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. View article »

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  • 0:00 Museum Curators
  • 0:49 Career Information
  • 1:32 Step 1: Earn a…
  • 2:27 Step 2: Complete a…
  • 3:34 Step 3: Get Experience

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Video Transcript

Museum Curators

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 a museum's board of directors and are responsible for museum fundraising, public relations and site management. A bachelor's degree in art, history, archeology, museum studies or a related field is the minimum education requirement for museum curators. Preference is often given to applicants who have a master's degree and/or 4-5 years of work experience. A PhD is necessary for some higher-level positions.

Career Information

Museum curators should have good critical thinking, organizational and public contact skills. They should also know how to manage and work with database systems. 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. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that museum curators earned a median annual salary of $51,520 as of May 2015. From 2014-2024, museum curators can expect an 8% growth in employment. Now let's go through the steps you'll need to follow to become a museum curator.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

As we stated earlier, prospective curators must obtain a bachelor's degree. Since curators can work for many different kinds of museums, such as art, science and natural history, 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 in 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 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 a museum curator than a bachelor's degree. Students in master's degree programs 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. Again, 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

Some graduate programs require internships, 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). Aspiring museum curators commonly 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.

If you're still interested in becoming a museum curator, remember, you'll need at least a bachelor's degree and most likely a master's degree to obtain a position, after which you may earn a median annual salary of $51,520.

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