Become a Museum Curator: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Learn about the educational requirements for becoming a museum curator. Find out what museum curators do, and explore the step-by-step process that can help you start a career in museum curating.

Should I Become a Museum Curator?

Museum curators oversee museum collections by managing the acquisition, preservation and display of museum artifacts. Curators may also be in charge of authenticating the age and origin of pieces and could also work with the public. In addition, many curators work with the museum's board of directors and are responsible for museum fundraising, public relations and site management. A bachelor's degree is the minimum education requirement for museum curators, though preference is often given to applicants who have a master's degree and/or work experience. A PhD is necessary for some higher-level positions. While restoring and setting up exhibits, curators may need to climb ladders and lift heavy objects. In general, a great deal of time might be spent standing.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree (minimum), master's degree (preferred)
Degree Field Art, history, archeology, museum studies or a related field
Experience 4-5 years of experience required for many professional positions
Key Skills Strong organizational, management and critical-thinking skills, database management, and physical stamina
Salary (2014) $55,670 (Average annual wage for curators of museums and historical sites)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Salary.com.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Prospective curators must obtain a bachelor's degree. Since curators can work for many different kinds of museums (art, science, natural history, etc.), students should choose a major that's relevant to the type of museum they plan to work in. For example, an aspiring art museum curator may consider studying fine arts or art history, while a future historical museum curator may consider studying anthropology or history.

Success Tips

  • Complete volunteer work. Logging volunteer hours at a museum can give students valuable first-hand experience that can help them stand out on the job market.
  • Take business and marketing courses. Since curators play a vital role in purchasing artifacts and planning fundraisers for museums, elective coursework in business and marketing may expand career opportunities and prepare students for the more business-oriented aspects of curating.

Step 2: Complete a Master's Degree

A master's degree is a far more common educational requirement for museum curating positions than a bachelor's degree. Master's degree students typically choose a specialized area of study, such as Native American history or ancient Chinese art. Holding multiple master's degrees (one in museum studies and one in a specialty area) may give prospective curators a competitive edge over applicants who hold only one master's degree. Students should pursue their studies in a field related to the type of museum they want to work in.

Success Tips

  • Take museology courses. Students earning a master's degree in a specialized subject may consider taking museum studies courses as electives. Completing courses in areas like exhibit organization or grant writing can help a student prepare for a career in curating and stand out to employers.
  • Join museology organizations. Joining one or more professional organizations can help a prospective curator keep up with developments in the field, and membership can also serve as a networking tool to help a student find a job.

Step 3: Get Experience

Internships are required by some graduate programs, but they can be completed voluntarily as well. Participating in an internship program in a museum will greatly increase job prospects for graduates, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS explains that it's common for aspiring museum curators to work in lower-level positions for a few years after finishing their studies. Work experience as an assistant or research associate can help future curators learn the practical skills they need to land leadership roles in this competitive field.

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