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Forensic Anthropology Program

students looking at a skull


Forensic Anthropology is the application of anthropological method and theory to matters of legal concern, particularly those that relate to the recovery and analysis of the human skeleton.

Here at WCU, our program offers a B.S. in Anthropology with a Forensic Anthropology Concentration, along with a Forensic Anthropology Minor.

The goal of WCU's forensic anthropology program is to provide our students with the education and skills needed to support their future careers in forensic anthropology or related fields such as death investigation, law enforcement, or medicine.

We support student research as well as engaged learning experiences outside of the classroom.

  • Understand the function and role of forensic anthropology within the medicolegal system. 
  • Be able to perform a systematic search and recovery of a scene using the principles of forensic archaeology.  
  • Understand how bones grow and develop. 
  • Be able to identify each bone in the human body and locate associated characteristics and bony landmarks.  
  • Understand how and when to perform various skeletal analyses with an emphasis on theoretical strengths and weaknesses of each technique.  
  • Be able to generate a biological profile for an unknown set of human skeletal remains. 
  • Recognize the primary forms of bone trauma, and differentiate skeletal trauma from taphonomic modifications.  
  • Understand how to generate an estimate of the time since death for a set of remains. 
  • Understand how forensic anthropologists can contribute to the positive identification of an unknown set of remains.

The major requires 36 hours as follows: Nine (9) hours of Anthropology Core courses, nine (9) hours of Anthropology Perspective courses, nine (9) hours of Forensic Anthropology Core courses specified for the concentration, and nine (9) hours of Anthropology Program Electives are required in the major. Students must also finish an approved Engaged Learning Experience (ELE) to complete the requirements for the degree.   

Each student is required to work with his/her departmental advisor to enter into an Engaged Learning Requirement Contract no later than the end of drop/add period during the semester prior to their graduating semester, and must complete the contract no later than the last day of classes of the semester prior to their graduating semester. This contract will detail the specific activities to be undertaken and corresponding deliverable to be produced during the experience. Engaged Learning Experiences may be associated with a travel course, independent study, internship, designated Engaged Learning course, or an independent engaged learning experience, but the timely completion of an Engaged Learning Requirement Contract is required.  

Additional requirements for the major (42 hours) 
To complete the program, 42 hours are required, including a second major, a minor, or another approved program. Students must take at least 30 hours of coursework at the junior-senior level at WCU to satisfy general degree requirements.

The minor requires 21 total hours with 15 credit hours of the following courses: 

  • ANTH 110 - Origins of Civilization (3 credits)
  • ANTH 120 - Comparative Cultural Systems (3 credits) 
  • ANTH 251 - Introduction to Forensic Anthropology (3 credits) 
  • ANTH 300 - Human Osteology (3 credits; previously ANTH 264)
  • ANTH 400 - Human Osteology Method & Theory (3 credits) 

Additional requirements for the minor (6 credit hours): 

6 hours of junior-senior level (i.e. 300/400 level) anthropology courses, Students may use up to 3 hours of Native American Studies (NAS) courses as program electives.


Forensic Anthropology FAQ  

How do I apply to the program?

In order to be part of our program here at WCU, all you need to do is become admitted to WCU, then declare either the forensic anthropology concentration Major or Minor. We have no other specific requirements for admission to the forensic anthropology program. Note, Human Osteology is a difficult course which demands that students apply themselves to learn human skeletal anatomy. This skill is required for other upper level courses as well as practicing forensic anthropology.

What Can I Do To Be Prepared?

The best advice is to get good grades, especially in your science and math classes. Biology, Anatomy, and Statistics are very important to forensic anthropology and having a background in them will give you an advantage. Additionally, consider finding an internship that will give you hands-on experience in anthropology, archaeology, museum studies, or forensic science. As a side note, we’re happy to accept transfer students into the forensic anthropology concentration once you’re been accepted to WCU.

