Top 10 Colleges for Archaeology

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Male Student Working At Laptop In College Library

Top 10 Colleges for Archaeology

Archaeology offers students from top colleges a fascinating journey into humanity’s past, providing insights into ancient civilizations, their cultures, and the factors that shaped their development. This interdisciplinary field combines elements of anthropology, history, geography, and the natural sciences to study artifacts, structures, and landscapes left behind by past societies. Through careful excavation, analysis, and interpretation, archaeologists reconstruct the lifestyles, beliefs, and interactions of ancient peoples, shedding light on the foundations of modern societies.

Choosing the top colleges for archaeology for pursuing an archaeology degree is crucial for maximizing one’s college experience and future career prospects. Optimal programs provide a rich array of courses, fieldwork opportunities, and access to renowned faculty members with diverse expertise.

Furthermore, top-tier institutions often boast state-of-the-art laboratories, archaeological sites for hands-on training, and collaborations with museums or research institutions.

These resources not only enhance students’ academic growth but also prepare them for professional endeavors in academia, cultural resource management, heritage preservation, and more. By selecting a reputable school with a robust archaeology program, students can embark on an enriching educational journey that equips them with the knowledge and skills to contribute meaningfully to our understanding of the past and its relevance to contemporary society.

Top Colleges for Archaeology

1. Harvard University – Department of Anthropology

  • Location: Divinity Avenue, Cambridge MA
  • Estimated Tuition: $20,000 – $25,000
  • Degrees Offered: 
    • Undergraduate Program in Anthropology with a Secondary Field in Archeology
  • Acceptance Rate: 4%

At Harvard, Archaeology, the exploration of humanity’s history, thrives as a dynamic area of research. Its faculty, programs, and resources are spread across the Social Sciences, Humanities, and Natural Sciences departments. Students have the opportunity to get into various disciplines to deepen their understanding of the past, whether through a major, within specific disciplines, or by pursuing a Secondary Field in Archaeology.

harvard street sign

Students aiming for a secondary field in Archaeology are urged to engage in an archaeological field school either domestically or internationally. Harvard offers two summer field schools in Latin America led by its faculty, along with a course in the Archaeology of Harvard Yard offered biennially. Completion of a Harvard-sponsored or pre-approved off-campus archaeological field school enables students to apply for one half-course credit from the experience towards fulfilling the requirements of the secondary field.

2. University of Michigan – Ann Arbor – College of Literature, Science, and Arts

  • Location: S. University Ave, Ann Arbor, MI
  • Estimated Tuition: $30,000 – $35,000
  • Degrees Offered: 
    • Anthropology
    • Classical Studies
    • History
  • Acceptance Rate: 18%

At the University of Michigan, education in archaeology, material culture, and ancient civilizations spans various academic departments and programs, mirroring the diverse range of methodologies and theoretical perspectives on these subjects. Although undergraduate and graduate students are generally affiliated with specific programs outlined above, they are encouraged to explore coursework and research opportunities across these diverse units.

Additionally, students can engage with the extensive collections housed in the university’s museums and archives.

3. Stanford University – Stanford Archeology Center 

  • Location: Escondido Mall, Building 500 Stanford, CA
  • Estimated Tuition: $20,000 – $30,000
  • Degrees Offered: 
    • Bachelor of Arts in Archaeology
    • Ph.D. minor program in Archaeology
  • Acceptance Rate: 4%

Stanford’s Archaeology Program offers students an interdisciplinary exploration of the material remnants of past civilizations, integrating perspectives from the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences.

The Hoover Tower and view above Stanford at sunset in Palo Alto in California

Students approach the study of archaeology from diverse social and academic backgrounds. Faculty members provide a variety of course selections annually, enabling students to explore deeply into areas of personal interest.

Moreover, students are tasked with developing an appreciation for the historical development of archaeology as a discipline, as well as an understanding of the major trends shaping contemporary archaeological discourse. Finally, students are expected to showcase their mastery of the broad historical and theoretical trends within the field by critically analyzing and evaluating research in archaeology. These learning objectives collectively reflect the department’s commitment to fostering a comprehensive and well-rounded education in archaeology for undergraduate students.

4. University of Washington – Seattle – Department of Anthropology

  • Location: Denny Hall, Box 353100, Seattle, WA
  • Estimated Tuition: $25,000 – $28,000
  • Degrees Offered: 
    • BA in Anthropology
    • BS in Anthropology
    • PhD in Anthropology: Archaeology
    • MA in Archeological Heritage
  • Acceptance Rate: undisclosed

The UW Archaeology Program is dedicated to an explicitly scientific approach to the study of the human past and present based on material remains. Believing that the most fruitful and enduring research arises from the systematic application of scientific methodology—deduction of hypotheses and empirical evaluation—it lies at the heart of the teaching program at both undergraduate and graduate levels. Regular engagement of undergraduate and graduate students in field and laboratory research is a common practice.

