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Q&A: How to become a Forensic Anthropologist?

by tom44 on May 21, 2013

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Question by Ladida:): How to become a Forensic Anthropologist?
I am in high school, and I want to find out more about forensic anthropology. I would like to be a medical examiner, so any info you have on this would be great. Where is the closest college to Colorado that I can study forensic science? ANY info would be a great help. Thanks!

Best answer:

Answer by Eleanor
Well, if you want to be a medical examiner, you have to go to medical school. That means you’d go to college (4 years) become a doctor (MD) (another 4 years) and then complete a residency in pathology or forensic medicine (4 final years) to become a medical examiner, for a total of 12 years post high school of education. This is an intensive form of training but the pay is excellent. You will need outstanding grades and test scores out of high school in order to get into a great college, and then you will need to perform very, very well in college to get into med school. The year before you graduate college, you will need to take a test called the MCAT, which is a test on physics, chemistry, calculus, and other basic science courses (you will learn what you need to know in college) and get at least a score of at least an 11 (most people cannot do this without intensive study). To get into med school you will also need to have excellent letters of reference from professors who know you very, very well and can say really good things about you personally, not just somebody you took a class with but someone you had a special relationship with, like you worked on one of their projects. You will need to pursue independent research projects as well to be likely to be admitted to med school. Once you get there, it’s quite challenging as well.

If what you want to be is a forensic anthropologist, however, you should know that these people are PhD’s, not MD’s (i.e., they are not medical examiners) but experts in (usually) hard tissues such as teeth and bones, that they can use to identify individuals who have decomposed. Their PhD is typically in a field called biological anthropology, not forensic anthropology, although they may have a masters degree in forensics. Forensics is a subfield of bioanthro and you can expect to complete a full PhD in regular old bioanthro in order to be qualified for such a job. This means 4 years of college, anywhere from 2-3 years for your forensics masters, and an additional 6 years to complete a doctorate.

The best places to go for such a degree are New York City (John Jay College of Criminal Justice for your masters, plus any one of a number of great schools for med school, such as Columbia) or Washington, DC, for George Washington University (EXCELLENT bioanthro department, medical school, and a masters in forensics are all available). There are other choices for bioanthro that are superb, such as Harvard, UW-Madison, U Michigan, U Arizona, UC Davis, Emory, and Duke.

Any way you slice it, you’re looking forward to a LOT of school, a lot of competition, a bunch of sticky dead people who stink to high heaven, and a very high chance of failure/monstrous debt pursuing this dream. I recommend giving it a lot of thought before you borrow any money. Also, forget about staying in Colorado and go where your best chances lie. Few people get anywhere in life without cutting some ties when they graduate high school.

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