Can I tour of the human decomposition facility?

Unfortunately, we do not allow tours of the FOREST facility to students or student groups. Here at WCU we are big supporters of science education and outreach, however, due to confidentiality as well as safety reasons, we do not allow tours of this facility to non-professional groups. Information about WCU's body donation process can be found here.

What Can You Do With ThIS Degree?

For students with a bachelor’s degree specializing in forensic anthropology there many are options for careers and continuing education. The three primary ways to apply this degree are:  

1. Becoming a forensic anthropologist 
To become a professional forensic anthropologist, students must continue on with their education and go to graduate school. Currently, the minimum qualification to become certified by the American Board of Forensic Anthropology is a PhD in anthropology or a related field. This means that students interested in becoming full-time forensic anthropologists must go to graduate school and obtain a PhD in anthropology in order to become board certified (similar to becoming certified by a board with a degree in medicine). There are also many opportunities to obtain an M.A. or M.S. graduate degree specializing in forensic anthropology which can assist students getting into PhD programs, performing forensic anthropology in more assistant-type positions, and gaining significant amounts of education and experience with forensic anthropology casework.  

2. Using forensic anthropology as part of other job duties 
There are many careers where someone trained in forensic anthropology can apply these skills to casework when the demand arises, but where forensic anthropology is not part of the daily routine or primary job duties. The most common careers in this category are Death Investigators and Autopsy Assistants. These are both positions which are part of the medicolegal death investigation team and are found in almost all coroner or medical examiner offices in the United States. While the primary duties of these positions do not incorporate forensic anthropology, in smaller offices where staffing a full-time forensic anthropologist is not feasible, individuals in these positions with training in forensic anthropology can assist the forensic pathologists with their skills and background.  

3. Applying skills from education in forensic anthropology 
The analytical problem solving skills which are learned in forensic anthropology can apply to a plethora of different careers. Forensic anthropology is an applied scientific field, so skills in this program are most readily applicable to other applied fields such as medicine (i.e., radiology, pathology), law enforcement, cadaver dog handling, various laboratory positions (e.g., Laboratory Quality Assurance), and other fields of anthropology (archaeology, bioarchaeology). For example, bringing archaeological practices to outdoor crime scene processing as well as the determination of human versus nonhuman bone is a unique function of forensic anthropology/archaeology and many find successful careers in law enforcement with these skills. Additionally, reading radiographic films is an important skill for anyone interested in a future as a radiologist, dentist, or X-ray technician.

What Minor Can I Pair With ThIS Degree?

While students can choose any minor to pair with their major, in the WCU forensic anthropology concentration, we suggest that students consider a minor in Biology. While any related field is helpful, hard science classes are viewed more favorably when students are applying for graduate programs in forensic anthropology. Other minors to consider are: English, Criminal Justice, History, Chemistry, or any foreign language.

how can I prepare for graduate school?

In the United States, the most important academic markers for graduate school admission are your Grade Point Average (GPA) and your score on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). There are not very many forensic anthropology graduate schools in the U.S. and many students are interested in obtaining graduate degrees in forensic anthropology. Because of this high demand for continuing education, if students are interested in attending graduate school for forensic anthropology, we recommend that students maintain AT LEAST a 3.0 GPA, and get a combined score of AT LEAST a 300 on the revised-GRE. The higher the GPA and GRE score, the more competitive you will be when applying to graduate schools (for more about GRE scores in general see: this article).

For students unable to achieve these minimum scores, we suggest planning for careers where they can apply their training in forensic anthropology without a graduate degree.

Here at WCU, our program in forensic anthropology introduces students to the discipline, providing them with in depth training with numerous hands-on educational experiences in the field and laboratory. We support student research as well as engaged learning experiences outside of the classroom. The goal of WCU's forensic anthropology program is to provide our students with the education and skills needed to support their future careers in forensic anthropology or related fields such as death investigation, law enforcement, or medicine.

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