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Cut Down the Search for an Undergrad Program in History

written by: Erik Hinrichsen•edited by: Noreen Gunnell•updated: 8/17/2010

No doubt searching for a history program is a difficult task. We've cut down the search by outlining the very best.

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    The best rated colleges for a history undergraduate degree combine great teaching, top-notch facilities, and world class professors into one institution. Of course, it can be difficult to determine just what makes one particular school better than another. Just about every school worth its salt will have a history program, and most top schools will have similarly elite programs. The very best schools for history distinguish themselves by offering a wide variety of courses and hiring professors at the top of their respective fields.

    For this reason, it is difficult for small colleges to compete with larger, more research-oriented universities in terms of history programs. Larger schools tend to attract the best professors and the most grant money, which means that students gain the ability to network with and learn from some of the best historians in the world. That is not to say that smaller schools don't have their advantages, though; paper grading and discussion sections at large schools are often the responsibility of teaching assistants, who are generally just graduate students themselves. Students looking for a more personal experience would be well served to investigate small liberal arts colleges. However, the breadth of opportunities offered at the following institutions are unparalleled at any other school.

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    1. Princeton University, Princeton, NJ.
    2. Stanford University, Stanford, CA.
    3. University of California- Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
    4. Yale University, New Haven, CT
    5. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
    6. University of Chicago, Chicago, IL.
    7. Columbia University, New York, NY.
    8. University of Michigan- Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI
    9. Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD.
    10. University of California- Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA.
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    These schools, spread about the country though they may be, all share one aspect in common: they are all universities. That fact is no coincidence. The best history schools conduct original research, which means professors are usually actively publishing. In addition to exposing students to elite professors, this gives undergraduate students the opportunity to assist in research. Some students may even be able to publish work, be it on their own or with a professor. Because publishing greatly increases a student's chances of being accepted to graduate school, this gives students at research universities a major leg up over other students.

    Among schools in the top ten, differences in history program quality are virtually indistinguishable. Indeed, US News and World Report had each of the top four schools tied for number one. Beyond looking at schools with a number next to their names, students should research which areas a particular school is most well-known for. For instance, one school may have some of the best professors in Middle Ages European history, while another could be unparalleled in studies of Byzantium. Also, most of these schools are private, and so cost significantly more than the public universities on the list. Students must take all these factors into account- cost, ranking, and area of interest - when choosing a school. This list is merely a jumping-off point.