Earning a Master’s in Art History Online

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Completing a master’s in art history online propels graduates into the upper echelons of the industry and prepares them to take senior-level roles at museums, research centers, and galleries across the world. As enrollment numbers for bachelor’s-level art history programs continue to rise, some students are looking for ways to stand out from the competition. This can be accomplished by earning a master’s degree.

Student Profile: Who Earns an Online Master’s Degree in Art History?

Most students who enroll in art history master’s programs online already possess a bachelor’s degree in the field. Learners may be interested in specializing in a particular area of art history to increase their career and salary prospects. This guide should help learners determine whether earning a master's degree in art history will help them accomplish their career goals.

Why Get a Master’s Degree in Art History?

Pursuing Specialization

Graduate programs offer a variety of specializations to help degree seekers stand out from their peers by allowing students to focus their knowledge in a niche area of the field. For example, some learners may feel drawn towards medieval European art, while others may focus on American folk art. Students with specific interests should take the time to find schools that can cater to their interests.

Career Advancement Opportunities

Individuals with bachelor’s degrees in art history typically begin their careers in entry-level roles. While entry-level workers can gain promotions by accumulating experience over time, an advanced degree can help you take on more responsibilities and receive higher pay sooner.

Online Learning Technology

Although art history as a discipline focuses on creative works of the past, the industry embraces modernity. By completing an online art history master’s degree program, students gain exposure to some of the latest communication technologies. This experience can give participants ideas about incorporating technology into art history collections and exhibits.

Prerequisites for Online Art History Programs

Before being admitted into a master's in art history online program, prospective degree seekers usually need to meet a number of prerequisites. The list below describes some common requirements.

    • Work Experience: While most online art history master’s programs do not mandate previous work experience, individuals who possess experience may have an advantage. Learners with some professional experience often feel more confident and knowledgeable when studying advanced material.
    • Exams and Test Scores: Some schools ask applicants to submit standardized test scores, such as their GRE scores. These scores usually need to be above the 50th percentile. GRE results remain valid for five years.
    • Coursework: Some programs allow learners with unrelated undergraduate degrees to enroll, while others require a minimum number of art history credits to receive consideration. Top programs usually favor GPAs of 3.0 or higher, while mid-level options generally ask for a minimum GPA of 2.5.
    • Recommendations: Advanced degree programs commonly ask for at least two letters of recommendation, which should be written by individuals who can speak to a student's preparedness for master’s-level studies. Letters typically come from former professors, supervisors, or mentors.
    • Essays: Many schools ask students to write statements of purpose to help explain their interest in art history, how they hope to use their degree after graduating, and why they feel that a particular institution will best serve their needs.
    • Interviews: Particularly selective schools may ask students to participate in an in-person or digital interview to help get a better sense of a candidate. These interviews help admissions panels clarify questions and differentiate prospective learners.
    • International Students In addition to the materials mentioned above, international students may need to provide TOEFL or IELTS scores to demonstrate English competency. They may also need to provide financial documents to demonstrate their ability to cover fees without the assistance of federal loans (for which they do not qualify).

How Much Can I Make with a Master’s Degree in Art History?

Salaries for graduates of online art history master’s degree programs vary considerably based on a worker's role, experience, and location. For example, the median salary for curators in 2018 was $53,780. Individuals in the bottom 10% of earners made about $29,000, while those among top 10% of earners made $94,330 per year. Increased job experience and advanced degrees can both lead to larger paychecks. Additionally, individuals with an art history can pursue some jobs outside of the field.

Traditional Careers for Master's in Art History Graduates

Careers Stats Description

Museum Registrar

Median Pay: $41,000

Museum registrars keep track of the items stored within an institution’s collection. They ensure safe keeping, take photos of each piece in case of damage or theft, and work with other museums to safely ship and receive pieces for special exhibitions.

Director of Development, Nonprofit Organization

Median Pay: $64,000

Working in museums, art galleries, or other nonprofit organizations, directors of development help raise the funds needed to keep an institution afloat. They may solicit donors, arrange fundraising events, seek grants, and work with marketing teams to promote notable pieces of art.

Curator, Museum

Median Pay: $49,000

Museum curators oversee permanent and loaned exhibitions on display, creating visitor-friendly spaces that shed light on art history and significance. They may develop special events around exhibit openings or work with other museums and donors to acquire new pieces.

Curator, Art Gallery

Median Pay: $45,000

Similar to museum curators, art gallery curators create unique installations and artwork exhibitions. They may provide visitor interpretation guides, develop events, and work to build relationships with artists and clients looking to place their work on display.

Source: Projection Central/PayScale

Nontraditional Careers for Art History Graduates

Some graduates of art history master’s online programs may opt to pursue less traditional jobs. Review the table below and consider how your existing skills could match up with the responsibilities of other positions.

Careers Stats Description

Archivist

Median Pay: $48,000

Skills Overlapped: Historical knowledge, collection management

Individuals in these roles work at museums and other nonprofits to develop public-facing programs that drive interest and foot traffic to an organization. They may work with education coordinators and fundraising managers to bring their ideas to reality before liaising with marketing teams to get the word out.

Program Coordinator, Nonprofit Organization

Median Pay: $42,000

Skills Overlapped: Programmatic creation, making history accessible

Archivists work in museums, historical societies, and libraries to document and organize large collections of documents, materials, manuscripts, and artifacts. They create systems of collection and organization and work to develop databases that the public can access.