The core curriculum incorporates extensive theoretical and methodological training centered on hands-on analysis of empirical data, encompassing various elements such as lithics, archaeofaunal remains, ceramics, geoarchaeological records, and landscapes.

Graduate students within the archaeology program receive a comprehensive grounding in archaeological method and theory, extensive training in laboratory techniques, and guidance in research design. Each student also develops proficiency in a chosen major cultural area. Presently, students conduct research in diverse global regions. Each student is anticipated to gain significant field experience beyond the introductory level, though the dissertation is not necessarily reliant solely on this work.

5. Cornell University – Institute of Archaeology and Material Studies

  • Location: Ithaca, NY
  • Estimated Tuition: $25,000 – $30,000
  • Degrees Offered: 
    • Bachelor of Arts in Archaeology
    • Master of Arts in Archaeology
  • Acceptance Rate: 7%

Cornell University stands out as one of the few institutions in the United States providing a distinct archaeology major alongside its graduate program. Additionally, the program introduces a new postdoctoral opportunity in archaeology.

Faculty members possess expertise spanning investigations of early societies to the historic 19th century across various departments and programs, including American Indian studies, anthropology, classics, earth and atmospheric sciences, historic preservation, history of art and visual studies, landscape architecture, and Near Eastern studies. Cornell’s archaeology focus excels notably in the eastern Mediterranean region and the Americas, encompassing both pre- and post-Columbian eras.

6. Columbia University – Columbia Center for Archaeology

  • Location: Amsterdam Ave,  MC 5523, New York, NY
  • Estimated Tuition: $22,000 – $28,000
  • Degrees Offered: 
    • Major in Archaeology
  • Acceptance Rate: 4%

Columbia’s Archaeology program operates within the Center for Archaeology and is instructed by faculty members representing diverse backgrounds. To leverage this level of expertise, an interdisciplinary major has been crafted to fully utilize the array of archaeological knowledge available at Columbia University.

Moreover, archaeology can be pursued as part of majors such as Anthropology or Art History, among other available options.

Established to capitalize on the extensive experience and expertise of Columbia faculty spanning multiple departments, the Columbia Center for Archaeology (CCA) serves as a hub for scholars and students interested in various aspects of archaeological inquiry. These include the study of the past, environmental history, materiality in the modern world, and heritage and museum studies, among other related subjects.

7. Massachusetts Institute of Technology – Center for Materials Research in Archaeology and Ethnology

  • Location: Massachusetts Avenue, Room 8-138, Cambridge, MA
  • Estimated Tuition: $22,000 – $28,000
  • Degrees Offered: 
    • Bachelor of Science in Archaeology and Materials
    • Ph.D. in Archaeological Materials
  • Acceptance Rate: 4%

MIT stands as the sole educational institution in the US offering both an undergraduate B.Sc. degree and a Ph.D. in Archaeological Materials. These degree programs meticulously balance coursework and research between the realms of human sciences and natural sciences/engineering. The Department of Materials Science and Engineering administers both degrees.

front view of the MIT done

The 3C program employed by the department is structured to provide students with extensive exposure to disciplines offering essential theoretical and methodological frameworks for studying ancient and historical non-industrial societies. Key fields integrated into the curriculum encompass anthropological archaeology, geology, and materials science and engineering.

8. University of Wisconsin – Madison – College of Letters & Science

  • Location: William H. Sewell Social Science Building, 1180 Observatory Drive, Madison,
  • Estimated Tuition: $25,000 – $32,000
  • Degrees Offered: 
    • Archaeology Certificate
  • Acceptance Rate: 49%

The archaeology certificate is structured to assist students in acquiring the knowledge and practical skills required for analyzing archaeological materials and engaging in field research. Upon completing the certificate, along with a B.A. or B.S. degree from UW–Madison, students enhance their competitiveness in graduate school applications and become eligible for entry-level employment positions in archaeology. In addition to establishing a solid intellectual grounding in archaeology and offering practical fieldwork experience, the certificate establishes an interdisciplinary connection to courses in three or more departments, exposing students to various approaches to studying the global human heritage.

Through engagement in the archaeology certificate program, students develop an appreciation for the diversity of human societies and a deeper comprehension of the cultural processes shaping contemporary life. They explore the origins of subsistence strategies, trade, technology, belief systems, and conflict, all pertinent to understanding the human condition in the modern era.

