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Getting to Grad School Getting to Grad School
25 June 2022

Getting to Grad School


Written by: Sara Thornburg


Becoming an art conservator in the United States can take years of preparation, depending on where you’re starting from. Being a multidisciplinary field, coursework in art history, chemistry, and studio art is required to enter into a graduate program, of which there are only a handful in the States, each only accepting less than a dozen students each year.

The application process is grueling, with only a small percentage of applicants being granted an interview, and even fewer being accepted. Many pre-program students and interns apply multiple times before being accepted. This year was my first.

I applied to the Winterthur University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (WUDPAC) and SUNY Buffalo State College Garman Art Conservation Program. Both applications required the typical transcripts and personal statements, a few letters of recommendation, a CV, but they also required an art portfolio and a portfolio of my conservation and conservation related work. The art portfolio demonstrates an ability to work with your hands and familiarity with art and craft techniques. The conservation portfolio serves as a showcase for your experience in performing treatments and understanding the reasonings behind your decisions.

After submitting everything, I was surprised to hear back from both schools inviting me to interview with them. I never thought I would make it this far on my first application. Each school runs their interviews a little differently, so I spent the next month preparing two slightly different presentations for the virtual interview. The conservators at HFC were monumental in their help and support during this whole process, inviting me to do practice runs of my presentation and asking questions that I might encounter during the interviews.

The schools also offered their own support in preparation, each assigning me a student host from the program to answer questions and review my presentation with. During this time, virtual tours of each program’s lab spaces were given, and group Zoom calls with other interviewees were held to get to know students at the programs and ask any questions about student life there.

My interviews were on different days back to back. After meticulously setting up a space to do my interviews and testing my mic, camera, lighting, timing, and delivery multiple times, and obsessing over what I should wear, the days came. The day of my second interview I started coming down with the flu, and I somehow willed myself through it without so much as a sniffle. After going through both interviews, the differences between each were very apparent. Each program had a different tone and method, that reflected what others had told me about each. With a weight lifted from my shoulders, and my immune system valiantly fighting the flu, it would be a long two weeks before admissions decisions were announced.

WUDPAC regretted to inform me that I would not be joining their class of 2025.

Buffalo told me I had been waitlisted, and I would have up to another week before getting a final answer.

After two days of anxiously and obsessively checking my email, I got what I had been waiting for, my acceptance letter into Buffalo State College Garman Art Conservation’s class of 2025! I will be moving up to Buffalo to begin my studies there after I finish my internship at Harpers Ferry Center, and I couldn’t be more excited! I wouldn’t be here without the guidance and wisdom of the conservators at HFC, they’ve been absolutely wonderful, and I couldn’t have asked for a better pre-program experience.

Agency: National Park Service

Program: Harpers Ferry Center Program

Location: Harpers Ferry Center for Media Services



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