Applying to Graduate School

Considering Graduate School?

Here is an outline to help you prepare for the time-consuming process of applying to graduate school.

Before You Apply

  • Start searching spring quarter of junior year, not later than summer.
  • Make a folder now for all your grad school materials.
  • Collect all your papers and assignments clearly marked with course numbers, course titles, and quarters when you took the courses.  You may need them later in the application process.
  • Consider enrolling in independents studies (ARTHI 199 and ARTHI 199RA; see Undergraduate Student Forms) and writing an Honors Thesis (note that both are dependent on your GPA).
  • Study at least one or two foreign languages for as long as possible during your undergraduate studies. The longer you have studied them, the better. If you know what you will study at grad school, choose your language accordingly. Otherwise, start with either a widely spoken language, or a language that matches broadly your geographical area of interest (e.g., Asia, Europe) or take a language that was widely used by scholars of a period that interests you or is still relevant for studies of that period (for example, Latin and Italian for the Renaissance period; or German and/or French for nineteenth-century European art and architecture).
  • Choose possible academic schools by scholars, not by prestige.
    • How do you pick out scholars?
      • Articles and books
      • Ask your professors
      • Ask your mentor (professor or possibly a graduate student mentor)
    • Contact the scholars
      • Have your mentor edit your letter or e-mail and spell check them before you send them off
      • Schedule an appointment to see the scholars and visit the campus. If that is not possible, schedule a phone interview (visiting the campus and talking with the scholars is best)
      • Evaluate not only if the scholar is receptive to your work, but also if you both seem compatible
      • Ask what types of funding are available — if no funding is available for the first year, you will have to take out loans, include this in your draft budget
      • Send a thank-you e-mail for the time the scholars have spent with you
  • Choosing a professional school — make sure you will have museum or conservation opportunities.  Even consider a museum studies program if you know you do not want to go into academia.
  • Take the GRE (take the Kaplan course; if it is too expensive, get their books).
  • Choose your best writing samples, polish and spell-check them, particularly the introduction and conclusion.
  • Attend the Fall Grad Panel and Spring Museum Career Panel offered by our undergraduate program

The Application

  • Statement of purpose should be an essay that includes statements on:
    • your scholarly work and interests,
    • why you want to work with a specific person,
    • why you would want to work with other faculty,
    • why is that program suited to your needs,
    • why is that particular school suited for your needs, and
    • why is the location important.
  • Do not be too specific and demanding — you will change your mind.
  • Edit and spell check all written parts of your application to the highest standard (ask your mentor to edit and/or have them read by a second reader).
  • Apply for all fellowships offered in the application.
  • Ask professors for letters of recommendation at least 3 weeks in advance.
  • Only ask professors who gave you top grades.
  • Ask first if your professors will write you a strong letter.
  • Never ask a grad student or non-faculty.
  • Make sure you give your referees your statement of purpose, all forms, and your writing samples; possibly even the papers that you wrote in their classes.
  • It is acceptable to remind your referees about the due dates — they are busy!
  • Call all schools to make sure they have received all letters of recommendation; something may have happened and the professor may have to send it again.
  • Send in all transcripts from all undergrad institutions.
  • Apply online, but before you start the application process, make sure that you have gathered all needed information and that all your data is correct.
    • Meet all your deadlines (don’t worry so much about the professor’s letter as that is expected).
    • Always choose the Ph.D. option.
  • Apply for the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), regardless if you have the funds to pay. The FAFSA is required to receive most departmental & graduate division fellowships.
  • Around March (if you don’t hear sooner), you can give a polite call to the school for whose program you applied, but don’t harass them!
  • If you have been admitted to several schools, it may be wise to visit them again or speak with the professors once more.
  • If you are denied, respectfully ask why. There might have been some serious problems of which you were not aware, or it could be as simple as that professor has decided to go on leave and doesn’t accept new students during that period of absence.
  • If you decline, let the school know the reasons why. Applying to grad schools is a difficult process for both sides; everyone welcomes feedback.

Master’s Programs

  • Take your time to decide and to explore, especially if you didn’t get into your school of first choice.
  • Choosing a Master’s program can make it more difficult to be accepted into a Ph.D. program, particularly if you are unsuccessful at this level.
  • If you are unsure about an academic career, a M.A. program may be a valid alternative to a Ph.D. program.

After Successful Application

  • Consider another visit to those schools and to talk to the professors with whom you wish to work.
  • Accept possible invitations to attend prospective/new graduate student events.
  • Ask the school to please forward an e-mail to you of some current graduate students so that you can both talk with students currently working with professors with whom you might work and obtain general information about housing, the graduate community, the life in the university and town.
  • Ask current graduate students about costs of living, including housing, local transport, etc.
  • Apply for all graduate housing options that your school of choice offers.
  • Write a letter of thank you to your referees, they like to hear about the outcome of your application and you may need their support again in the future.

If You Didn’t Receive an Offer

  • Always apply to several schools in order to have a back up option if you are not accepted in your first school of choice.
  • Remember that in any given year and at any school, you are competing with a pool of applicants whose size and qualifications you don’t know.
  • Ask the school to please explain the reason for rejection.  It may have to do with your qualifications, it may be a reason unrelated to your specific qualifications, for example lack of funds in the grad program.
  • If the latter, ask if you should re-apply the following year.
  • If the former, ask if obtaining a Master’s degree would increase or decrease your chances to be successful with a new application.
  • Discuss any reasons you were given with your referees and mentors to arrive at a reasonable assessment of your chances. Remember, nobody can guarantee your acceptance into any specific program.

Research and evaluate professional schools and training options in fields closely related to your initially chosen graduate program. They may be a good intermediate step; they may turn out to lead to a fulfilling career.