9. Pennsylvania State University – Department of Anthropology

  • Location: Carpenter Building, University Park, PA
  • Estimated Tuition: $20,000 – $25,000
  • Degrees Offered: 
    • Bachelor of Science in Archaeological Science
  • Acceptance Rate: 55%

The Bachelor of Science degree in Archaeological Science is available through the Archaeology Program within the Department of Anthropology.

This program offers a chance to build a robust groundwork in research methodologies, quantitative analysis, fieldwork techniques, and laboratory sciences. It equips students with the necessary skills and competencies to pursue careers in cultural resource management. Those considering careers in nonacademic archaeology are encouraged to explore this degree program or some of its suggested courses.

View of college students studying in a room with a table.

Archaeological Science, a subset of Anthropology, focuses on examining human cultural diversity in ancient times to comprehend cultural transformations over time. It extensively explores the economic, political, social, and ecological structures of past civilizations, their interconnections, and the evolution of societies across different eras.

10. Yale University – Council on Archaeological Studies

  • Location: Sachem Street, New Haven, CT
  • Estimated Tuition: $30,000 – $35,000
  • Degrees Offered: 
    • Undergraduate Program in Archaeological Studies
  • Acceptance Rate: 5%

The Archaeological Studies major offers an interdisciplinary curriculum encompassing prehistoric, early historic, medieval, and other cultural developments in both the Old and New Worlds. It introduces students to analytical tools essential for archaeological inquiry. The major aims to expose students to diverse research perspectives, including anthropological, historical, art-historical, and scientific approaches.

Emphasis is placed on substantive studies, such as exploring the origins of agriculture, cities, states, and early empires, as well as investigating the material culture, art, and architecture of various cultures. Topics covered include the iconography of ancient cultures, the relationship between art and society, ancient writing systems, and American historical archaeology.

What should you consider in choosing a college for archaeology?

When choosing a college for archaeology, several factors should be carefully considered to ensure the best fit for your academic and career goals:

1. Faculty expertise and research opportunities

Investigate the faculty members within the archaeology department and their areas of expertise. Look for educators who are active researchers and scholars in diverse subfields of archaeology, such as classical, historical, or prehistoric archaeology, as well as specialized areas like maritime archaeology or bioarchaeology.

Faculty involvement in research projects, fieldwork, and laboratory analysis provides valuable opportunities for hands-on learning, mentorship, and professional networking. Additionally, assess the availability of research opportunities for undergraduate students, including internships, field schools, and independent research projects, as these experiences can enhance your academic experience and career prospects.

2. Curriculum and course offerings

Evaluate the archaeology program’s curriculum and the range of courses available. A well-rounded curriculum should encompass core courses in archaeological theory, methods, and techniques, as well as specialized courses in regional or thematic areas of interest. Look for programs that offer opportunities for interdisciplinary study, allowing you to explore related fields such as anthropology, history, art history, or environmental science.

Consider whether the program offers fieldwork opportunities, laboratory training, or study abroad programs to supplement classroom learning and provide practical experience in archaeological research and practice.

3. Resources and facilities

Consider the resources and facilities available to archaeology students, including laboratories, research libraries, artifact collections, and field equipment. Access to state-of-the-art technology, such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS), remote sensing, or digital imaging, is essential for conducting archaeological research and analysis.

Moreover, examine the university’s partnerships with museums, cultural institutions, and archaeological organizations, as these collaborations may provide access to additional resources, internship opportunities, and professional networking events.

4. Fieldwork opportunities and location

Explore the university’s location and its proximity to archaeological sites, museums, and cultural heritage sites. Consider whether the program offers opportunities for fieldwork, excavation, or survey projects, either locally or abroad.

Fieldwork experience is essential for aspiring archaeologists to gain practical skills in excavation techniques, site recording, artifact analysis, and interpretation. Additionally, exposure to diverse archaeological contexts and cultural landscapes can broaden your understanding of archaeological theory and practice and enrich your academic experience.

5. Alumni success and career support

Research the career outcomes of alumni from the archaeology program and assess the level of career support provided by the college or university. Alumni success stories, testimonials, and professional achievements can offer insights into the program’s effectiveness in preparing students for careers in archaeology or related fields.

View of a student talking to a person wearing a suit.

Additionally, inquire about career services, job placement assistance, and networking opportunities offered by the university’s career center, archaeology department, or alumni network. Robust career support services can help students navigate internship opportunities, job searches, graduate school applications, and professional development activities, facilitating a smooth transition from academia to the workforce.

