Basic Advice for Conservation Graduate School Applications from ECPN

As the deadlines for graduate school applications approach, many pre-program conservators have been soliciting information and advice on the application process.  Here are some answers to the basic questions received by Emerging Conservation Professional Network (ECPN) officers.  These questions are geared towards the Art Conservation programs in North America, but much of the information is basic enough to cover concerns for a variety of graduate programs.
What information should my personal statement cover?
Your personal statement is your chance to introduce yourself to the schools beyond listing your resume, GPA, GRE, etc.  It should be autobiographical by highlighting your major experiences that have prepared you for school, and just as importantly, it should explain how that particular program would be a good fit for you.  Each program is different and requires a tailored personal statement (and application).   How are you prepared for graduate school and a professional career in art conservation? Ask people to proofread your statement!  Remember, this is your opportunity to impress the review committee; you don’t want typos letting you down.
If a writing sample is required, what kind of sample should I choose?
The writing sample proves that you can concisely and effectively articulate your point.  These are important skills to have when writing condition and treatment reports. There is no minimum or maximum length, since reviewers most likely will skim them to get a feel for your writing style.
Who should write my recommendations?
For conservation recommendations, choose someone whom you feel witnessed your hand skills and work ethic, and got to know your personality.  For academic recommendations, choose someone whom you feel is familiar with your work and knows about your goals of becoming a professional conservator.  Choose people that you feel comfortable asking.  If you’re unsure about someone, approach her by asking if she thinks that you’re ready to apply.  **Be sure to give your recommenders plenty of time to write, keeping in mind that the holiday season is right before the applications are due.
What type of artwork should I submit (through photographs)?
Your artwork should reflect your developed dexterity and can range from oil paintings and hand-bound books, to sculpture and cross-stitch.  Be sure that drawings and paintings are representational and/or precise, not gestural abstract designs, so you can demonstrate your hand skills. If you can’t take photographs at your pre-program site, just do your best to take professional-looking photographs at home.  Improvise!
What if I have extra information to send, like treatment reports, recommendations, etc?
Although tempting to send one more recommendation or some portfolio pages, only submit the required documents and information.  There is not enough time for schools to read extras; they won’t, and it will have been a complete waste of your time. Spend that time proofreading your documents or beginning your portfolio.
What’s in a portfolio?
Focus your energy on submitting your application first, however it is good to maintain your portfolio during your pre-program experiences so that assembling one for your interview won’t be a daunting task. Portfolios are just as personal as your personal statements, so they can vary widely.  There are basic things that each portfolio should include, but don’t be afraid to find a way to make it your own.  Portfolios include: Table of Contents, C.V./Resume, Condition and Treatment Reports (treatments that represent your best work, as broad as possible), and Related Information (experiences that relate to conservation, like condition surveys, archaeological digs, curated exhibitions, etc.).  More and more schools are allowing or demanding digital portfolios, but some do not.  When the time comes to prepare for your interview, check which version the school prefers to see.
Get in touch with recent or current graduates from the program that you are interested in attending to gain their perspectives on the process. If your supervisor feels he/she does not have current information, contact ECPN, regional liaisons, or post on the ECPN Facebook page to find recent graduates.
There are also past blog posts on the AIC blog,, that provide good information, especially the series “10 Tips for Becoming a Conservator.” (To find those, type that title in the search bar to the right of this post.)
Application Deadlines:
New York UniversityDecember 18, 2013
Buffalo State CollegeJanuary 7, 2014
Winterthur/University of Delaware:  January 15, 2014
Queen’s University January 31, 2014
Getty/University of California: This program accepts students every other year, and 2014 is an “off” year, so no applications will be accepted at this time.
*Stay tuned for follow-up blog posts on preparing for your graduate school interview (in late winter), and preparing for your graduate and post-graduate internship and fellowship interviews (in the spring)!
ECPN would like to thank the Education and Training Committee (ETC) for their valuable input, as well as the conservators at the National Museum of the American Indian.

3 thoughts on “Basic Advice for Conservation Graduate School Applications from ECPN”

  1. Great article. Thanks for writing it, Fran. I’m looking forward to the follow- up posts.

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