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Short reflection on the Art History PhD app process, for the lurkers


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Dear future Art History GradCafe lurkers,

 

I lurked this forum pretty hard over the past year, so now that the application process is coming to a close, I feel that I should post something in the hope that it might be of help to you.

 

I guess it should be obvious that there is not much blanket advice for this process, given that, at the end of the day, pretty much everyone is dealing with circumstances (field of interest, academic background, financial situation) specific to themselves. In my case, I applied to programs a number of years removed from a humanities undergraduate degree from a well-respected non-Ivy. Although I had not taken any Art History classes in school, I had a strong undergrad thesis, and a number of years of practical experience working/hanging around my field (a geographical area). I decided from the start to consider only PhD programs at places without terminal MAs. In the first place, I decided that I was not going to go into debt for an MA. I also heard from a friend (in a PhD program without a terminal MA) that classes with mixed PhD/MA students were to be avoided because the MA students bogged down the discussion. And yes, this friend came to that conclusion after sitting in on a class at Chicago ;) *ducks*

 

I’ll say this for sure: if I had the time and money, I could have saved myself some trouble (and maybe improved my chances of getting in to some places) if I could have visited programs and met with professors before I applied. In the end, I did things backwards--I visited after I'd been accepted. On the one hand, this meant that the schools were able to pay for some of my travel expenses, but it also meant that the dynamic of the visits was somewhat awkward from the beginning: simply put, the stakes were a lot higher than they would have been if I had visited 7 months earlier.

 

As it was, I did furious research online to find professors who seemed like they might have an interest in my project, which could have fallen under either an "area studies" or a "medium-specific" rubric. I emailed a lot of people, and heard back from a fair number of them. Of course is definitely worth doing this, and doing so as early as possible; sometimes, professors will sometimes point you to other colleagues who may be of help. Still, I think it would also be a mistake to read too much into these responses (or lack thereof). In other words, it would be a mistake to decide against applying to a program just because a professor there either ignored your email, or wrote back something curt.

 

Apart from this professor/field specific research, though, which basically just involved looking through every department’s faculty page, I got important information about the process from people ahead of me. When I started applying I canvassed a lot of people to see if they had any insights about Art History programs. There were a couple of people who could give me a lot of useful information about the process. There is some really good information buried in the GradCafe archives, but it can take a lot of effort to drudge up, and most of the time it's only incidental to what you actually need to know. Getting the ear of someone who is currently in an Art History program is invaluable; they will save you, I swear.

 

I guess really want to say is this: the whole process is a crapshoot, and you should treat it as such. There is no “right” way to do it. Apply to a bunch of programs, see what happens, and try not to stress out too much--that's probably the best advice I can give. Good luck! 

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"I also heard from a friend (in a PhD program without a terminal MA) that classes with mixed PhD/MA students were to be avoided because the MA students bogged down the discussion..."

 

This seems like weird advice to me -- and a huge conclusion to draw after sitting in on one class (and in my experience, both as an MA student and as a PhD student, wholly untrue).  Having a range of backgrounds and experiences in the same room more often enriches classroom discussion than bogs it down...

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I think its definitely a good idea to make a thread based around everything we have learned about the application process; hopefully it will be helpful for future prospectives.

 

A lot of what outside_person wrote is pretty dead on I think.  But I think the biggest thing I learned about this process, particularly regarding MAs, is the funding problems...

 

There are A LOT of masters programs that make it seems like they are going to give you more funding than they do (or any, for that matter).  Also, even if maybe the program didn't exactly mislead you about that, there are places with reputations for providing better funding than they do. Not to totally dissuade people from these programs by any means--and people should definitely chime in if they disagree -- but for me, here are some places that I was accepted to that I had been led to believe would provide ok funding and have not followed through:

 

Hunter (although I'm not in-state, so that probably matters a great deal)

Boston University

University of Delaware (they have been very nice about it, however; I think this past year might have just been particularly financially strenuous for them)

University of Wisconsin 

 

Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

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I think its definitely a good idea to make a thread based around everything we have learned about the application process; hopefully it will be helpful for future prospectives.

 

A lot of what outside_person wrote is pretty dead on I think.  But I think the biggest thing I learned about this process, particularly regarding MAs, is the funding problems...