6. Faculty-student ratio and class sizes

Consider the faculty-student ratio and class sizes within the archaeology program. Smaller class sizes and a low faculty-student ratio often result in more personalized attention, mentorship, and opportunities for academic engagement and collaboration. Look for programs that prioritize student-centered learning and foster a supportive and inclusive learning environment.

Additionally, assess the availability of faculty office hours, research seminars, and extracurricular activities, as these opportunities can enhance your academic experience and foster meaningful relationships with faculty mentors and peers.

What can you do with a degree in archaeology?

Archaeology is a captivating field that explores humanity’s past through the study of material remains such as artifacts, structures, and landscapes. With its interdisciplinary nature, archaeology encompasses aspects of anthropology, history, geography, and the natural sciences.

Graduates with a degree in archaeology and from the top colleges for archaeology possess a versatile skill set that opens doors to diverse career opportunities in fields such as cultural resource management, museum curation, heritage conservation, and academic research.

1. Archaeologist: Graduates with a degree in archaeology often pursue careers as archaeologists, conducting fieldwork, excavations, and laboratory analysis to study past human cultures and societies. They work for government agencies, cultural resource management firms, museums, universities, and research institutions.

Archaeologists contribute to our understanding of history, culture, and heritage by uncovering and interpreting archaeological remains such as artifacts, architecture, and human remains.

2. Cultural Resource Manager: Cultural resource management (CRM) professionals assess and manage archaeological sites and cultural resources to ensure their preservation and protection during development projects. They conduct surveys, impact assessments, and mitigation strategies to comply with regulations and preserve cultural heritage.

With a degree in archaeology, individuals can work for consulting firms, government agencies, or non-profit organizations involved in heritage conservation and historic preservation.

3. Museum Curator or Educator: Archaeology graduates from the top colleges for archaeology may pursue careers as museum curators or educators, responsible for managing museum collections, designing exhibitions, and educating the public about archaeology and cultural heritage.

They develop educational programs, lead guided tours, and engage with visitors to interpret archaeological artifacts and convey their significance within broader historical and cultural contexts.

4. Heritage Manager: Heritage managers work to conserve and promote cultural heritage sites, monuments, and landscapes. They collaborate with local communities, government agencies, and NGOs to develop sustainable preservation strategies, promote tourism, and raise awareness about cultural heritage conservation.

With a background in archaeology, individuals can contribute to heritage management initiatives focused on preserving and celebrating cultural diversity and heritage assets.

5. Archaeological Consultant: Archaeological consultants provide expertise and guidance on archaeological issues related to land development, construction projects, or environmental assessments. They conduct research, evaluate project impacts on archaeological resources, and recommend mitigation measures to protect cultural heritage. Archaeological consultants play a crucial role in balancing development needs with the preservation of archaeological sites and resources.

6. Archaeological Illustrator or Photographer: Archaeology graduates with artistic skills may pursue careers as illustrators or photographers specializing in archaeological subjects.

They produce accurate visual representations of archaeological sites, artifacts, and reconstructions for publications, exhibits, educational materials, and research purposes. Archaeological illustrators and photographers contribute to communicating archaeological findings to diverse audiences in a visually compelling and accessible manner.

7. Academic Researcher or Professor: With advanced degrees in archaeology, individuals can pursue careers as academic researchers or professors in universities and research institutions. They conduct original research, publish scholarly articles, and teach courses on archaeological theory, methods, and specific cultural periods or regions. Archaeological researchers contribute to expanding knowledge in the field and training future generations of archaeologists.

8. Cultural Heritage Tourism Specialist: Cultural heritage tourism specialists develop and promote tourism initiatives focused on archaeological sites, historic landmarks, and cultural attractions. They create interpretive materials, design guided tours, and collaborate with local communities to enhance visitor experiences and promote sustainable tourism practices. Archaeology graduates with expertise in cultural heritage management and interpretation can pursue careers in this growing sector.

9.Archaeological Conservator: Archaeological conservators from the top colleges for archaeology specialize in the preservation and conservation of archaeological artifacts and materials. They assess artifact condition, conduct conservation treatments, and develop long-term preservation strategies to prevent deterioration and ensure the longevity of cultural heritage objects. Archaeological conservators play a critical role in safeguarding archaeological collections for future generations to study and enjoy.

10. Forensic Archaeologist: Forensic archaeologists apply archaeological methods and techniques to assist law enforcement agencies in criminal investigations, disaster recovery efforts, and human rights initiatives. They excavate and analyze forensic evidence such as human remains, burial sites, and clandestine graves to provide insights into criminal activities, identify victims, and bring closure to families of missing persons. Forensic archaeology requires specialized training and expertise in archaeological fieldwork, osteology, and forensic science.



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