Application FAQs

Application Guidelines

The general application process is outlined in our Application Procedures page.

Q: My Undergraduate/Master's degree is in a field other than Art History. Do you consider applicants with non-art history degrees?

A: A degree in Art History is not a requirement for entrance into the Ph.D. program in Art History at Northwestern. However, we ask that applicants without prior art history degrees seriously consider the appropriateness of their training and background. Students who have related degrees in the humanities (for instance, a major in French for someone whose area of interest is in 19th century French art) might be perfectly suited for our program. Other students whose degrees are less related might consider applying elsewhere for an M.A., or even a second B.A., in Art History before applying to our program.

Q: I have completed my M.A., or part of my M.A., at another institution – does your program accept transfer credits?

A: After completing four quarters in good standing, students may petition their advisor and the DGS for the transfer of up to three course credits towards the Ph.D. for graduate work conducted at another university. Based on the student's program, the advisor will determine, in consultation with the DGS, which, if any requirements these credits will satisfy (i.e. major field or breadth requirements). Transfer credits may not be used for any course within the three-part Critical Theories and Practices sequence. We do not accept transfer credits from partially completed M.A. degrees.

Q: Do I have to fill out my entire application on-line? Should I send anything via mail?

A: Our entire application can be filled out online via the CollegeNET online application page. Please submit all materials, including writing samples and electronic copies of transcripts, online. DO NOT submit writing samples via mail. Some recommenders prefer to send recommendations via mail. Although we much prefer letters of recommendation to be submitted electronically, we understand that this is not always possible. Please make sure to notify our office via email if your recommenders will be mailing their letters.

Q: Where should I send my transcripts?

A: Transcripts will only be submitted electronically during the application process. If a student is admitted and enrolls, only then must he/she submit official hardcopies of all transcripts before beginning classes.

Q. The file size of my writing sample is too large to upload, what should I do?

A: If your file size is too large, chances are you need to compress the PDF.  This article outlines five different ways you can do so.  Please make sure your writing sample still conforms to the maximum allowed length of 30 pages (in total).

Testing Requirements

Q: Do you have a minimum GRE score or GPA?

A: Although we don't have a minimum GPA or GRE score, most of our admitted students have had GPAs above 3.5 and scored above 600 on the verbal portion of the GRE. Students with GRE verbal scores well below 600—or its equivalent given the new GRE test implemented by ETS as of November 2011—may consider re-taking the test, while students with GPAs below 3.5 might include a letter of explanation with their application. Since GPAs and GREs are but two factors that the admissions committee considers, we still encourage strong applicants, whose numbers may fall below these thresholds, to apply. To be considered valid for Fall 2018 admission, official scores must be taken no more than five years before the intended quarter of entry and must come directly from the Educational Testing Service (ETS). For example, to be considered valid for Fall 2018 admission, GRE scores must be no older than September 2013.

Q: Do all international students need to submit a TOEFL score? Are there any other tests I need to take before applying?

A: International students who do not need to submit TOEFL scores are those for whom English is a first language, and those who have earned a four-year Undergraduate Degree or a two-year or longer Master's degree from an accredited institution whose language of instruction is English. International applicants who need to take a TOEFL for admission must also take the SPEAK test by the end of their first year of study in order to qualify for a TA-ship. To be considered valid for Fall 2018 admission, TOEFL scores must be no older than September 2016.

Q: What is your institutional code for submitting my GRE or TOEFL scores?

A: GRE school code: 1565

     TOEFL school code: 1565

     Department code: 2301

Q: Do you consider late applications? What if my GRE or TOEFL scores don't reach you by Dec. 31st?

A: Because of the volume of applications we receive, we cannot extend our deadline or review incomplete or late applications. It is the applicants' responsibility to ensure that all portions of their applications reach us by Dec. 31st. The Graduate School recommends that applicants take the GRE or TOEFL at least three months prior to the departmental application deadline. It is primarily for this reason that we encourage applicants to submit the bulk of their applications online. If you are concerned that you application is incomplete, please contact art-history@northwestern.edu.

Q: I am an international student and our grading and/or testing system works differently from the grading system of the US– what should I do?

A: For any questions regarding the grading or testing systems of international universities, please speak to Cate Arrom at tgsadmission@northwestern.edu who will best be able to answer your questions.

Program Structure

General Program Requirements for the doctoral program can be found here.

Q: How are graduate students in your department funded?

A: All of our graduate students are guaranteed funding for 5 years through a combination of University Fellowship (2 years) and TA-ship (3 years). Funding includes tuition, a living stipend, and health insurance. Most graduate students begin to apply for outside funding beginning in their fourth year of study. It is important for graduate students to build up a record of grants and fellowships early in their academic career.

Q: How long is your program? Is it full time? Do I live in Chicago for the duration?

A: Generally, graduate students earn their Ph.D.s in an average of 7 years. The program is full time; up to their fifth year, graduate students receive a living stipend either from their University Fellowship or their TA-ship. All students are expected to be in residence for the first three years of study - after their third year, students are encouraged to seek outside funding, which generally takes them off campus. Students are required to take a minimum of 18 graded courses during their time in residence.

Q: What is your Language Requirement?

A: Students must pass two foreign language reading proficiency exams before being advanced to candidacy. One of these must be in the 1st year and, typically, one of these languages must be French or German, while the 2nd is selected by the student in consultation with the advisor in relation to the student's program. In some circumstances, additional language competency may be required. We strongly encourage students to have some level of fluency in at least one foreign language before applying. 

Getting to Know the Faculty

Q: Can I contact current faculty or graduate students?

A: You may contact members of the Department in advance of submitting your application, but please note that both faculty and graduate students are very busy; they might not have time to respond in depth or at all to your inquiries. Before contacting anyone, you should thoroughly familiarize yourself with the all of the materials contained on this website. You will also want to be sure to engage the work and writing of those faculty—both in Art History and beyond—with whom you are most interested in studying. In reaching out to prospective advisors, you want to be as informed as possible in order to make the best first impression and to use your time and the faculty member's effectively. For all administrative and application questions, please contact art-history@northwestern.edu.

Q: I can't find any faculty on your website that focus on the area I am interested in pursuing. Should I still apply to the program?

A: Although we encourage all qualified applicants to apply, it is very important that graduate students have a faculty advisor who is able to guide their research. Applicants whose research interests are unrepresented by our faculty should strongly consider applying to a program that better serves their interests.

Q: I am interested in working with a member of the faculty who is visiting, adjunct, or emeritus. Should I still apply?

A: At the end of the 1st year, students select an advisor in their major field, presumably the dissertation director. Only tenure line faculty can serve as a student's primary advisor. If you are interested in working with a visiting or adjunct faculty member, please keep in mind that this person will most likely not be at Northwestern University for the duration of your studies. If you are interested in studying with an emeritus faculty member, please know that emeritus faculty do not serve as advisors to graduate students, and are not present on campus. Applicants should have a good idea of which tenure line faculty member they would like to serve as their advisor.

Q: The faculty member with whom I am interested in working is on leave this year, or will be on leave next year - can this person still serve as an advisor?

A: Faculty leaves rarely last for more than one year, so on leave faculty members will most likely be back on campus in your first or second year at Northwestern. We encourage students to apply regardless of faculty leave status.

Further Guidance

Q: I still have a question not covered here or in the Graduate Student Handbook. Whom should I contact?

A: For all administrative or application questions, please email art-history@northwestern.edu. Please ONLY contact faculty and current graduate students with questions about the content of the program or their research interests after you have exhausted the relevant resources.