Professor and student examining skull

Forensic and Biological Anthropology

Master of Science

The Forensic and Biological Anthropology track in the Master of Science in Anthropology program at Mercyhurst University lies within the Department of Applied Forensic Sciences. This program is the first in the country focused primarily on providing students with a comprehensive basic training regimen in the field. This 38- to 44-credit program is highly selective, welcoming on average a cohort of eight students to campus each fall.

The program encompasses a rigorous curriculum that includes a strong grounding in biological/bioarchaeological anthropology, while emphasizing all of the major components of the forensic anthropology discipline, including forensic osteology, forensic archaeology, forensic taphonomy, biostatistics, and skeletal trauma.


Program Overview

  • Options: Master of Science, graduate certificate
  • Location(s): On campus
  • Credits: 39-44 credits
  • Duration: Minimum 21 months
  • Cost: $1,026 per credit; $46,000 total
  • Deadline: Preferred application deadline of Jan. 15
  • Start term(s): Fall semester
  • Career: Lead death investigator, coroner, Ph.D. candidate

Our forensic and biological anthropology program is one of the only programs in the country to provide students with hands-on learning and participation in real forensic casework beginning in their first semester. Called upon to assist in more than 100 cases each year, students in this program have the unique opportunity to conduct forensic archaeological recoveries of human remains and use their knowledge of human and faunal skeletal remains while working on real forensic cases.

In addition to our service to the community through forensic casework, our program emphasizes science-based, quantitative research. Through the development of a publishable master’s thesis, students are expected to disseminate research in written and oral formats, particularly at national and regional scientific conferences.

Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of the Forensic and Biological Anthropology Concentration curriculum in the Master of Science in Anthropology program, students will be able to:

  • Apply archaeological method and theory to forensic contexts.
  • Analyze and interpret human and faunal skeletal remains.
  • Develop, through advanced quantitative analysis, science-based research designs.
  • Communicate scientific findings in written and oral form.

Admissions Requirements

Applicants must fulfill the following admissions requirements. To ensure full consideration, all applications and associated documents should be received by the Office of Graduate Admissions no later than our preferred application deadline January 15. Applications received after January 15 may be considered if seats remain in the cohort after the first round of decisions. The average annual cohort size is eight students for this highly-selective program.

  • Completed free online application.
  • A bachelor’s degree in any discipline from an accredited school. Ideal candidates will have a very strong undergraduate record/degree in a field of anthropology (e.g., forensic anthropology, bioarchaeology, physical anthropology, or archaeology), natural science (e.g., biology, chemistry), mathematics, or forensic science.
  • Official transcripts from all post-secondary institutions you’ve attended.
  • Current resume/curriculum vitae.
  • Letter of intent (500-750 words) outlining the student’s education and career aspirations as well as any relevant and/or interesting life experience and any additional information the applicant feels would be important to include. This may include any funding or scholarships achieved by the applicant, research projects, internships, professional meetings attended, publications, past careers, special skills, etc.
  • Three letters of recommendation from educational or professional contacts or employers who have known the applicant for a substantial amount of time on a professional basis. In addition to the letters, contacts must fill in a graduate recommendation form.
  • GRE (General Test) scores. Typically we require a score of 300 or above on the revised scale. Scores should be received by January 15 for full consideration.
  • A personal interview. The most qualified candidates will be invited to campus for an interview with the program director. The program requires an abundance of group work, so personable, adaptable students are preferred. Compatible personalities are essential in order to produce a cohesive group and working environment.
  • International applicants whose records are written in a language other than English must have their documents translated into English and a notarized statement attesting to the accuracy of the translations. International applicants whose primary language is not English must attain a TOEFL score of at least 69 on the Internet-based exam OR an IELTS score of at least 5.8 OR a Duolingo English Test score of no less than 100.

Admissions decisions are made by the program director after a holistic review. 

Career Paths

Mercyhurst has a distinguished network of alumni working throughout the world in the fields related to biological and forensic anthropology. You can be confident that, should you successfully earn your master’s degree in forensic and biological anthropology from Mercyhurst University, you will be well positioned to work in the field in careers such as lead death investigators, coroners, or forensic anthropologists. We’ll also prepare you to pursue your Ph.D., so that you can become a professor, like many of our graduates before you.

Available Programs

    The curriculum for Forensic and Biological Anthropology combines field and laboratory training to produce students with the skills and experience necessary to be competitive candidates for Ph.D. programs in a variety of fields, including biological anthropology, bioarchaeology, and anatomy.

    The curriculum is constructed such that full-time students must complete seven core courses in their first year and four core courses in the second year. Students in their second year have the option of taking a variety of elective courses. At the end of the first year, students are required to take a comprehensive examination, including a written and practical portion, in order to demonstrate competency to move on to the second year. Most students have their master’s thesis proposals formulated by the end of their first year and will write and defend their thesis by the end of their second year, although some have taken up to three years to finish.


    The one-year, 15-18 credit Graduate Certificate Program in Forensic and Biological Anthropology is available to students looking to enhance their undergraduate education with courses and hands-on training in preparation for professional careers or graduate school. The certificate program is particularly useful for students interested in acquiring practical experience in the specific methods and theory of forensic anthropology; however, the certificate is also appropriate for applicants interested in careers in medicolegal death investigation, biological anthropology, bioarchaeology, anatomy, or other closely related fields.