Human Evolutionary Biology Master's Programs

This article gives a brief introduction to what is required for admission into and completion of a master's program related to human evolutionary biology. Learn about the courses you can expect to take and some of the possible career paths in store.

Master's Programs Related to Human Evolutionary Biology

Human evolutionary biology explores the interaction between human organisms and the myriad external and internal factors driving evolution. It strives to answer such questions as 'How did the evolutionary process create humans?' 'How is evolution still shaping humanity?' and 'How can that knowledge help us now?'

Human evolutionary biology (HEB) is a developing subfield of anthropology also known as biological anthropology. The relatively new discipline of HEB is slowly branching off of traditional biological anthropology. It may be challenging to find master's programs entirely devoted to HEB, and doctoral programs may be somewhat more common. However, selecting a master's program in biological anthropology, with a human focus in mind, could prepare you for the same types of careers.

Due to its robust sphere of disciplines a master's degree in biological anthropology/HEB could lead to many occupations in medicine, conservation, museums, government, law enforcement, or in the private sector (ergonomic design, behavioral marketing).

The need to understand the questions of 'Why are humans human?', 'What effect do humans have on their environment and vice versa?' and 'What drives human behavior?' has never been greater; expanding populations, new outbreaks, climate change and social media are just some of the countless intertwining aspects of reality tackled by biological anthropologists.

What to Expect from These Master's Programs

Completion of this type of program generally takes between 2-4 years of study and 30-36 credits. There are both MA and MS degrees offered in biological anthropology. Some master's programs are part of a doctoral track while others are not; make sure you know which option(s) a department offers.

Some programs require successful completion of a master's exam and fieldwork. A master's thesis is generally not required but independent research is encouraged; always confirm whatever completion requirements a specific program demands. Applicants should always explore the research projects available and contact the faculty with whom they wish to work before applying. The following may be common courses encountered in these programs:

Forensic Anthropology

Study laboratory and field techniques required to locate, excavate and collect contemporary and ancient human remains, relevant materials and samples while avoiding contamination. You might examine skeletal remains, fossil records and genetic clues to solve mysteries and crimes throughout time and space. Students might also explore how to recognize, document and analyze crime scene evidence such as blood spatter and prints.

Evolution of Human Health

These courses may use molecular and genetic techniques to examine the internal and external forces which have shaped modern human health. Major evolutionary, technological and cultural shifts are studied in conjuncture with material samples and written records to establish natural patterns forming system feedback loops. Students might also explore the vital role viruses have played driving the genetic evolution of their human hosts.


Study the behavioral and anatomical evolution of humans and other primates through analysis of the Paleolithic record. You might practice analytical techniques used to study fossils to better understand our human origins and biological similarities and variations. Examine Paleolithic technology and subsistence behavior and their evolution into modern day culture and technology.

Human Evolutionary Genetics

These courses often combine the disciplines of genetics, genomics, and developmental biology to study human biology and behavior from the perspective of gene evolution. Study how the human genome differs between individuals and evolutionary groups and the possible mechanisms that created and programmed it. The physiological traits analogous across different species and the evolutionary processes responsible for such parallel development may also be explored. These differences and similarities might be analyzed for their anthropological, forensic and medical insights.


This type of class might look at the dynamic relationship between human population and systems, emphasizing health, culture, infrastructure, vital statistics, evolution and how they change over time and space. Use statistics and computational algorithms to learn how various, seemingly unconnected, systems affect human population and how, in turn, they are affected by population. Analyze and reconstruct demographic patterns of disease, nutrition, and biological relationships of contemporary and past human populations.

Program Requirements for Admittance

Applicants are required to have a baccalaureate degree from an accredited institution. While most graduate anthropology programs do not require particular bachelor's degrees for admission, students are usually expected to have some undergraduate experience in archaeology, anthropology and/or biology. A background in statistics and mathematics may also be desired.

Students are also generally required to have an above average cumulative undergraduate GPA (usually 3.0 out of 4.0) and GRE scores (minimum 50-75%). Articulate and concise statements of purpose, as well as multiple letters of recommendation, are also usual requirements for admission.

In conclusion, obtaining a master's degree in human evolutionary biology/biological anthropology requires a thirst for analyzing clues and solving mysteries sometimes millions of years old and a 2-4 year commitment. Admissions into these programs typically require at least a bachelor's degree and satisfactory GPA and GRE scores.

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