Polygence blog / Education and College Admissions

Best Schools for History in the US

5 minute read

History provides a crucial context for understanding the world we live in today. Studying humanity’s past experiences, decisions, and discoveries yields perspective on modern times while honing vital skills like research, writing, and critical analysis. Identifying the right college program is essential for students seeking to dive deep into historical inquiry. 

Top Programs for Studying History 

This list explores the best schools for history majors, what makes them exemplary, and how to pick the best fit for your interests.

#1 Yale University

Location: New Haven, Connecticut
Tuition: $59,950

Why is it famous? 

  • Renowned faculty like John Gaddis, Paul Kennedy, and Valerie Hansen shatter myths in military, economics, and Asian history.  

  • Emphasizes intense primary source research, foreign language acquisition, and thesis writing as capstones. 

  • History majors achieve distinguished careers in law, policy research, writing, and academia.

Polygence research program mentors:

Joseph G: Hi, I'm Joe, a Yale economics graduate and current employee at Google. At Yale, I studied a wide range of subjects, with my greatest areas of interest being behavioral economics, financial markets, and Chinese language, literature, culture, and politics. A recipient of multiple Chinese language fellowships, I spent a year in Northeastern China studying the language and conducting research on Chinese wealth management products. Today, I work on the product team at Google, where I am focused on smart home products. 

#2 Cornell University 

Location: Ithaca, New York
Tuition: $62,250

Why is it famous? 

  • Standout global breadth with dedicated programs in Hellenic studies, Latin American history, and more. 

  • Successful alumni span Congress, intelligence agencies, journalism, and historical associations.  

Polygence research program mentors:

Sydnie: I'm Sydnie, and I grew up in Los Angeles, California. I've always been fascinated with the literature and mythology of Ancient Greece and Rome, so it felt natural for me to major in Classics at Cornell University. After I finished my undergraduate degree there in 2020, I started a PhD program in Classical Philology at Yale University. The "Philology" part of Classical Philology means I focus on reading texts, though I also love looking at artifacts and traveling around Greece visiting archaeological sites too. Some of my broader interests in antiquity include magic and witchcraft, cross-cultural interaction, the roles of women, and tragic performance. 

#3 Stanford University

Location: Stanford, California
Tuition: $61,699

Why is it famous?

  • Innovative curricular focus on historical thinking and research methodology from the outset. 

  • Integration with Stanford’s acclaimed area studies programs from African and African American studies to international relations.  

  • Opportunities to craft joint degrees blending history with computer science, education, and other disciplines.

  • Graduates are at distinguished institutions like the Hoover Institution and the Council on Foreign Relations.

Polygence research program mentors:

AJ N: I am a journalist, translator, and scholar of the Middle East with a particular focus on politics, religion, and culture. I am currently a Knight Hennessy Scholar at Stanford and a Ph.D. student in the Department of Comparative Literature focused on French, Arabic, and Turkish cultures and languages. Broadly speaking, I’ve traveled across Western Europe probing Syrian writers in exile, slept in refugee camps from Jordan to Lebanon, retraced the life of a Black Lives Matter leader in Charlotte, interviewed the Prime Minister of Kosovo, and partook in Sufi rituals in Egypt. When I was a junior in college, my reporting was published by the Washington Post, and I’m a two-time grant recipient of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. I enjoy photography, hiking (spending time with monks), haiku writing, and city promenading. I also love playing tennis and Ping pong. I look forward to using journalistic methodologies to bring your dream project to life!

#4 Harvard University

Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts
Tuition: $55,587

Why is it famous? 

  • Harvard is consistently ranked among the top 5 universities worldwide and is famous for its exceptional academic reputation, world-renowned facility, and a legacy of producing influential leaders across various disciplines. 

  • Extensive resources, cutting-edge research opportunities, and a vibrant intellectual community 

Polygence research program mentors:

Benjamin S: I am a PhD student in American History studying the collapse of manufacturing in the late-twentieth-century American Rust Belt. More specifically, I'm interested in looking at how working-class communities contended with the long-term effects of deindustrialization and how the major moments of the 80s and ‘90s--the War on Drugs, the HIV/AIDS crisis, austerity government, urban renewal projects, etc. affected various working communities. I started thinking about deindustrialization as an undergrad at Harvard and wrote my Cambridge MPhil dissertation on a radical steelworker newspaper in Pittsburgh that was in print from 1979 to 1987.

#5 University of Chicago  

Location: Chicago, Illinois
Tuition: $63,556

Why is it famous? 

  • The dominant graduate program ranks top in PhD production, feeding acclaimed faculty.

  • Location in Chicago yields exceptional museum, corporation, and municipal archive access opportunities.  

Polygence research program mentors:

Erin S: I'm a JD/PhD student at the University of Chicago. I work on the intersection of religion and law in American history, focusing primarily on how Christianity and the law have shaped one another and what this means for the law today. I have experience in academic and legal research and have worked in academia and the legal field. In addition to school, I enjoy trying new restaurants, visiting National Parks, and playing video games (a new hobby for me!). I'm excited to meet you!

