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Comparing Art History MA programs: BU, NYU(IFA), Tufts, Columbia

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Greetings,

I was wondering if anyone would be kind enough to help me understand what might be the differences between art history MA programs of Boston University, NYU (IFA), Tufts, and Columbia. I was accepted to all of them except for Columbia, which I am still waiting on.

My primary concern is with the strengths of the programs and I would like to focus on Western pre-modern art and architecture. My first inclinations are towards Columbia and IFA due to program description, location and school notoriety (which I admit is superficial). Tufts and BU are clearly considered to be very good schools but at the end of the day we're comparing specific programs and the chances of securing employment afterwards, either in these cities or abroad. It just seems like New York based schools will have an inherent advantage but that could be a misguided perception.

I could very well not be accepted to Columbia and then the choice would be between IFA, BU, and Tufts. Part of me wants to stay in Boston because my rent would be covered, it's a more relaxed environment, and maybe would be less competitive.However, New York is a wonderful city to study art history with more resources and I am familiar with the city because I earned my BA from Hunter College. I like the idea of a smaller school like Tufts but I am afraid it will not be recognized for art history as well as the other schools might be, especially the NY ones. 

Any insight would be greatly appreciated, thank you.  

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Choose the school that best aligns with your academic interests. There should be professor(s) that engage with the focus of your studies, an of course the more specifically the better. 

I'm sure you know that this isn't a lucrative field, so if you have funding options in Boston (funding is a non-starter for MAs at the IFA and Columbia), then consider that too. Ultimately, while being in New York is helpful, you can always pursue summer internships here to build connections, and the best thing you can do for yourself is to be academically strong in your focus.

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21 minutes ago, modmuse said:

Choose the school that best aligns with your academic interests. There should be professor(s) that engage with the focus of your studies, an of course the more specifically the better. 

I'm sure you know that this isn't a lucrative field, so if you have funding options in Boston (funding is a non-starter for MAs at the IFA and Columbia), then consider that too. Ultimately, while being in New York is helpful, you can always pursue summer internships here to build connections, and the best thing you can do for yourself is to be academically strong in your focus.

Thank you for replying modmuse. If you have any more thoughts on ways to gauge the strength and relevance of a program I'd be interested. Is it a matter of comparing course offerings, quantity and topics of relatable courses, faculty specialties, size of faculty, etc? Aside from these factors, how can one tell whether one program might lead to a higher probability of success in the field over another? Thank you again.

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What are your career goals? Do you want to get a PhD eventually? For an MA, it doesn't matter all that much where you get your MA, as long as you do well (where you get your PhD is a different story). Both the IFA or Columbia MA programs have reputations as cash cows for the PhD students; and from what I've heard from students there, I wouldn't count on getting too much attention from profs at either place. If BU or Tufts is giving you funding, then it's a no-brainer, unless you're independently wealthy; you should never go into debt for grad work in a PhD.  I also think you would get more attention at the Boston schools, but it depends on the prof. Have you spoken to potential advisors? Whose work do you most admire? Who do you click with? The most important thing at the point is finding a good mentor. Talk to people--professors and current students.

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10 minutes ago, condivi said:

What are your career goals? Do you want to get a PhD eventually? For an MA, it doesn't matter all that much where you get your MA, as long as you do well (where you get your PhD is a different story). Both the IFA or Columbia MA programs have reputations as cash cows for the PhD students; and from what I've heard from students there, I wouldn't count on getting too much attention from profs at either place. If BU or Tufts is giving you funding, then it's a no-brainer, unless you're independently wealthy; you should never go into debt for grad work in a PhD.  I also think you would get more attention at the Boston schools, but it depends on the prof. Have you spoken to potential advisors? Whose work do you most admire? Who do you click with? The most important thing at the point is finding a good mentor. Talk to people--professors and current students.

Hi condivi, and thank you.

My career goals as I see them now would be in higher education and/or museum work/museum education. The PhD is something I have considered for teaching, after I sort of gauge myself during and after the MA, but in theory it's something I would like to pursue. I can see how the MA is important only up to a certain point, especially if one wants to pursue a PhD afterwards, and what matters most is doing as well as I can academically. I am assuming however that networking during this time and getting internships etc. is important as well and I'm wondering if location will play a role in that. I don't mind if IFA and Columbia are cash cows so long as the programs themselves aren't of lesser quality, because it seems to me all these programs cost more or less the same. The only money I'd be saving really is from having to pay much less rent in Boston due to my family, (which of course adds up). However, I see what you mean in terms of the more positive experience one may gain at a place like Tufts, for example, where the only degree offered is a MA so all resources essentially go to them and there is a greater faculty to student ratio. Also if I can spend more time looking for work in the field instead of waitering under the table to pay rent, that might be good. 

Is it more probable that I would get into the IFA or Columbia PhD programs if I received my MA from them? Or do they like to take people from outside just as well. Thanks again for your time!

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From what I understand--and you should ask the schools themselves, because I can't quote numbers--it's exceedingly rare to get into Columbia from the MA program, and somewhat less rare, but still rare, at IFA (until recently, everyone at IFA was admitted to the MA program and then had to apply to the PhD program, but things have changed, and now people are admitted directly into the MA/PhD program). If you want to be a professor or curator, you'll need a PhD. And for getting into a PhD program, internships and networking are far less important than the quality of work you do, so go to a place that will allow you to write a killer writing sample and cultive relationships with professors who will write you stellar recommendation letters. As I said, you really should talk to current students to gauge the situation at these schools. But my impression, based on only indirect knowledge, is that you'd get far more attention from faculty at BU or Tufts. 

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I second everything @condivi has said. Also, look and see who is teaching (check the professors actual bio pages, where they most often list if they are on sabbatical or leave) and see who lines up best with you academically. Your best bet for having an invested academic advisor is to have them actually be interested in your topic

 

There's no 100% guarantee for getting into a phd program or getting hired. A lot of it is luck, and a degree from Columbia or NYU is no guarantee. Like, if I were hiring for a position at the met in renaissance art, a Columbia modern art MA would be pointless because it wouldn't have the right focus. 

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