How to Get a Master’s Degree in Art History

Students come to the art history major from different backgrounds. Some may hold a bachelor’s degree in an artistic field of study, while others may have years of unrelated degree or work experience, and come to the course of study with an interest in changing their career path. Whichever category you occupy, a master’s degree in art history is a step towards pursuing a challenging, rewarding career in art.

Careers for Art History Master’s Degree Graduates

The broad-based art history degree prepares students for a range of careers. A master’s degree in liberal arts & humanities with a specialization in art history offers the training and knowledge students need for careers in museums, galleries, schools, and private organizations. Graduates of art history master’s degree programs may go on to the following:

  • Art gallery department heads
  • Editorial assistant in galleries and museums
  • Director of art education
  • Libraries and research organizations
  • Primary and secondary school education
  • PhD programs in art history

Students often pair their art history degree with previous education and work experience for more career options. For example, a student with business and communications experience might use an art history master’s degree to work at a high-profile art auction house. Art history is just one of many arts & humanities majors; explore other specialties within this category.

How to Earn a Master’s Degree in Art History

Before you can fill out the first application, it’s important to take time to research potential art history schools. This process is essential for you as a student. Researching schools gives you a chance to learn more about art history schools across the country, shape your own desires for an ideal program, and ultimately guide your application.

Step 1: Consider Different Types of Art History Degrees

You have a lot of options in terms of your future art history degree. Before you can consider a list of schools, you need to learn about the types of degrees you can earn. Consider the major distinctions:

  • Master of Arts (MA): Students of MA programs in art history mix theory and research with a broad-based understanding of the history of art. Graduates often go on to work in museums, galleries, or primary/secondary education, though some go on to earn a PhD and teach in higher education.
  • Master of Fine Arts (MFA): If you’re interested in your own practice of art, consider a studio-based MFA in fine art or design with a minor or concentration in art history. The MFA requires personal studio work and critique, plus a well-rounded appreciation of art history and theory.
  • Master of Science (MS): This rare art history degree is more likely to be found packaged with art education, historic or art preservation, or design. The MS degree generally focuses on research and professional practice over theory.

No one art history degree is superior to the rest. When you consider different degrees, pick the paths that work best with your career future or interests in art and art history.

Step 2: Think About Art History Master’s Degree Specializations

Once you’ve thought about the different degrees you can choose from, it’s time to consider the specializations you’ll find within an art history master’s degree. Here are a few specializations you might find in an art history master’s degree:

  • Modern and Contemporary Art
  • American Art
  • History of Photography
  • East Asian Art and Archaeology
  • Renaissance and Baroque Art
  • African Art
  • Classical Art and Archaeology
  • Byzantine and Medieval Art
  • Islamic Art and Archaeology

Each art history program will offer its own list of strengths and specializations. Whether you’re interested in photography and American art, African art’s influence on American culture, or another focus, it’s possible to personalize your art history degree to truly match your interests. When you earn a master’s degree in art history, the choice is yours.

Step 3: Think about Art History Course Delivery Methods

No two art history master’s degree programs are alike, and the differences begin with how you can earn the degree. Whether you want to earn a master’s degree online or on-campus, today’s art history master’s degree programs offer a range of options for students. Take a look at a few course delivery methods:

  • Online master’s degree in art history: Earn a master’s degree online and complete your art history training from anywhere in the world. Students who like to work on their own, busy adults, and those who travel often enjoy this method.
  • Campus-based master’s degree in art history: The traditional model of study requires classroom attendance. Students enjoy the community aspect of a campus-based degree program along with face-to-face interaction with fellow students and faculty.

As with specializations and major options, your personal preferences will help dictate the type of course delivery method you enjoy best for your art history degree. Seek out individual schools and begin to learn more about the type of master’s degree you hope to earn.

Step 4: Create Your List of Art History Master’s Degree Programs

Once you’ve considered course delivery methods and your basic needs as a student, you can begin to compile a list of master’s degree programs in Art History. Your initial list will have a range of schools and might include both campus-based and online master’s degree programs. Use these resources to get started:

  • WorldWideLearn maintains two listings for master’s degrees in art history: online art history master’s degrees and campus-based art history master’s degrees.
  • The University of Michigan offers a sampling of art history programs nationwide, with a description of each school on their list.
  • U.S. News and World Report maintains a list of top cultural history programs and top fine arts schools. Use these rankings to begin to compile your list of potential art history programs.

