Now that we’ve thought more about the different ways to approach preservation, we can start exploring specific programs. Start big – use National Council for Preservation Education‘s great resource for finding HP programs – and narrow it down.
The most important factors for me are location, type of program (history/theory focused, honorable mention to planning, not interested in landscape or materials conservation), and financial investment, which left me with six that I wanted to learn more about.
1. College of Charleston + Clemson University
When graduate school first crossed my mind, I turned immediately to (1) College of Charleston in South Carolina, which now partners with (1b) Clemson University for its joint MSHP program, though it is still taught in the city of Charleston. Already having familial ties to the city, I lucked out again in knowing the head of the department – a former professor at my alma mater, University of Mary Washington. A model for preservation in America, Charleston seems a no-brainer for those of us from traditional East Coast programs.
2. Savannah College of Art & Design
Similarly, I looked at (2) Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD), housed out of another beautiful southern town. SCAD offers an array of online graduate courses, which sparked my interest since I’m in Denver, so it would allow me to keep my current job and take classes online before relocating to complete on-campus requirements.
In truth, though, both programs have received so-so reviews. The most resounding comment on SCAD has been the lack of accessibility to advisors and professors; “often it was Me, Myself, and I,” said one alum. And critics of Charleston felt the program lacked training in practical preservation issues, such as budgeting, tax credits, and national register nominations, leaving alumni feeling unprepared.
Location, Location, Location
But more so than any commentary on programs or staff, the biggest downside for me with Savannah and Charleston is that, apparently, they don’t hold much clout outside the southern/mid-Atlantic region. A Charleston alum told me she didn’t realize when she moved to the Southwest after graduating that so few had heard of the program, and even fewer understood its merit within the field, and this really hindered her in finding a job.
This brings to light a really important issue in deciding where to go to school and one I’ve heard from several sources – choose a place in which you could see yourself practicing after you graduate. The connections you make in grad school are plentiful and can help you find work in the town, city, or region. Conversely, if you relocate, you’re basically re-starting from scratch to establish your professional name – unless you pursue a degree at a big-name school everyone, everywhere has heard of, like Columbia or UPenn.
While UPenn’s historic preservation program has never interested me much (materials conservation is not my cup o’ tea, nor are any other program foci, in particular, and I’m indifferent to Philadelphia), I’d ruled out (3) Columbia based only on price tag. The notion of a student loan on top of the high cost of living was too much for my little brain to handle. This was compounded by a friend’s critique of Columbia’s program, which was all-in-all positive, but included phrases like “there were a LOT of sleepless nights, and yes, tears, too…” The notion of a highly rigorous program on top of financial concerns is intimidating.
However, I decided to reinvestigate Columbia after I fell down the rabbit hole of their website and read a whole slew of impressive, fun NYC students projects.
The prospect of studying in New York is appealing both for its built environment wow-factor and for the solid connections that can be made within that community after graduation.
4. Pratt Institute
Additionally, since Columbia is the oldest MSHP program in the country, it’s got its groove, unlike a lot of newer programs, like the (4) Pratt Institute, which are still figuring themselves out and working out the kinks. Aside from noting the program is still struggling to find its identity, the Pratt alum I spoke with raved about its focus on connecting local preservation groups with students on class projects throughout the city, creating a particularly hands-on and interactive experience that mimics “real life” preservation work.
5. University of Kentucky
But, the expense for NYC-based programs really cannot be overlooked even in the least, which is why I’ve looked also at (5) University of Kentucky. A close friend and former coworker left her CRM job for UK’s Pres program, as did a few other cohorts from my undergraduate days.
For her, the program was very approachable. Not only does UK really support their students – nearly everyone in her class received hefty financial aid – but they also provide internships during the semester, all of which are paid (Did you read that? PAID!)
Clearly, the financial benefits of this program are aplenty, but even more so is the work experience. To leave school with a degree AND a paycheck AND a listing or two on your resume is invaluable. Perhaps the only downside expressed was the similarity to Mary Washington’s B.A. program; it’s possible if you’ve already studied HP undergraduate, this program could leave you feeling unchallenged (though interest in a less demanding program is, in my opinion, very legitimate.)
6. University of Colorado-Denver
The last program I looked at is right under my nose. Having just moved to the Mile High City a year ago, I would be remiss not to check out the program at (6) University of Colorado-Denver. I made an appointment with an admissions counselor and learned a gosh darn ton of information. This is the guy I mentioned last time who told me I shouldn’t get an MA in HP if I already have a BA in it.
Aside from that, UCD allows part-time enrollment and, as such, encourages students to create theses that are applicable to projects in their current professional positions, so even though one alum said attending school while working was extremely demanding, ultimately she might kill two birds with one stone, having something to show for both her graduate experience and, say, that historic district she needed to survey for her job. That’s a big plus.
More to Consider
Whew. That was a lot to consider. But now that I’ve got my short list, it’s time for me to see if I can actually afford to attend any of these schools (assuming I’d be able to get into them…) also next time, we’ll delve into…dun dun dun…financial aid and monneyyy!
P.S. I know, I know, there are about a bazillion things I haven’t mentioned about these schools, but space is, after all, finite. Just use online resources to examine professors and program requirements, and then read through archives of student projects. If you don’t like the professors, projects, or way in which those projects were performed or presented, that’s probably a sign you’re iffy on the program.
Let’s discuss Benjamin Franklin – the one in your wallet. (Coming in December!)
Claire L. Lanier is a native east coaster and studied Historic Preservation at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, VA. Last year she moved to Denver on a whim with some friends and can’t get over just how incredible the Rockies are. One day she hopes to restore and operate a historic movie theater where she can show Indiana Jones marathons and finally have her own Add-Your-Own-Butter machine.
Helpful Hint from Histpres
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