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The Terminal Art History MA--Is it Worth It?


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Today, with the job situation being what it is, you'll want to ask yourself, honestly, what do you want to gain from studying art history at the graduate level. Do you want to become a curator, or do you want to go into academics?

If you want to be a curator, then the MA is an ideal option, provided you're resourceful when it comes to your own work experience. If your answer is the latter, I would strongly advise that you DO NOT go into a terminal MA program in Art History but go into the PhD straight away if you're admitted. I graduated from the MA program at The Institute of Fine Arts a few years ago. I'm sad to say, it was not a positive experience. The MA, for most schools as it is with the IFA, is a money-making project.

The IFA admitted more students than they could handle. The faculty have a lot they're working on, and can't really give much time to the students. In terms of career advice, a student at the IFA is on his own. I'm sad to say, there's also a good deal of open favoritism, where certain students are tracked into curating jobs and PhD programs while others watch on the sidelines. This happens at other schools too, but I think the programs at more academically-oriented schools like Williams and Delaware will be more measured and guided towards their students. In terms of accountability to their students' futures, I was disappointed by my experience at the IFA. And me and some of my friends were also told some unpleasant, bordering on unethical statements, by some of the faculty there. Professors can do a disservice at times, by trying to be a bit familiar with you, when they should focus solely on your academic and professional future.

The faculty, in the Modern and Contemporary dept, didn't want to give my much in terms of job or career guidance. Fortunately for me, I'm now in my first year at law school at UCLA and very happy because I've found productive work that I want to do.

I would say, if you do want to do an MA because you love art and are passionate about it--go to Williams (my friends from the program have said they've had a good experience), or somewhere where someone from the faculty has actually called you up on the phone or written to you specifically to ask you to come. This is your future and you must be proactive to live up to your potential.

Best of luck, and remember to always believe in yourself!

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What an odd post apropos of nothing. It sounds as though you either had bad advice from your undergraduate advisor or didn't find gradcafe early enough because it seems to be understood here that the Institute's MA is indeed all of the things that you menion. However, just in case another potential art historian who is new here reads your post and believes it, I feel the need to dispel a couple of your assertions. Unless you are in contemporary art or want to work at a small museum, you need to get a PhD to be a curator. I think it's even going to become common to see PhDs as art educators at serious, scholarly institutions. It's almost mandatory now for an art educator to have a MA. Second, there are many worthy MAs aside from Williams. Nothing against Williams, it has a great record, but there are a number of terminal MAs that have sent students on to nearly every PhD program you can think of.

I do agree that if one has a strong undergraduate degree in art history and is prepared with at least one language, applying to PhD programs is smart. It seems like this forum has created a myth that one needs to have an MA from somewhere before applying for the PhD. Recently there was someone from what seemed like either Chicago or Northwestern humble-bragging about their stellar GPA and GRE scores but applying to terminal MAs because they felt they had to. But most people didn't go to an elite college (or even if they did may not have a high GPA for some reason), or perhaps didn't major in art history but fell in love with it as a senior or even after graduating. For those folks, a terminal MA may be the best option to burnish their bona fides and improve their chances at getting into a top tier PhD program.

Good luck with law school. At least at UCLA you've got the Hammer in Westwood as well as some great sculpture on campus (right there north of the the law school). If you are living in Palms or Culver City, as many UCLA students do, you also have the Museum of Jurassic Technology there (across from the Helms Bakery complex, speaking of, if you have not been to Father's Office do go) which is one of my favorite places in Los Angeles and if you are over on Barrington or Sepulveda the Getty is easy enough to visit. So hopefully you are still enjoying art even though post-graduate art history was not for you.

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What an odd post apropos of nothing.

I disagree. It's mostly a warning about the terminal MA at the IFA. I believe it to be mistaken, however, to extend that warning to all other terminal MA programs.

I also don't think that these fora have encouraged a "myth that one needs to have an MA from somewhere before applying for the PhD." Quite the contrary. There has been lively debate about this.

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I don't know, it still seems like an odd sour grapes thread to me. The topic is not, "The Terminal Art History MA at the IFA - Is it Worth It?". There are many threads where this has been brought up to which the OP could have made a contribution. However, the OP clearly felt that their experience at the Institute could stand in for all programs. Which is why I thought to post what I did. I guess we can quibble over the MA vs. PhD thing, but I do feel as though I see a lot of folks worried about applying straight to the PhD from undergraduate here, but this group may not be typical of all graduate school applicants. We do see folks who have applied multiple times and are attempting different strategies to crack the acceptance code, or even some who haven't ended up in a graduate program at all yet.

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However, the OP clearly felt that their experience at the Institute could stand in for all programs.

And for all people. I think it's important to keep in mind this is one person's experience and opinion, and it is mistaken not only to extend it to other programs, but to other people as well. I find the blanket warnings on this forum very misleading for various reasons, as different programs can be right or wrong for different people. There are some fair warnings and important considerations to be taken from this post, but take it with a grain of salt...

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