Frequently Asked Questions

If you have questions we haven't answered, contact Bernice Patterson or (919) 684-4544 and she will be happy to assist you.

How selective is the process of being admitted?

It is a competitive process. Typically, we get anywhere from 120 to 150 applications a year, and are able to matriculate 4 students with full funding.  All those admitted are invited for a campus visit (usually in March), at our expense, to learn more about the department, the university, and the area.

How will I be able to pay if I am admitted?

Students are given full funding for five years, including tuition, fees, and a living stipend. This is contingent on  good progress towards degree. Students also receive six years of health insurance coverage. The expectation is that students will apply for other fellowships within and outside Duke, especially for  field research and the write-up phase. We also encourage applicants to apply for the NSF Graduate Fellowship, which pays most expenses for three years. The NSF offers greater overall flexibility in the choice of graduate school given an increased  likelihood of acceptance. In addition, those students who are successful in winning an outside fellowship to support field research (e.g. Wenner-Gren, SSRC, Fulbright) will be able to "bank" an additional semester of departmental support.

Funding in greater detail

The Graduate School offers a competitive package providing Ph.D. students financial support for a majority of the time they are registered and working toward their degree. This support includes four main components: a stipend, tuition, fees, and health insurance.

Generally speaking, The Graduate School guarantees Ph.D. students five years of stipend, tuition, and fees support, plus six years of full coverage for health insurance premiums.

Departments with Ph.D. programs vary in the financial support they provide beyond the guaranteed funding package. We strongly encourage prospective and current students to talk to their program’s director of graduate studies (DGS) to get a clear understanding of the financial support they can expect from the department as they plan their budget for their time in graduate school. We have created a table showing who's paying for what in which year to help students plan their finances during graduate school.

What should I include in my personal statement?

This is typically the single most important part of your application. There is no single formula for writing a strong statement, but it should not be a simple autobiography and should focus instead on your interest in Cultural Anthropology. We are looking for evidence that you know how to think critically about society and culture, and are able to make use of social theory to make sense of a particular research topic or theme. You do not need to specify a single narrow topic (and many students change their topic during graduate school), but you should use the statement to delineate your prime research interests in terms of geographical area and subject. It is often also a good idea to explain why you think our department, in particular, would be a good fit for you. Please include three keywords indicating your area of interest. To assist you, we have provided some sample personal statements from successful applicants. 

What is the department’s record in placing its graduates?

We have an excellent record of placing our graduates in tenure-track jobs, including many at top universities. Of our graduates in the last 5 years 58% are in tenure track university positions, 25% are in visiting teaching or postdoctoral fellowship positions, and 17% are in non-university positions. We have graduates as professors at Harvard, Berkeley, U of Washington, Washington U, George Washington, Columbia, Wesleyan, Yale, Holy Cross, and other leading institutions.

Some of our Ph.D.s choose non-academic careers, including taking museum directorships or working in government or for non-governmental organizations.

What should my GPA be?

On average, our new students have an overall college GPA of 3.7 or above, but a lower average does not necessarily disqualify you. We look at your entire application, and pay strong attention to your personal statement, writing sample, faculty recommendations, and areas of interest. 

What about the GRE?

  • COVID-19 Update:

    At this time the GRE remains optional so as to accommodate the ongoing challenges of study and test taking in the midst of a pandemic.

  • In a normal year, we pay greater attention to Verbal and Writing sections of the GREs, since Duke's Cultural Anthropology program does not involve quantitative work. Most successful candidates have Verbal GREs of at least 600 and are in the top 80 percentile in the Writing section; but a lower score does not necessarily disqualify you. Again, the GRE remains optional at this time.

When should I take the GRE

If you are still intent on taking the GRE testing must take place within the 5 years prior to your application to our department. An official report of the scores, sent directly from Educational Testing Service, must be provided (institution code 5156). This is a Duke Graduate School rule and there are no exceptions made. If you were to retake the GREs, please do so early enough that your scores will reach us by the December application deadline. Again, the GRE remains optional at this time.

What kind of writing sample should I send?

You should submit a sample of relatively recent writing, 10 to 20 pages double-spaced in length. It can be a paper for a course, or a part of a senior thesis or another longer essay.

What are the language requirements for the Ph.D.?

All candidates for the Ph.D. degree in Cultural Anthropology are required to demonstrate proficiency in one foreign language. These tests will be administered by a qualified individual within or outside the Department, as appointed by the Director of Graduate Studies. International students from non-English speaking countries do not have to fulfill this requirement, since they already speak two languages.

Does the graduate program involve an examination system?

Instead of an exam system students compile a portfolio, in collaboration with their committee members, consisting of three annotated reading lists, course syllabi (one course syllabus for Track 1, two course syllabi for Track 2), and a grant proposal (which outlines their dissertation research). A portfolio/dissertation research workshop is held with the committee at the end of the student's fifth or sixth semesters, just before they go into the field. For more information on this system, see the Portfolio page.

What is Durham like?

Durham is a dynamic, creative, and hard-working city known for its history of political activism, cultural life, and great mix of people. It has terrific housing opportunities for graduate students at reasonable rates and the area has much to offer with its famous food scene, easy access to beach and mountains, excellent state park system, and the add-ons of nearby Chapel Hill and Raleigh. Duke students may take courses for credit at UNC-Chapel Hill. Learn more about Living in Durham.