Choosing Graduate Programs in Art History: A Guide for Prospective Students

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Art history is the academic study of the historical development of various kinds of art including paintings, sculptures, ceramics, architecture and other decorative objects. Art historians work as educators at the high school and college level. They also work in museums, libraries and other non-profit organizations as curators, archivists and conservators. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the occupational outlook for archivists and curators includes a much faster than average employment growth rate with a 20 percent increase between 2008 and 2018. . However competition for the available jobs is expected because there will be more qualified people than there are jobs available.

Art historians who want to start off at a higher level of employment or pay especially in museums are expected to have at least a master’s degree. It is also advisable for those whose first degree is not in art history to get a master’s in the subject. People with a bachelor’s in art history can start at relevant entry-level jobs and work their way up. If you are interested in teaching at the college level you should pursue a Ph.D. People with a master’s degree may be able to teach at community colleges. Here are some tips to go about choosing graduate programs in art history.

Choosing an Art History Master’s Program

According to, a website that tracks all things graduate school, there are 108 master’s programs in the history of art, architecture and archeology in the United States. While it is sometimes convenient to use popular rankings as a basis for deciding what graduate programs to apply to, these rankings may not help you find the best program for you. Also in some cases like in art history, there may not be a popular ranking out there to use. When choosing graduate programs in art history, it is important to do your background research first.

The best thing to do is to create your own ranking using appropriate tools and criteria that are important to you. These may include such things as location, program size, tuition rate, availability of financial aid and scholarships, a particular sub-specialty and research topic, diversity, and student resources.

For example using’s personal ranking system, I created a ranking for the top art history graduate schools based on high scores from the National Research Council, faculty research productivity, availability of student resources in the form of professional development and individual work spaces, and student outcomes in terms of help with getting jobs and general career development. Using these criteria, here are the top 10 art history graduate programs:

  • 1. University of California-Berkeley
  • 1. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • 3. Harvard University
  • 3. University of Chicago
  • 3. Yale University
  • 3. University of Pennsylvania
  • 7. Brown University
  • 8. Northwestern University
  • 8. The University of Texas at Austin

Application and Funding

Once you have narrowed down a list of schools and programs you may be interested in, it is time to draw out a plan for application. It is always a good idea to allow yourself about a year for doing your search, taking necessary exams such as the GRE, getting your letters of recommendation, and completing your applications. This is especially pertinent if you are looking for funding and applying to many schools. You also need time to prepare a good personal statement that will give you the best shot at being admitted and funded.

There is no substitute for being organized. It is a good idea to have a spreadsheet or similar visual table that lists all the schools and programs you are applying to with such details as application requirements and deadlines. If you are a paper person, then you should have a folder for each school.