FAQ for Prospective Students

General Questions

Where can I find information about your program?

Our program is detailed on our website. Look under Graduate Program for descriptions of different field areas and a summary of program requirements; under Department Handbook, a detailed (perhaps too detailed) account of the program; under Students, a list of dissertation topics in progress and completed; under Fellowships, a list of awards received by our students; under Teaching Opportunities, a description of the kinds of teaching positions available to students; and under Job Placement, a list of positions our alumni have received.  

Also see Courses for titles and course descriptions, Workshops, and News and Events for recent departmental events such as guest lectures and conferences. 

What kind of funding do you offer?

Every student is admitted with full funding for five years. The package is described under point #1 on the Dean of Students website. In the sixth year, students are usually prepared to compete for an external write-up grant or a university-sponsored write-up fellowship to cover a final year, in which they complete their dissertations.

The Department also has endowed funds to help support preliminary dissertation research trips and to provide back-up funding for students who aren’t successful in obtaining external dissertation research grants or write-up grants.

Do your graduate students teach?

Yes. Teaching is built into our fellowship package and is considered to be part of a student’s professional training. In our department, it generally begins in the third year, after a student has completed coursework. Students begin by teaching as assistants and may progress to teaching as instructors in their own right.

The Department and the University both offer training programs to help prepare students for academic jobs in the future.

My goal is a Ph.D. but I have only a B.A. degree at this point.  May I apply to your program? 

Yes. We consider applicants with B.A. degrees alone and applicants with both the B.A. and an M.A.

Do you give advanced standing to students with M.A. degrees in Art History from other institutions?

We consider requests for advanced standing in coursework from students with M.A. degrees in Art History from North American or British institutions.  This happens in the spring of their first years. Other students complete the normal program requirements. All students, whether or not they enter with an MA degree in art history, write a qualifying paper in our program. The rules are further described in our online department handbook

I want to earn an M.A. in Art History or Cultural Anthropology. I’m not certain yet. Should I apply to your program?

We do not offer a terminal M.A. degree. Our program is for students who are committed to working continuously for a Ph.D. in Art History, whether or not they approach their work in an interdisciplinary fashion.  If you are not certain of your chosen field, consider applying to the University of Chicago’s Master of Arts Program in the Humanities or the Master of Arts Program in the Social Sciences.  These are designed to help students get started in graduate work in an unfamiliar field or discover which field they want to work in.

I want to earn a Ph.D. in Art History and am very interested in linking my art historical studies to related fields such as History, Anthropology, Literature, Philosophy, History of Religion, Classics, etc. Is your program sympathetic to interdisciplinary research?

Yes, the Art History program and the University of Chicago in general are known for interdisciplinary work.  Our program makes room for courses taken in other departments (chosen in consultation with Art History advisors) and allows for faculty from other disciplines to be members of Ph.D. exam and dissertation committees. Students from other departments take our courses. Interdisciplinary thematic workshops featuring work-in-progress by advanced students and faculty are an important feature of intellectual life on campus.

I want to get an M.A. in Art History and then work for some time before committing to earning a Ph.D. in Art History. 

Our program is not appropriate for you, as we do not offer a terminal M.A. degree. Instead, consider applying to the University of Chicago’s Masters Program in the Humanities.  There you could earn an MA with a specialization in Art History, take graduate courses in the Department of Art History, and write an MA thesis with a member of the Art History department. Later on, you could apply to art history programs offering the Ph.D.

Do you require applicants to have a strong background in art history? My B.A. major was in another discipline.

Not always, but we are more likely to accept students with enough Art History background that they can demonstrate aptitude for and dedication to the field. Successful applicants usually also have a relatively clear idea of what they would like to study and what kinds of issues interest them. We understand, however, that those interests may change during their studies here.

Can I take just a few graduate courses in art history to explore the possibilities and get to know the University’s program?

You can test the waters by entering the graduate student-at-large program in the University's Graham School, which would allow you to take graduate art history courses in the Department of Art History on a part-time, non-degree basis.  Were you later to apply to and be accepted into the department's Ph.D. program the courses would be eligible for transfer credit.

Can I earn a Ph.D. while working part-time?

We don’t offer a part-time option. We offer five years of full funding to all admitted students and expect them to devote their time to their studies.

Do you have a distance-learning program?

