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Some questions about degrees in Europe carrying over to US/Canada


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I realize this is largely a North America-centric forum, but I have aspirations of working there once I finish my MA (or PhD), and right now I'm in a peculiar situation and I'm wondering how this may affect my CV in North American terms.


I'll quickly explain the BA system here: once you start university you start your major/bachelor's degree right off the bat; this is the program you apply to post high school. There are no general college courses as those are covered in high school. As a result a BA takes three years, where each full time semester is worth 30 ECTS points (= "credits" in US terms), so 180 ECTS in all.


The first two years are comprised of predetermined, set courses. The final year is 15 ECTS that is one's bachelor thesis (0.5 semesters) and the other 45 ECTS (1.5 semesters) consist of a subject within AH of your choosing. In my institution you may, for instance, choose something like:


- Museology, three successive courses of 15 ECTS

- Visuel culture

- Design


I'm in a peculiar situation because I did one year of business school before dropping out and now my current program has asked me if I want to use the ECTS credits attained there and basically 'knock off' the 45 ECTS of the elective subject in the third year. It would mean all I have to do is write my thesis third year. Since I got started late I feel like it would be great to omit 1.5 semesters.


Before I make my decision I'm contacting the admissions office for art history MA at my institution and if they confirm that it will have no bearing that this side subject is completely irrelevant to the AH discipline itself when the time comes and I'm to apply to the MA program, I think I'm going to do it. Even though I'm focusing on museology because I'm aiming for a career in this field*, I've gathered that in Europe when applying for jobs, they will only look at your MA and what you've done there. The BA is but a stepping stone to the next level you could say, and once you're there the BA doesn't really matter.


1) Is it similar in North America? Will employers reviewing my CV find it odd that I have 45 credits of business classes in my BA, even though my MA would be completely relevant?


2) *Another, more general, question I have. In North America to build a good CV capable of competing in the museum industry (curatorial positions) is the consensus that it's good to focus on an area of expertise within AH or to focus specifically on museology/museum studies? In Europe the latter seems to be preferred.


3) I could easily see myself doing a PhD. If I did start an academic career how would it affect my opportunities of a career in the museum/gallery sphere?


BONUS 4) Since AH in its traditional sense is generally westernized, how will a BA degree yield job opportunities in Asia; what about Australia (I guess that's pretty western)?


That's it for now. I hope someone will be kind enough to help me out. Remember, I just finished my first semester, so it's all relatively new to me. I'm just trying to take it all in and prepare myself for the road ahead in good time.




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(Keeping in mind I write as someone also with limited experience with work/academia in North America)


I am fairly sure that, except for many museum internships, no employer in and around art will be interested in looking at your transcripts, the only possible exception I could see being something like a large corporate collection maybe (because business likes easily readable aggregates; but in this particular case, some business experience would probably be an advantage). They may be interested in knowing what your MA dissertation topic was, but they will not scrupulously go over all of the classes you took. What is more important is your relevant research experience and skills (ie dissertation research, etc.) and work experience. That said, it looks like many internships (in North America) ask for transcripts, and you will probably need museum internships before you get to curatorial work... But I would guess that, after you receive your MA, most of those even would not care about your BA transcripts. From the museums I have looked at/applied at/interned at in Europe (Nordic & a few UK) no one has ever asked for transcripts (but i never looked at the huge UK museums)


But if you want to work as a curator, you will almost certainly need a PhD. You could be hired as a curatorial assistant with just an MA, at small local museums (especially still in Europe, depending on where you are), but if you want to advance beyond that you would definitely need a PhD and demonstrable research in your area of specialty. But an MA is enough if you wanted to work in a large commercial gallery, and probably for a smaller public, non-collecting gallery, as well.


That's all I can answer faithfully.


Oh also, in my own experience, if you are considering an MA/PhD in North America, some places will be skeptical of what they view as a lower amount of coursework in European BAs. One place, for example, thought I should audit one or two undergrad courses in the first year of an MA (despite my long background and experience, bla bla. Would have meant that much more work, less time to study, no time left to find a job and do independent research in that year). This could possibly affect your ability to get funding. So I would suggest looking at departments that are either larger or more internationally-oriented (w/ international MA/PhD students and faculty members, etc.) as they may better understand non-North American BA structures. I don't think this would be an issue if you apply for North American PhD's with a European MA, though.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hi there! I'm probably in a pretty good place to answer some of this, since I did my BA in the American system and my MA in the UK, and am now back in the US and working in the field in New York City. 


1) As stated above, employers will not look at your transcripts. Internships that may look at that information will likely be impressed that you have some diversity in your academic record, rather than just Art History courses. 


2) My understanding is that to become a curator, you should have a PhD. Most institutions (around NYC at least) want curatorial assistant to have an MA. I'm not sure, though, whether an Art History MA or a Museum Studies MA would work more to your advantage. Possibly particular institutions have preferences? I chose an Art History MA because it doesn't limit me to museum work only (and that was good, because I have a very good job now that isn't in a museum) but that's up to you. 


3) Again, a PhD will only help you if you want to be a curator. It's not necessary in the commercial world, however, and probably makes you overqualified for most galleries. 



I wanted to expand on klondike's last paragraph about going into an American PhD with an MA. Because a UK MA is SO specialized [or 'specialised,' if you'd rather :)] they'll likely want you to take courses to expand your general knowledge in the field on the graduate level, more than just your range of courses from your undergraduate work. Also, many of the top PhD programs in the US are combined MA/PhDs, and will not accept an "outside" MA as transfer credit. Some will accept a part of an outside MA – for example, friends of mine from the Courtauld have had their MA work allowed to count as one year toward their two years worth of MA credits at another institution – and you would not have to re-do your MA dissertation, but you would have to complete some course work. This is true no matter where your MA is from. It applies to US MAs as well. 


Of course, the advantage to this is that if you KNOW you want to do a PhD, you can just skip the separate MA and enter into a MA/PhD program right away! 



I don't think I answered everything, but I'm happy to talk more about UK v. US programs if you have other questions. I have a pretty good understanding of the UK system, through my British friends, and through trying to navigate the relevant differences for while I was working on my MA. Good luck!

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