Indiana Jones probably opened up the world of archeology to millions who had no idea what it was. And while most archaeologists in the real world won't be risking their lives to find ancient treasures like the Holy Grail, the path to a career in archeology is the same.
Archaeologists have four main areas of employment and different levels of education to obtain these careers. Academic positions in community colleges, colleges and universities, each one requiring more education. Museums are another career path with positions in the museum all the way up to curatorship. State and governmental agencies hire many archaeologists in areas like state parks. The last career path is in the private sector, where archaeologists often work to locate historic sites, excavate sites before construction and for private companies.
An archaeologist is a bit like a detective in that he searches for clues learn how a past culture lived and died. They work in dig sites but spend a majority of their time in labs analyzing the data they have found. Archaeologists work in teams, usually employed by a university or museum. This type of job requires a lot of patience and attention to detail, and not necessarily as glamorous as Indiana Jones made it seem!
Now that you know what an archaeologist does - how do you enter into this field? First of all it depends on the kind of archeology you want to go into, as there are many different types. During the early 1900s anthropology programs were born to help study the American Indians, and thus there are very few separate courses strictly on archeology. A major in archeology means taking courses in all of the sub-disciplines, which includes cultural anthropology, physical anthropology and linguistic anthropology. It is also recommended that the student learns several ancient and modern languages like Greek, Latin, German and French. An undergraduate degree is generally all that is required to become a field archaeologist.
There are two levels of graduate training beyond the undergraduate program to procure higher level jobs. The first level takes 1-2 years to complete and almost always includes a thesis to report research findings. An M.A. or M.S. in archeology is sufficient training to be a field director or to work for most government programs. It is also enough to teach at a some community colleges or work at a museum. An M.A./M.S. in archeology with a thesis and at least one year of field and laboratory work is the minimum for certification by the Society of Professional Archaeologists.
The second level is Ph.D., a requirement for university professors and museum curators. A Ph.D. takes an additional 2-3 years to complete, including an oral dissertation in the field of your interest.
The American Anthropological Association publishes an annual AAA Guide that lists the colleges and universities with the most undergraduate and graduate programs in the U.S. Some graduate programs offer streamlined tracts for those wanting a Ph.D., while others require going through a M.A./M.S. program. Whichever path a future archaeologist chooses to take it is certain to be a rewarding career like no other.