What is Graduate School?
Graduate study is an apprenticeship in a specialized field of study. In Art History, it transforms students into professionals, prepared to teach at the college level or to pursue a career in the museum. Pursuing a graduate degree in Art History requires a personal commitment to research and writing.
Practically, graduate school as it will be discussed here concerns two types of degrees: a Master's degree and a Ph.D. The former takes, usually, two years; the latter typically from five to eight.
The Master's degree
• Why pursue a Master's degree?
A Master's degree will help you get a better job in any field. It will also help you prepare for entry into a Ph.D. program, especially if you are planning to study an area in which you have limited experience. It can also help you to decide if you want to continue studying Art History.
• What studying for a Master's entails.
A Master's typically takes two years to complete. Your first year consists of course-work, while your second is devoted to research and to the writing of a Master's Thesis.
• How to decide where to study?
In general, in trying to decide where to pursue a Master's degree, you will want to place emphasis on the institution (rather than specific professors). You can ask many of the same questions outlined below under "Evaluating Programs." We suggest speaking with faculty to determine some potential good fits for you.
• Why pursue a Ph.D.?
A Ph.D. is required if you would like to teach at the college level, if you would like to work as a curator, or become the director of a museum.
• What studying for a Ph.D. entails.
A Ph.D. traditionally takes about five to ten years to complete. During the first two years you follow the course of an M.A. (course-work, thesis/qualifying paper). In this time, you develop a specialization, and improve your language skills (many good programs require you to take proficiency tests in three or four languages--written translations; for European/US art = including French and German). If you drop out after having completed course-work and a "qualifying paper," you are often accorded a Master's degree. After two years, at some institutions you must then pass your "general examinations," or "comprehensive examinations (comps)," which test your general knowledge in broad areas, and specific knowledge in your area of specialization. In your fourth year, you can begin researching for your dissertation. Often, this involves applying for fellowships to pursue study abroad. While researching, and then writing your dissertation, at many institutions you can earn your keep by serving as a Teaching Assistant, leading undergraduate discussion groups. At some institutions you must "defend" your dissertation, by discussing your results with professors who have read your work. While a graduate student, you start to give papers at scholarly conferences and you also try to submit essays for publication, all of which is necessary for the next hurdle, finding a job.
Do you want to attend graduate school?
Graduate school is not the same as college. The work is more intense. Your work is more a part of your identity. This is both satisfying and difficult. Before committing to pursuing graduate study, ask yourself some questions: Do I really love the field? Am I really interested in teaching or working in a museum? Do I possess the right skills to be successful in graduate school and beyond? Am I prepared to postpone making money for five or more years? Am I applying to graduate school for the right reasons? Do I need to take a year off before applying?
• What about a year off?
There is nothing wrong with taking a year or two off before applying to graduate school; only 20-30% of graduating seniors enroll in graduate programs immediately after college.
It is, naturally, advantageous if you use your "time off" to pursue something related to Art History (working in a gallery, or museum, for example). Similarly, if you can spend time in a country you hope to study in graduate school, this can be enormously helpful. Learning languages of any sort will aid your future in the field. Finally, graduate study is a long haul, for some a year off is a necessary break before returning to books and examinations.