When I applied to graduate school in 1997, the internet was still pretty rudimentary, and there were certainly no resources like this available! My hope is to make the process easier and less mystifying for you than I found it.

Since applying is going to be time consuming and can also be costly, you should do your research first, and only apply to schools that A) you would really go to, if you got in, B) has a professor whom you really want to work with, and C) has a fair track record for getting their graduating PhDs into the sorts of jobs you would want to have afterward. What follows are my Art History Rules for Researching Graduate Schools!

What to look for:

Who is teaching there?
This is the most important factor. When students apply for an undergraduate degree, they probably think more about the whole school than about an individual department or professor. When I applied to Cornell, I did so on the reputation of the school, as a whole. Grad school is different. You are not only applying to a specific program, but in many cases, to an individual professor, as well. Few programs will have several specialists in any given field. If you want to study medieval art, there will likely be one medievalist in the program, but be careful! If the one medievalist works on Byzantium, and you want to study England, then you should apply elsewhere.

The College Art Association publishes a guide to Graduate Programs in Art History. I founds this book indispensable, and a new version is put out every few year to keep it up to date. It has listing for every department in the US, Canada and the UK (and a few others) that offers an MA or PhD in art history. As the description states:

Graduate Programs in Art History: The CAA Directory contains 250 graduate programs in art and architectural history, arts administration, curatorial and museum studies, and library science. Organized alphabetically by institution name, entries describe curricula, class size, faculty specializations, admission and degree requirements, library facilities, opportunities for fellowships and assistantships, financial aid information, housing and health insurance availability, and more. Geographic and alphabetical indexes are included.

Consulting this book first will save a lot of time and effort looking up schools online and checking their faculty pages.

Once you have found a few schools with people teaching in your sub-field, find out their angle. Undergraduate courses tend to be more about material and graduate courses tend to be more about approaches to that material. Are you interested in gender studies, or financial concerns? Phenomenology or (dare I say it?) monster studies? There are dozens of approaches to art history, and you want to be sure that those practiced by your potential advisor are appealing to you.

Finally, what sort of a person is he or she? Talk to current students to see what it would be like to work with this professor. You are signing on to work very closely with him or her for several years, and you will rely on your advisor not only for advice and teaching, but also for letters of recommendation when you are on the job market. Is this a person who will help you as much as possible, or someone who will compete with you or undercut your progress? These are very serious questions, and you should do what you can to learn the answers. Before you apply, send a very polite and carefully edited email to see if this professor is currently taking on new graduate students. Once you have been accepted to a few programs, meet with your potential advisors to make sure that you get along!

What resources are available at the school and in the area?
Writing a dissertation requires that you conduct primary research. You will likely have to (get to!) travel to conduct at least some of this, but will your university library and other surrounding institutions have what you need to prepare for the more intense research excursions? If you are interested in witchcraft, for example, then Cornell would be a good place to consider, owing to their excellent collection of early printed materials on the subject (some of which are now online, but not all).

Similarly, are there other faculty members on campus who can help you with your work?

How does the department fund students?
In my experience, this can make a substantial difference. First off, for a PhD you should only go somewhere that will fund your studies! Even if you can fund your own way, you will need to begin the process of winning fellowships, grants and other awards, and the best way to begin is with a funding package from your home department. Money begets money, and this is very strong way to begin a process that will ultimately help you land a job!

In addition, it can be very helpful if the program funds all the students, or at least most of them. This creates a more collaborative, less cut-throat environment. It is best not to have to compete with your classmates for next year’s funding, if at all possible!

Does the program give masters degrees?
It is possible that after a few years of graduate school, you will decide to do something else with your life, and really, this is OK! But if so, it is good to at least get a masters, for all of your hard work. Many programs give them, though not all.