 

There are A LOT of masters programs that make it seems like they are going to give you more funding than they do (or any, for that matter).  Also, even if maybe the program didn't exactly mislead you about that, there are places with reputations for providing better funding than they do. Not to totally dissuade people from these programs by any means--and people should definitely chime in if they disagree -- but for me, here are some places that I was accepted to that I had been led to believe would provide ok funding and have not followed through:

 

Hunter (although I'm not in-state, so that probably matters a great deal)

Boston University

University of Delaware (they have been very nice about it, however; I think this past year might have just been particularly financially strenuous for them)

University of Wisconsin 

 

Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

 

I had emailed a POI Boston who rather *bluntly* stated they weren't taking PhD students and that I should apply elsewhere. I took the advice to heart and didn't bother applying, so I guess I was less surprised when folks weren't funded as well at Boston as they thought they might be. Of course, I thought Tulane's MA stipend was part of the package, but they initially put me on a waitlist for that money. I ended up passing on it. 

 

I think Delaware's only guaranteed full MA funding is Winterthur? fwiw the PhD program seems fine, I spoke w/ someone who already had their MA and they were given the three years that is expected if you have an MA, and I got the full five, since I don't have my MA.  This could be a give or take kind of thing. If you'd applied to Winterthur, I would be surprised.

 

"I also heard from a friend (in a PhD program without a terminal MA) that classes with mixed PhD/MA students were to be avoided because the MA students bogged down the discussion..."

 

This seems like weird advice to me -- and a huge conclusion to draw after sitting in on one class (and in my experience, both as an MA student and as a PhD student, wholly untrue).  Having a range of backgrounds and experiences in the same room more often enriches classroom discussion than bogs it down...

 

They very specifically called out Chicago on this, which does imply that not all of the MA students are Art Historians to begin with, or at all. Narrow sample size for that kind of opinion, but then, I'm sure some of the MA students in my current Grad classes hate having an undergrad hanging around. (The PhD students are friends, however, so I don't worry about this too much.) Different programs probably do great with a mix of people. 

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 Still, I think it would also be a mistake to read too much into these responses (or lack thereof). In other words, it would be a mistake to decide against applying to a program just because a professor there either ignored your email, or wrote back something curt.

 

I want to second this advice! I emailed one professor who never responded, and I got into the program and will be going there next year. I have also heard from students that he is an excellent, hands on advisor. So I definitely agree that people shouldn't be turned off if professors don't answer their emails, it doesn't mean they aren't interested and it doesn't mean they will be an MIA advisor. Apply anyway, and figure out whether they seem like a good fit as an advisor later!

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here are some places that I was accepted to that I had been led to believe would provide ok funding and have not followed through:

 

Hunter (although I'm not in-state, so that probably matters a great deal)

 

 

I was almost fully-funded at Hunter, and I loved it, and I highly recommend the program, even if you have to pay.  It's $12,000 for the whole degree over 2 years.

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I want to second this advice! I emailed one professor who never responded, and I got into the program and will be going there next year. I have also heard from students that he is an excellent, hands on advisor. So I definitely agree that people shouldn't be turned off if professors don't answer their emails, it doesn't mean they aren't interested and it doesn't mean they will be an MIA advisor. Apply anyway, and figure out whether they seem like a good fit as an advisor later!

 

Similar experience with several schools, yet they accepted in the end. So don't read too much into not receiving an email back.

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Similar experience with several schools, yet they accepted in the end. So don't read too much into not receiving an email back.

 

I got responses from the few places I emailed, but I think I would have been nervous/put off with a lack of a reply. Good to know I was wrong. 

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I was almost fully-funded at Hunter, and I loved it, and I highly recommend the program, even if you have to pay.  It's $12,000 for the whole degree over 2 years.

 

Hey Manierata, that's awesome. I'm heading to Hunter this fall and am waiting for my student account to be created so I can access my financial aid info...in the mean time I'm encouraged by your post. Just curious, were you in-state? I am a NYS resident so I'm hoping that bodes well for me, but I'm enrolling with or without any support, since the price, and the program, are amazing. 

 

I'm super glad to see you had such a great time at Hunter!

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