The art history schools compiled at the links above each offer different options. Once you’ve confirmed that each school on your list holds current accreditation, you can begin to narrow your options down to the strongest art history master’s degree programs.

Step 5: Confirm Art History Master’s Degree Program Accreditation Status

Once you’ve created your list of potential art history master’s degree programs, you’ll need to confirm that each school on your list holds current accreditation. The accreditation process requires a third-party agency to measure a school’s quality. These agencies measure schools by considering:

  • Faculty quality
  • Financial records
  • Academic records
  • Hiring practices

Once a school becomes accredited, students and hiring managers alike recognize the school as a quality source of education. Both online master’s degree programs and campus-based schools are subject to the accrediting process. Find out about accreditation by reading’s accreditation answers page.

Take control of your education’s quality by making sure each school on your list is accredited. Choosing an accredited school can provide some or all of the following benefits:

  • Financial aid eligibility, including loans and grants
  • Increased confidence in the quality of your degree
  • A high-quality degree recognized by the U.S. Department of Education

It’s important to confirm that each school on your list is accredited. Fortunately, it’s simple: use the U.S. Department of Education‘s searchable database to search for schools by name or location.

Step 6: Condense Your List of Art History Master’s Degree Programs

By this step, you should know the accreditation of each of your potential art history schools. Next it’s time to narrow down your options. Consider your list in terms of a few categories and your overall preferences will begin to emerge. Use the following categories to personalize your list of art history schools:

  • Application: Each art history degree program comes with its own requirements for potential students. You may need to provide GRE and TOEFL test scores, transcripts, recommendation letters, a professional resume, and other documents. Stay organized and meet each deadline on your list.
  • Rankings: School rankings are one way to begin your art history degree search. As you condense your list, remember that rankings aren’t the final word on quality. Think about school rankings along with the school’s location, cost, faculty members, and your own preferences.
  • Location: If you earn a master’s degree online in art history, you will likely have access to extensive online databases of art. If you’re interested in a campus-based degree, consider the location in which the school is located. Art history schools near large galleries or museums could provide ample opportunities for internships, research, and work.
  • Specializations: Think about which art history specializations are most important to you. Remember that you will be able to personalize a broad MA degree to suit your specializations, but a school that is able to pair your interests with relevant coursework and faculty members could offer more value.
  • Cost: Elements like tuition, cost of living, and fees should come into consideration. Think about financial aid options such as loans, grants, teaching stipends, and scholarships. Make a list of expenses involved with each art history program and look for schools that will potentially offer you the most attractive financial aid packages.
  • Faculty: Learn about the faculty who will ultimately shape your art history degree. Check out faculty biographies and professional publications, and learn where faculty members are publishing and researching. Look for strong overall departments instead of basing your interest on a single faculty member who might go on sabbatical or leave the school.
  • Extras: Finally, you should think about the perks and extras offered by each art history department. A particular school might come with access to a world-famous art gallery, or you could be encouraged to complete internships in the community or seek out new perspectives on your degree. Think of the extras to cut just a few programs, leaving the strongest.

With the categories above, you can truly personalize your art history degree. This step takes research and patience, but the time you’ll spend is essential to your success as a student. Once you’ve considered different elements within each potential program, you’ll have learned more about the art history schools on your list. Use your knowledge to begin the application process.

Applying to Art History Master’s Degree Programs

By this step, you should have fully researched potential programs. You’ve created a large list, and narrowed it down to suit your individual preferences in terms of location, application, cost, accreditation, and other essential factors. Now, you’re ready to send applications to the top art history programs on your list. Begin your application by keeping the following in mind:

  • Personalization: Some art history programs will be more interested in your education and professional background, while others will want to know more about your own reasons for enrolling in the degree. Personalize each application letter to the schools that interest you.
  • Deadlines: Stay abreast of important deadlines, using a calendar or organizer to help you remember. Each school will come with its own deadlines for transcripts, applications, and other materials, and it’s important to keep track of each date. Try to file your application well before stated deadlines.

The research and application process is a time-consuming one. In the end, you’ll enjoy the rewards of finding an art history program that meets your requirements for course delivery, specialization, accreditation, and more. Learn more about art history master’s degree programs and the process will help guide your own expectations for your time in school. Learn more about the advantage as you continue your search.


  • Accreditation Search U.S. Department of Education
  • Art History Career Prospects American University
  • Art History Departments University of Michigan
  • Best Fine Arts Schools U.S. News and World Report
  • Graduate Program Princeton University
  • History Specialty Rankings: Cultural History U.S. News and World Report
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