the Writing Sample to assess your technical ability to write as well as your knowledge of anthropological (or other professional) literature. One essay, one thesis chapter or one piece of published work is sufficient. If you do not have a recent example of a graded essay or similar to submit because you have not be enrolled in formal education for some time, then contact the graduate admissions coordinator to discuss acceptable alternatives.

Applicants wishing to focus on Visual Anthropology

If you plan to focus on visual anthropology, and if you have made films or completed substantial photographic or other graphic work, you should include links to this work in your statement of purpose. Alternatively, you can upload copies in the “other documents” section of CalApply, email files ( or mail hard copies to the Department: graduate admissions coordinator, San Francisco State University, Department of Anthropology, 1600 Holloway Ave., San Francisco, CA 94132. The format of mailed submissions should allow easy access and viewing of the work (e.g., a DVD or thumb-drive). Note: costs of postage mean that copies sent to the Department cannot be returned.

Unofficial transcripts

The Division of Graduate Studies requires you to upload unofficial copies of transcripts from every college or university attended, including study abroad and community college coursework.  If selected for admission, you must submit official transcripts to the division of graduate studies in order to secure your admission offer.

Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores

For application to Anthropology's Graduate Program, GRE examinations are optional for AY 21-22.

Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)

Students whose native language is not English and whose preparatory education was principally in a language other than English must take the TOEFL test and obtain a score of 550 on the written TOEFL test OR 80 on the internet based test (iBT TOEFL) OR have an band score of 6.5 on the International English Language Test Scheme (IELTS) OR an overall score of 55 on the Pearson Test of English (PTE).

The M.A. Handbook (pdf) describes current policies and procedures for students enrolled in the Master of Arts in Anthropology. It contains rules and guidelines specific to the Department and links to regulations that apply to all graduate students at SF State. Students are advised to also consult The Grad Guide issued and updated by the University's Graduate Division. Students with specific questions should contact the Anthropology graduate coordinator.

Important Contacts

Where Are They Now?

Recent graduates of the SF State M.A. in Anthropology are pursuing further education and employed in a wide range of professional activities. Here are a few examples:

  • Jessica Dailey, 2020 M.A. graduate in Medical Anthropology, Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Notre Dame
  • Stella Dugall, 2018 M.A. graduate in Visual Anthropology, User Experience Researcher, Google
  • Brian Gleeson, 2011 M.A. graduate in Cultural Anthropology, Director of Regulatory Affairs at Kaiser Permanente
  • Devan Glensor, 2017 M.A. graduate in Biological Anthropology, Forensic Autopsy Technician for San Mateo County
  • Erica Hill, 2021 M.A. graduate in Archaeology, Community Arts Development Specialist at the Nevada Arts Council in Northern Nevada
  • Saliem Shehadeh, 2017 M.A. graduate in Cultural Anthropology, Ph.D. Candidate at UCLA

SF State Anthropology alums have gone on to Ph.D. programs at institutions including Cambridge University, Columbia University, Ohio State University, NYU, Stanford, the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, the University of Arizona, the University of California-Berkeley, the University of California-Davis, the University of California-Los Angeles, the University of California-San Diego, the University of California-San Francisco, the University of Hawai‘i, the University of Kentucky, the University of Notre Dame, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Texas and Yale University.   

Q: Why SF State?

A: San Francisco State University provides outstanding education to students from a diverse range of backgrounds at a reasonable price. Because of its location in the Bay Area, the University has attracted an unusally high-calibre faculty, many of whom have ties with neighboring institutions such as Berkeley, Stanford and the California Academy of Sciences.

Q: Why SF State Anthropology?

A: In our department, we have developed an M.A. program that uses small class discussion as a basis for learning. Because we restrict the numbers of students entering the program, we are able to devote more one-to-one time with our students. As we normally only accept students who have research interests that match those of our faculty, we are able to integrate our graduate students into our research projects.

Q: How do I increase my chances of acceptance?

A: Applicants who have the most success will have made contact with the graduate coordinator by email as well as the particular faculty members with whom they want to work with. It is best (early in the application process) to discuss possible areas of thesis work as well as more specific thesis projects. While we are happy to talk to applicants about the general study of Anthropology, we strongly recommend that you recognize the research foci of the department and that you see how your own interests fit in with these. Finally, make sure that you have submitted (or requested the submission of) all elements of your applications.

Q: Do I have to have an undergraduate degree in Anthropology to apply?

A: No. We welcome applications from students from all subject areas. We are interested in students who have a clear idea of that they want to study in their M.A., and who have shown that they can complete advanced work to deadline. If your undergraduate degree is not in Anthropology, then we will ask that you enroll in the M.A. and then take our undergraduate introductory and foundation classes in archaeology, cultural anthropology, and biological anthropology. You may choose to take introductory classes at other institutions before you enroll at SF State, though you should discuss this with the graduate admissions coordinator first.

Q: Are there department-based sources of funding?

A: The Department of Anthropology offers two financial awards each year. The Jay Young Excellence Award is open to all students and usually pays up to $1200 to support research and conference travel, equipment purchase, and other reasonable costs linked to student work. The Kiana Dressendorfer Award is open to students working in Archaeology, usually pays up to $1200, and covers research and conference travel or other reasonable items. In addition the University and the CSU system has a host of awards that you would be eligible for; details are available at SF State graduate funding.

Q: How much does it cost?

A: The costs of the M.A. in Anthropology are set by SF State.

Q: Who should I contact if I have questions?

A: Contact the graduate admissions coordinator in the Department of Anthropology by email at with any questions. 

Q: How do I apply for a place on the M.A. in Anthropology?

A: The easiest way is to view the tab on this page that says "Apply to the M.A." to learn how to apply and what we require from you.

Q: When will I find out if I have been accepted into the program?

A: All applicants will receive a decision within two weeks of the application deadline. Exceptional candidates may be offered early admissions, shortly after their application is completed. Late applications, accepted on a space available basis, will be reviewed as they are received.

Q: Where do graduates of the M.A. program end up?

A: Graduates of the Anthropology M.A. have had great success in finding places on Ph.D. programs and in finding employment in a range of professions from teaching to medicine to marketing and on to many other areas. For a selection of destinations of recent graduates of the M.A., go to the Alumni Careers section of this page.