#6 Columbia University 

Location: New York City
Tuition: $63,530 

Why is it famous? 

  • Sitting at the heart of New York City, Columbia University provides unparalleled access to historical resources, museums, and archives.

  • The undergraduate and graduate programs rank amongst the top schools in the United States.

  • Flexibility to take various courses in other departments.

Polygence research program mentors:

Elizabeth: I was raised in Cambridge, UK, and completed my undergraduate degree in Modern History and French Literature at the University of Oxford in 2008. I was also a Visiting Assistant Professor at MIT for one year, teaching courses in French Cultural Studies and History. I was awarded my PhD in 2017, which looked at the afterlife of the French Empire in Lebanon. I moved to Stanford University for a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Humanities, where I taught classes on the French Empire, Islam, and the Global Revolutions of 1968. I was a British Academy Fellow in the UK and am now an Assistant Professor of French, working on my second book on international students in France after 1945.

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Polygence alumni had a 92% admissions rate to R1 universities in 2023. Polygence provides high schoolers a personalized, flexible research experience proven to boost your admission odds. Get matched to a mentor now!"

Top Public Schools for Majoring in History 

Here are the top 10 public universities known for their excellent history courses. In no particular order: 

#1 University of California, Berkeley

Location: Berkeley, California
Tuition: $14,253 in-state, $44,007 out-of-state

Why it’s a top public school: UC Berkeley is renowned for its rigorous history department, offering diverse courses and boasting a faculty of distinguished historians. The campus's proximity to valuable historical archives and museums enhances the learning experience.

#2 University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Location: Washtenaw County, Michigan
Tuition: $15,948 in-state, $52,266 out-of-state

Why it’s a top public school:  UM's history degree program is recognized for its emphasis on research and critical thinking. The university's library system is one of the largest in the nation, providing students with unparalleled access to historical resources.

#3 University of Virginia

Location: Charlottesville, Virginia
Tuition: $17,653 in-state, $53,701 out-of-state

Why it’s a top public school: UVA is steeped in American history and offers an exceptional history degree program. The university's connection to Thomas Jefferson and the historical significance of its campus contribute to its reputation in the field.

#4 University of Texas at Austin

Location: Austin, Texas
Tuition: $11,448 in-state, $40,032 out-of-state

Why it’s a top public school: UT Austin's history department is known for its comprehensive curriculum and renowned faculty. The school's location in the vibrant city of Austin provides History students with rich cultural and historical experiences.

Polygence research program mentors:

Sydney R: I currently work at the University of Texas at Austin and have a deep-seated passion for college access, transition persistence, and multiracial college students. I presented at an academic conference focusing on the challenges first-year students, particularly first-generation students, face in their transitions and strategies to aid in that process. I use educational, sociological, and historical frameworks to identify challenges for these students and identify best practices and resources that would serve them. In my free time, I am an avid tennis player who attends trivia weekly with my best friends. I have an absurd amount of books that I have read,  and love messing with my cat, Nemo.

#5 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Location: Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Tuition: $8,987 in-state, $36,159 out-of-state

Why it’s a top public school: UNC-Chapel Hill's history program excels in teaching and research. The university's Southern setting provides a unique lens through which History students can explore the complexities of American history.

#6 University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

Location: Los Angeles, California
Tuition: $13,239 in-state, $42,993 out-of-state

Why it’s a top public school: UCLA's history department is known for its interdisciplinary approach, allowing students to explore history globally. The campus's proximity to cultural institutions and archives enhances the academic experience.

Polygence research program mentors:

Dilyara A: My passion is in the history of law and empire. I wrote my dissertation on the transformation of law and legal practice in the colonial contexts of Crimea following the Russian annexation of the peninsula. Research for my dissertation project took me to the archives in Russia, Turkey, and Egypt. I love traveling, learning languages, and reading novels set in places I plan to visit.

#7 University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Location: Champaign County, Illinois
Tuition: $17,348 for in-state, $34,298 for out-of-state

Why it’s a top public school: UIUC's history department is known for its diverse course offerings and emphasis on global perspectives. The university's commitment to fostering critical thinking skills prepares students for a range of careers in the field.

#8 University of Wisconsin-Madison

Location: Madison, Wisconsin
Tuition: $10,742 in-state, $38,630 out-of-state

Why it’s a top public school: UW-Madison's history program is distinguished by its renowned faculty and strong emphasis on research. The university's archives and libraries are rich resources for students interested in delving into historical studies.

Polygence research program mentors:

Emily A: I'm passionate about the ways we connect to the environment and the people around us. I love making science and research fun, interesting, and accessible for all. I mostly work with watersheds as a main focus for my graduate work. I'm interested in them because they connect people to the lands, waters, and animals and remind us we are part of a collective whole.

