How to choose where to apply?

How to choose where to apply?

What do you want to study?

Graduate research is far more specialized than undergraduate study. You will probably take a number of courses in areas outside your specialization, but it is far easier to apply and be accepted to a program, and to complete your dissertation with reasonable alacrity if you know, when commencing graduate work what it is, generally, you wish to study. You can, of course, change specializations later, but it is better to probe your own inclinations and desires at this point.

With whom do I want to study?

Once you have identified a general area of interest, then you can start finding professors. It is not immediately clear to undergraduates how important this is. Applying to graduate school is very different from applying to college. Although the institution ought to be attractive to you, it is of the utmost importance that you identify a professor, or professors with whom you wish to study. It is useless attending a prestigious program which does not have a professor in the area you wish to study; conversely, there are many great professors in less-well-known programs. There is also a virtue to identifying programs with a number of professors whose work attracts you. 

Whose work has recently transformed the field? Have you read a book in class that you particularly liked? Develop some acquaintance with the bibliography of the field, ask questions of your professors, and read. Finding out where professors are is not always easy; first of all, ask us; second, you can consult a catalog, published by the College Art Association, with all the graduate programs in America with a listing of their faculty; you can also try tracking people down on the web.

Finally, in choosing a professor it is important to consider another factor: is he or she tenured? This is not to say that you cannot study with an untenured professor, but it is best to know what to expect, and not be surprised. It is often better to work with someone fairly established in the field (this will help you get fellowship funding and, eventually, employment). What is more, you do not want your advisor to end up not getting tenure and leaving you stranded half-way through your dissertation.

Researching different programs

Once you have decided to go to graduate school, the next step is to research and choose a select number of graduate schools to apply to. This can seem like an overwhelming process considering the number of schools to choose from. The key is knowing where to obtain the information needed. 

Ask the advice of faculty members in your field of specialization

Consult faculty members and individuals who have specialized in the discipline of your choice and have knowledge of the field. They may be able to refer you to graduate schools that they know of, answer questions about the strengths and weaknesses of the programs, admission requirements and refer you to resources that you can use. The staff at the college's career center is also an excellent resource and can assist you in this process from the beginning to the end. Most career centers have a database of alumni, some of whom may have graduated from a school that you are considering.

The Web

Check out to see the university's homepage.

Visit departments/universities you are considering

Visit schools that you are considering applying to. While on campus, talk to students in the program and find out information you might not obtain from the catalogues. Make an appointment to interview with a professor with whom you might consider working and/or with the director of graduate studies. Talking with someone in the program, even if an interview is not required, will give you the opportunity to ask questions and demonstrate your interest. Find out where graduates end up--local or national.

Evaluating programs

There are a number of factors that will help you in narrowing down your search for graduate schools to apply to. While evaluating each school, consider the following:

Scholarly resources

This includes considering library facilities, computer facilities, access to museums, and the interaction between departments. Is the program well-funded? Some esteemed programs do not possess strong resources in certain areas; conversely, there are some smaller institutions with resources for a particular area of specialization.

The Curriculum

The first couple of years of graduate study you will be taking courses. Look at the curriculum for the next few years. Does it fulfill your needs? Are the professors you wish to study with planning to be on-campus and teaching? Find out the structure of study: when do you take general examinations; are their practical internships included in the curriculum. How long does it take to complete the program?

The Faculty

You will want to familiarize yourself with the faculty and their research. Take the time to read a book or an article by professors whose work particularly interests you. Are the professors well-known, and considered to be leaders in their fields? Is the department ranked highly? What is the faculty/student ratio? Are the professors interested in becoming mentors, or are they only interested in research? Do the professors share a particular methodological or theoretical perspective?


How many students who enter the program complete it? Do those who complete it find employment? What sort of jobs have recent graduates landed? 

Financial resources

What is the expected cost of the program? How are the fees structured? How much financial assistance is available in the form of assistantships, loans and fellowships? Graduate programs differ widely in how they help students fund their work. Some are very supportive, others less so. It is a good idea to be very active in finding out, perhaps from students presently enrolled in programs, how they feel about their funding. Some wealthier programs accept only a handful of students annually, and then take better care of them. Some large programs tend to accept a large class of graduate students each year, and then winnow them out. You will also want to find out if programs offer Teaching Assistantships to their graduate students. If you wish, eventually, to teach, it is a good idea to attend a program which offers you this opportunity. Not all do. It is less important if you know you wish to work in the museum world.


What sort of scholarly environment does the university and the department offer for graduate students? Where do most graduate students live? Do you prefer a large or small university? A large or small department? Where in the country would you like to live in the coming years? For Art History, often an urban environment--with plenty of museums and galleries--is preferable. Speak with professors and students in the department. Ask direct questions.