Updated: Jun 10
Written by: Nikki Simon
June 9th 2022
In Tuesday's post on the importance of field school and volunteer opportunities (read it here if you haven't already!), it was established that the cost of field school is one of the main reasons students choose not to or cannot participate. As I mentioned, I have taken part in several field schools and volunteer opportunities during my time as an undergraduate. The most expensive of those opportunities cost me approximately $2,000 and was overseas in Scotland; the cheapest of those opportunities was no more than $500 here in B.C. There are several ways to get field experience as an archaeology student, and some cost more than others. Still, you don't and shouldn't have to go into debt just to learn. Let me tell you what I've learned through the years and how I was able to participate without breaking the bank.
UNIVERSITY FIELD SCHOOLS
Though I am a university student myself, I have no problem saying that the most expensive field school options are field schools hosted through universities. These often cost several thousand dollars, some even coming close to $10,000. Though I don't like or agree with it, there are various reasons for the high cost. Many (but not all) are overseas, so you have flights, lodgings, meals, field trips, supplies etc. Then, on top of these expenses, students must pay for the credits they will receive for participating in the field school and its preparatory courses (tuition). If you would like to see a breakdown and better understand some of the costs associated with university hosted field schools, please check out this summer's Bioarchaeology Field School in Portugal here.
Needless to say, costs that high can and are often prohibitive for many students; luckily, there are other options.
EXTERNAL FIELD SCHOOLS
Though it is less common in Canada, there are often dozens of sites every summer worldwide looking for volunteers to help excavate. These may be sites run by PhD students, independent researchers, independent heritage and research groups, museums, etc. Despite not being hosted through a university, some of these opportunities still market themselves as field schools and are looking to help budding archaeologists learn their craft while also acquiring a labour force to help them with their research.
VOLUNTEER FIELD WORK
Others not marketed as field schools run under a similar concept without being teaching-centric. They are simply researchers and sites that may not have access to a significant amount of funding and, to cut costs, look for volunteers to help them in their research. Depending on the site, they may be looking for someone with experience (great for a second or third volunteer experience), or they may be happy for you to learn on-site. Even if a field director/site says they are looking for someone with experience, it doesn't hurt to apply!
The cost of these volunteer opportunities and extra-university field schools can vary greatly. It often depends on what the operators of the field school can cover for their volunteers through the funding they do have and the personal contributions they make. Some may cover food, and others may cover both food and lodging for the duration of your time spent on site. Regardless of the cost, it is often much cheaper than university-hosted field schools, in part because you have greater control of how the money is being spent.
There are two ways to take advantage of these opportunities as a student.
If you still wish to receive credit through your university for your time in the field, you may speak to your department's academic advisor or the department chair before you leave. Though not always possible, sometimes departments are willing to count fieldwork outside of the university toward your university credits if you can provide some record of the kind of work (and therefore learning) that you did on site. With this option, you will still be required to pay for those credits that you do receive, so this option is middling in terms of cost.
Your second option if you, like me, see what is on your resume as just as important as your GPA - is to forgo trying to receive credits for the work altogether. Just go out there and get the experience; cherish what you learn, the resume boost, and the connections you will form. With this option, you will only need to pay for what is not already covered for you; depending on the site, this might mean you only have to pay for your transportation there. Any additional costs incurred beyond that for supplies, tours, exploration, etc., will be at your own discretion. This option is, by far, the most affordable and the one I personally tend to take advantage of.
If you are looking to join one of the university-hosted experiences, like with any other university course students can apply for student aid in the form of loans and bursaries to help offset the costs of the field school. However, some financial aid institutions require a student to be enrolled in a certain number of credits (full-time) to be eligible for funding, so make sure you know the requirements.
In some cases, the field school's application process automatically enrolls students into awards programs where they may potentially be given bursaries, scholarships, and other awards to help offset the cost of the field school. However, it is essential to remember that not ALL students chosen to participate in the field school will be awarded these bursaries, scholarships and awards.
Ouside of those automatic entires there are MANY other bursaries, scholarships, and awards that a student may be eligible for both inside and outside the university. Many of these are explicitly meant for student archaeologists looking to venture into fieldwork. Sometimes, very few applications are submitted and there is little competition.
The SFU Awards & Bursaries page can be viewed here:
And here are links to some external scholarships, bursaries and awards:
Jane C. Waldbaum Archaeological Field School Scholarship:
ASOR Scholarships for Fieldwork Participation:
Explorers Club Grants:
CAA Indigenous Scholarship and Equity and Diversity Scholarship:
CABA/ACAB Field School and Training Course Bursary:
There are many more where these came from; all it takes is a little Google-fu! All scholarships and the like have a specific deadline by which you have to apply. Additionally, many have certain rules, such as requiring you to submit an essay or knowing what project you will be participating in. Make sure to read each carefully!
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Though this was only a brief overview, I hope this has helped you to better understand the costs of fieldschool and your options. It can seem overwhelming, but don't ever let the cost of something keep you from experience and learning!
Stay tuned about tomorrow's post about what to bring with you into the field!