#9 University of Washington

Location: Seattle, Washington
Tuition: $11,745 in-state, $39,114 out-of-state

Why it’s a top public school: UW's history department is known for its focus on innovation and cutting-edge research. The university's location in the Pacific Northwest provides students with unique perspectives on global history.

Note: Tuition fees are approximate and will vary. It's recommended to check the latest information from each university.

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Smaller Colleges and Lesser-Known Programs for History

Beyond brand-name programs, several lesser-known colleges deliver good history education through close-knit cohorts, innovative approaches, and nimble faculty responding to student interests. Some of these programs include: 

#1 Truman State University

Location: Kirksville, Missouri
Tuition: $8,352 for in-state, $14,601 for out-of-state

Truman State's small class sizes and dedicated faculty create an intimate learning environment. The university is recognized for its emphasis on undergraduate research opportunities in history.

#2 Appalachian State University 

Location: Boone, North Carolina
Tuition: $7,409 for in-state, $22,292 for out-of-state

Appalachian State's history program is praised for its engaged faculty and strong community ties. The university's location in the Appalachian region offers a unique perspective on cultural and historical studies.

#3 Beloit College 

Location: Beloit Wisconsin
Tuition: $54,250

Beloit College's history department is known for its interdisciplinary approach and commitment to experiential learning. The college's focus on critical thinking prepares students for various career paths.

#4 Kalamazoo College

Location: Kalamazoo, Michigan
Tuition: $56,368

Kalamazoo College stands out for its K-Plan, which includes real-world experiences such as internships and study abroad opportunities. The history program emphasizes a global perspective and hands-on learning.

#5 Hendrix College

Location: Conway, Arkansas
Tuition: $50,870

Hendrix College's history department is known for its personalized attention and close mentorship. The college's commitment to engaged learning allows students to participate in their historical studies actively.

#6 Rhodes College

Location: Memphis, Tennessee
Tuition: $52,790

Rhodes College offers a strong liberal arts education focusing on critical thinking and research skills. Small class sizes and a supportive academic community characterize the history program.

#7 St. Mary's College of Maryland

Location: St. Mary’s City, Maryland
$14,653 for in-state, $30,061 for out-of-state

St. Mary's College is known for its commitment to undergraduate research and its waterfront campus. The history program emphasizes critical analysis and encourages students to explore diverse historical perspectives.

#8 St. Olaf College 

Location: Northfield, Minnesota
Tuition: $54,130

St. Olaf's history department is recognized for its strong faculty and commitment to global understanding. The college's distinctive academic programs, such as the Conversation program, enhance students' historical studies.

#9 New College of Florida

Location: Sarasota, Florida
$6,916 for in-state, $29,944 for out-of-state

New College of Florida is known for its unique approach to education, allowing students to design their own curriculum. The history program encourages independent research and critical thinking.

#10 Allegheny College

Location: Meadville, Pennsylvania
Tuition: $50,540

Allegheny College's history program stands out for its emphasis on experiential learning, including internships and research opportunities. The college's commitment to civic engagement enhances students' understanding of historical issues.

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A Note on Tuition and Costs of Attending 

In pursuing education, the notion of tuition as an impossible barrier is a misconception that needs disproving. The cost of attending a university should equal the abundance of financial aid options available. Virtually all universities and colleges are committed to fostering diversity and inclusivity through strong financial aid programs, comprising scholarships, grants, and work-study opportunities. It's a reminder that the dream of higher education and going to the best colleges is attainable, regardless of one's economic background. It’s important to remember that the tuition numbers listed are approximate, and may vary widely from individual to individual. 

Choosing Your Ideal History Department 

Now that you have an idea of what the best schools for history majors are, it's time to choose your specialization. Whether you're applying for undergraduate admission, an associate degree or going to graduate school, finding the right fit depends on your goals and orientation as an aspiring historian. Ask yourself:

  • Which regions, eras, or cultural groups do I want to focus on? Do you want to focus on something broad like ancient history or world history? Or perhaps you might want to study something more specific, like art history or European history? Different programs have unique strengths, and attending a university that aligns with your interests may be worth considering. 

  • Will I combine history with other majors like economics, visual arts, or political science? Some schools facilitate interdisciplinary connections better than others.

  • Do I envision applying for graduate admission or a Ph.D.? Opportunities for advanced research and faculty mentorship are crucial.  If you are interested in a career in academia or as a professor, consider attending a university with a research-focused history program. 

  • Am I interested in applied historical work in education, policy, or social justice? Seeking real-world pathways, such as working at nonprofits or in the public sector, might align well with these goals. 

By balancing your academic and professional aims with cultural considerations around cohort size, location, cost, and more, identifying the ideal history courses or programs for the next stage of your journey becomes clearer. Trust that immersing yourself in the school's training for tomorrow's generation of historical thinkers will prove enriching no matter where you land.