No. Students must be in residence during their two years in course work and should be on campus during a third year of work completing Ph.D. exams and other requirements. Teaching requirements associated with the fellowship and academic training also need to be fulfilled on campus, usually in the third through fifth years. 

How long do students need to complete a Ph.D. in your program?

Ideally, students will complete the degree in six years, but this varies depending on individual circumstances. Those who need intensive language study may need more time. The online department handbook includes a chart mapping a typical student’s progress through the program.

How big is your entering class each year, and how many applications do you have?

Our entering class is typically about 9 students and we normally receive around 200 applications.

Is it necessary for applicants to visit the department or make contact by email or telephone with faculty members?

No. We advise, however, that you acquaint yourself with our program and consider who on the faculty would be a good fit for your interests or approach to art history. Sometimes that can be done by research and reading and sometimes a visit or other personal communication is helpful. You are welcome to contact the faculty in your area of interest by email.

If I decide to visit, when would be the best time?

We recommend that you visit during the academic year, rather than in the Summer, so that faculty are likely to be in residence and you can see the department at work. Our academic year runs on quarters rather than semesters; it starts late (around the end of September) and ends late (around the beginning of June). The ideal window for visits is from the third to seventh weeks of the quarter. For more information, see our academic calendar.

What language preparation do you look for in applicants?

Our language requirements are summarized on our online program description and detailed in our online department handbook.  It is advantageous for candidates to have met or made progress toward at least one or two of the language requirements for their area of study. 

We also encourage admitted students to enroll at the University in the summer before art history coursework begins, for language study. For students who need intensive work in non-European modern languages, the Department offers a subvention for living expenses for that preparatory summer.

My GRE scores are low and don’t reflect my academic ability. Will this disqualify me?

Not necessarily. We look to see whether GRE scores are consistent or not with other indicators of academic success and promise, such as grades, letters of recommendation, and writing sample, and we take the full dossier into account in making our decisions.

I am a foreign student who is not a native English speaker. What is the minimum TOEFL score needed for entrance?

The Dean of Students website provides an explanation of TOEFL requirements.

I missed the application deadline. May I apply to the program off-schedule?

No. We give funding to every student we admit and we can only consider students for funding on a common schedule. 

Preparing the application

My B.A. or M.A. thesis is 100 pages long and you ask for a shorter writing sample. 

Please excerpt your thesis and preface it with a paragraph or two explaining how the excerpt fits into the project as a whole.

My B.A. thesis is in another field, but I have written short course papers in art history. Which should I submit as a writing sample?

You may submit an excerpt from your B.A. thesis and a course paper in art history.

I didn’t write a B.A. thesis. Can I send a course paper?


What should I be trying to explain in my statement of purpose?

You do not need to insist on your past record of success or work ethic. Allow your recommenders to do that. Instead, concentrate on explaining your interests in the field of art history and how you have discovered and pursued them, and give examples of what you might like to research here. What kinds of questions excite you and do you hope to pursue? What areas of study do you have in mind? How well do you think our program and faculty, as described on our website, can meet those goals?

Do my letters of recommendation need to be all from former college or university teachers, or should I also obtain recommendations from employers?

We prefer letters from the former. 

I have submitted my online application but I want to add something to it. Should I send it to the department of art history?

No, everything must be sent to the Dean of Students Office.

One of my recommenders says her letter will be late. When do you actually start reading applications?

At the very beginning of January. We will, however, try to catch up on materials that arrive before we make a departmental decision in the second half of January.

Reapplying to the program

My application to the Art History program was rejected. Please tell me how to improve it when I reapply next year.

We are not able to review individual applications with unsuccessful applicants. If you applied with a B.A. degree but not an M.A. degree, you might wish to earn an M.A. before you reapply. That would enable us to review your work at a new level of accomplishment.

I applied to your program and was rejected. I wanted to study in an area in which none of your faculty specialized. Since you have just hired a faculty member in my area, does it make sense for me to reapply?

Absolutely. In reviewing applications, we look not only for excellence but also for a good fit between your interests and our resources.

For University of Chicago students in other programs

I am a student in another program at the University of Chicago and would like to transfer into Art History.

Contact both the Dean of Students in the Humanities and the Director of Graduate Studies in Art History to discuss the options.

I am a student in another program at the University of Chicago and would like to do a joint Ph.D. in Art History.

Contact both the Dean of Students in the Humanities and the Director of Graduate Studies in Art History to discuss the options.