Source: Projection Central/PayScale

Paying for an Online Master’s in Art History

As the cost of higher education continues to rise, prospective students must find innovative ways to reduce out-of-pocket costs and avoid exorbitant loan debt. Most learners find that attending a public university in their home state allows them to pay less in tuition, although some online programs charge all distance learners the same rate, regardless of their state of residency. Accelerated degree tracks can also help lower overall costs. Additionally, degree seekers should look for subject-specific scholarships, institutional awards, and federal grants.

Scholarships for Online Art History Master's Students

Virtual learners can apply to a variety of scholarships to help save on tuition. Schools provide institutional and programmatic awards, and nonprofits, corporations, and government agencies may also offer financial assistance. A few options available to art history students are highlighted below.

What to Expect from a Master’s-level Online Art History Program

Most master’s in art history online degree programs take approximately two years of full-time study to complete, although accelerated and part-time options are also available. Learners may be able to choose one of two culminating experiences: a thesis or a comprehensive capstone project focusing on a particular time period or piece of art. Students can engage with faculty and peers through prerecorded or live lectures, forums, chats, email, and phone calls.

Major Milestones

  1. Capstone Coursework

    Capstones allow students to demonstrate the knowledge they gained throughout a program by completing a comprehensive final project.

  2. Internships/Apprenticeships/Job Shadowing

    Though not often required, internships and apprenticeships can help students gain practical experience before graduation; this can make them stand out from their peers when it comes time to enter the job market.

  3. Thesis Preparation and Defense

    Theses provide an opportunity for learners interested in doctoral degrees and/or research-based positions to demonstrate mastery of a particular topic within art history.

  4. Licensure Exam and Exam Prep

    Art historians do not need to earn licensure.

  5. Intent to Graduate/Completion Confirmation

    After completing course requirements and defending their thesis/completing their capstone, students must signal their intention to graduate by speaking with the registrar’s office, filling out required forms, and paying any outstanding fees.

  6. Application to Doctoral Program

    Students who plan to move directly into a doctoral program should begin gathering necessary paperwork during the fall semester of their final year.

Coursework

Curricula vary between programs, but the classes discussed below should provide an idea of the type of coursework a student can expect to encounter while pursuing an art history master's degree online. Virtual learners can check with individual schools to learn more about exact program requirements.

Addressing Issues in Art Historical Research

This class explores issues arising within art history, including marginalized art, creating narratives from fragments, and encouraging accessibility within public exhibitions.

African Art

This course provides an overview of African visual art. Learners consider how cultural phenomena, such as the diaspora, oppression, and poverty, contribute to these pieces.

Museums and Society

Students in this class take a look at how museums inform societal impressions of art, how they can provide/hinder access, how exhibitions have evolved over time, and how to integrate technology in beneficial ways.

American Art, 1890-1935

This survey course takes a look at the modern American art scene during these formative years, moving from the Gilded Age through World War I and into the Great Depression.

Museum Management

This course explores major issues affecting museum management in modern times and helps students find creative ways to address problems. Learners also consider topics such as educational programming and responsible curation.

Degree Timelines

Learners pursuing an online art history master’s degree can often choose from several degree timelines, selecting the one that best fits their personal and professional needs.

Enrollment Status Time to Complete Description

Part-Time

3 years

Learners who enroll on a part-time basis usually finish their program in 30-36 months and complete 3-6 credits per term. This path may be especially appealing to individuals working full time who lack the bandwidth to take on intensive studies.

Full-Time

2 years

Full-time programs last approximately 24 months and require learners to take 6-9 credits per term. Students with less-demanding jobs or part-time roles may find this degree plan attractive.

Accelerated

1 year

Accelerated programs usually take 12-18 months and allow students to graduate quickly. This path may appeal to degree seekers who do not have many other responsibilities. Most classes last 5-8 weeks, allowing learners to get through more material in a shorter time frame.

Source: Projection Central/PayScale

Professional Organizations and Resources

Joining a professional organization can help students, recent graduates, and professionals meet others in their field and build connections. These organizations also allow members to take advantage of annual conferences, continuing education opportunities, industry discounts, job boards, and other services to help them feel more connected to the field.

  • Association of Historians of American Art Since 1979, AHAA has provided an international community for individuals working to advance American art. The group hosts annual sessions and biannual symposiums and offers members access to discounts, grants, and professional opportunities.
  • Association of Art Museum Curators AAMC members gain access to annual conferences; regional meetups; webinars; job postings; curatorial resources; and student support, including internships and fellowships.
  • Fine Art Dealers Association FADA connects fine art dealers with galleries, provides access to industry events, connects members, and offers a database of more than 5,000 curated works that users can search through.
  • Society of Contemporary Art Historians Individuals can join regional SCAH groups and take advantage of an annual panel, participate in the Syllabus project, and read about the latest industry news.
  • Midwest Art History Society MAHS is a regional group that hosts an annual conference and offers career support, industry news, and other resources.
  • 10 Jobs for Art History Majors This list provides ideas for students looking to use their art history master’s degree online in innovative ways.
  • A Day in the Life of an Art Historian The History Channel provides this glimpse into the life of someone who uses their art history degree to further public interest in the history of art.
  • An Interview with a Curator: Ashlee Whitaker Brigham Young University’s Museum of Art shares this interview with a curator who creates art installations and exhibitions for a living.
  • Art, Pleasure & Power: an Interview with Art Historian Alison Cole Culture Trip brings readers into the everyday life of Alison Cole as she discusses how she uses her art history degree to travel the world and work with art.
  • Why Study Art History Learners unsure about earning an online master’s in art history can find answers to their questions in this helpful article published by IESA.