When it comes to the humanities, the Ivy League is still the best place to go for a degree. USA Today recently published on May 13, 2016, the top 10 colleges to pursue a history major. Yale University topped the list of colleges that heavily featured Ivy League and top tier universities. The list corresponds with US News’ ranking of the top history graduate programs. US News’ last ranking was in 2013 as part of the Best Grad Schools and featured Princeton University as the top school to pursue a doctoral degree in history although it tied with two others, the University of California-Berkeley and Yale. Those who obtain the doctoral degrees from the universities are more likely to get the coveted work as tenure-track professors at universities granting four-year degrees.
According to USA Today, Yale is the best university for undergraduates to pursue a history major, because of the faculty, the varied fields and areas students are required to take, noting it is one of the university’s most popular major. Princeton is in second place, because of its “strong faculty’ and “innovative curriculum,” where pre-modern European history is a specialty. Harvard sits in third place because of its focus on interdisciplinary learning and study abroad program. In fourth is the University of Pennsylvania because of its faculty, “highly specialized classes,” and “interdisciplinary aspect,” history is one of the universities most popular majors. Rounding out the top five is Boston College, the first non-Ivy on the list, included because of its “selectivity and demanding curriculum.”
In sixth place is Columbia that “combines diverse classes with “research opportunities to equip graduates with the skills to think critically and communicate effectively.” The first public university on the list is University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in seventh place, one of the “public Ivies.” USA Today notes it “provides an Ivy League academic experience for a public school price. In short, UNC is a good value for your educational dollar.” UNC provides an “innovative program that combines analyzing traditional historical topics and themes with the study of new fields in contemporary history.”
At number, eight is the University of California-Los Angeles because it is a “distinguished university” with “rigorous classes.” At number nine is Cornell, where their major “allows students to take classes in both general and specialized history.” Finally, in tenth place is “private liberal arts college” Colgate University where students can enhance their major “by studying off-campus and abroad.” USA Today’s rankingsinclude starting and mid-level salaries, but not indicate whether students have any additional degrees whether graduate or professional before entering the workforce.
According to US News, Princeton is the top destination for graduate degrees in history followed by University of California-Berkeley and Yale all tying for first place. Harvard, Stanford, and the University of Chicago all tied for fourth place. Two universities, Columbia and the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor tied for seventh place. The University of California-Los Angeles and the University of Pennsylvania both tied for ninth place.
US News included rankings based on sub-fields and specialties within history. The list predominantly includes those in the main top 10. The top school for African history is the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Harvard is the top for Asian history. University of Texas-Austin is the best school for Latin American history.
The University of California-Berkeley is the best for cultural history and European history. As for American history fields, Yale is the school for African-American History and Modern U.S. History. Harvard is the best university for U.S. Colonial history. While Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey-New Brunswick is the school for Women’s history.
These universities are the best school to study history whether at the undergraduate or graduate level. In every field or area, because of the professor and scholars who teach at these history departments are the premiere experts in their fields. In the humanities and social sciences especially at the graduate level, the university becomes less important and becomes more about the scholars students work under or advise their theses and dissertations.
The reasons students pursue an undergraduate major and graduate degrees are often vastly different. As USA Today pointed out, history majors allow students to learn “advanced writing, reading, and analytical skills,” most end up “pursuing careers in numerous fields.” Few go on to graduate degrees in history and specifically take a history major for graduate school. As US News indicates a history graduate degree entails, “analysis, research, and presentations. In some cases, students must also complete a thesis and master a second language before graduation.”
The number of undergraduates majoring in history is dropping, and as of 2014 represents less than two percent of all undergraduate degrees conferred. Historian Robert B. Townsend indicated, “2014 marks the largest one-year decline since 1978 and the smallest number awarded since 2004. In 2014, the number of history degrees dropped “9.1% (to 30,810).”
In contrast, the numbers of history doctoral degrees are growing although they represent just fewer than two percent of all PhDs. For four years from 2010 to 2014, the number of doctoral degrees in history conferred increased, with “1,043 PhDs awarded.” Townsend noted, “This is the largest number of history PhDs ever recorded, even as the discipline is now five years into a weak academic job market. Despite the growth, history’s share of doctoral degrees has been relatively flat in recent years due to increases across most academic fields.”
Masters degrees in history have been an indicator of the trends of history doctoral degrees, and they have been falling recently. In 2012, 4,038 degrees were awarded, and in 2014, only 3,702 degrees were awarded. History doctoral degrees usually fall in a few years after masters’ degrees numbers start declining.
The traditional job market for history PhDs has also been declining in the last five years. There are fewer positions advertised for three years in a row, and the number of tenure-track faculty positions has been in decline in the last five years. The situation is not going to get better since few faculty members are approaching retirement age. As with history major graduates, those with a doctorate are now looking beyond teaching and academia to find work.
In 2013, 24 percent of history PhDs were working outside of academia in jobs related to their degree applying their knowledge to other areas. Some of the areas included higher education administration, libraries, museums and archives, and government. Government posts include those at “federal, state, or local government agencies.” The positions include “program directors, managers, researchers, diplomats, military personnel, and politicians.”
According to an American Historical Association survey from 2013, 50 percent of history PhDs had tenure-track positions at 4-year institutions, while 2 percent had in 2-year colleges. Those with doctorates in U.S. history were “25 percent less likely to be employed on tenure track than were specialists in other fields.” Receiving a degree from a top ranking university improves the chances of gaining a tenure-track post. A majority, two-thirds of doctoral graduates stayed close to the region they received their degree, but if they remained in the same region, they were less likely.