Best Colleges for History Majors

Ancient greek ruins
October 24, 2023


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 4/28/23

Interested in pursuing your undergrad in history? This article will cover the best colleges for history majors in the US.

History has proven itself to be a popular major for many undergraduate students, and for a good reason. It’s an excellent precursor for graduate studies in law, politics, and other social sciences and an exciting and thought-provoking major for history lovers.

If you’re passionate about history and want to pursue it in your undergraduate journey, know that some schools are a better choice than others. Here’s a breakdown of the best colleges for history majors, in no particular order.

Best Colleges for History Majors

Many of the colleges known for their history programs are private Ivy League colleges, which are normally held to a higher standard in comparison to public universities. These colleges typically have a lower acceptance rate, higher tuition, and a vast history.

According to US News, the best colleges for history majors are as follows: 

  1. Princeton University
  2. Harvard University
  3. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  4. Yale University
  5. Stanford University
  6. University of Chicago
  7. University of Pennsylvania

This article will cover each of these colleges and what makes their history programs the best of the best. Let’s get started!

Princeton University

Acceptance Rate: 4%

Tuition: $59,710 

Location: Princeton, New Jersey

When choosing a college for history, you can never go wrong with one in the Ivy League. Rich in its own history, it was chartered in 1846 - making Princeton the fourth oldest college in the United States. 

Princeton is a world-class teaching and research university with a low professor-to-student ratio, paving the way for stronger working relationships between both. On average, you’ll need an SAT score between 1460 and 1570 or an ACT score ranging from 33-35 to get in. Princeton is selective, with an acceptance rate of 4%.

According to Princeton, completing a major in history at the school “prepares you to be a thoughtful scholar.” The program boasts 40 courses in history to choose from, alongside 60 faculty members. 

Because of the extensive array of options, students can choose courses pertaining to their unique interests (alongside course requirements), which may not be possible at a smaller, less recognized college.

Princeton currently offers an undergraduate bachelor of arts, designed to be completed in four years, and a PhD, designed to be completed in five years. 

While it’s best known for its focus on pre-modern European history, locations and topics of historical study include:

  • The United States
  • East Asia
  • Latin America
  • Africa
  • South and Southeast Asia
  • The Near East
  • History of Science

If majoring in History at Princeton is your calling, don’t forget to check out this comprehensive guide on How to Get into Princeton.

Harvard University

Acceptance Rate: 4%

Tuition: $54,269

Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts

What better place to major in history than the oldest college in the United States? Founded in 1636 and long referenced as the best university in the world, it should be no surprise that Harvard’s history department is held to the same standard. 

Harvard’s acceptance rate is a low 4%. Successful applicants usually have an SAT score ranging from 1480-1580 or an ACT score of between 33-36.

The main goal of Harvard’s history department is to “foster both critical and imaginative thinking.” Harvard gives students the option to major in history as a primary concentration or secondary field, offering unique concentrations in topics such as Ancient History (Greek and Roman), East Asian History, and Near Eastern History. 

To supplement their learning, history majors will also have access to the iconic Houghton library, which houses many historical artifacts that you can’t find anywhere else.

When it comes to faculty, Harvard History professors are considered the best of the best. Many have received prestigious fellowships, such as the Guggenheim Fellowship and the American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship. 

At any given time, there are only 150-200 undergraduate history majors at the school, so if you are one of the select few that gets accepted, consider yourself fortunate. With this said, getting into Harvard as a history major can be highly competitive–so make sure you prepare!

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Acceptance Rate: 6%

Tuition: $59,750

Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts

You may recognize the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a state-of-the-art science, technology, and mathematics college, but don’t be fooled - it is also home to an exceptional history program. You’ll need an SAT score of 1460-1570 or an ACT score of between 33-35 to make MIT’s low acceptance rate of 6%.

MIT’s history program aims to “bring together outstanding scholarship, teaching, and public engagement.” Through this, they deliver a diverse history curriculum and encourage students to think critically about the past to shape a better future. 

You can study anything from geographical history to economics and technology historical study.

MIT offers both an undergraduate and a graduate history program. For those that favor a more collaborative study, the graduate program combines History, Technology and Society, and Anthropology learnings in its unique History, Anthropology, and Science and Technology Doctoral program (otherwise known as the HASTS program).

Since its founding in 1861, MIT has had a long time to perfect its undergraduate and graduate experience for history majors, making it an excellent choice for those that wish to pursue historical studies. 

Yale University

Acceptance Rate: 5%

Tuition (+fees): $62,250

Location: New Haven, Connecticut

If you’re considering majoring in history, look no further than Yale. Founded in 1701, it’s the third oldest school in the US. History was first taught at Yale in the 1760s, with the first faculty of history being introduced in 1919. That’s a lot of time to perfect a curriculum, which could explain why history is still such a popular undergraduate major there. 

To be accepted into the prestigious Yale University, you will need an SAT score of 1480 to 1580 or an ACT score of between 33 and 35. The acceptance rate is 5%, making getting into Yale challenging for some students.

Yale offers an undergraduate major program and a graduate program for those that want to further their studies in history. 

Yale gives you the option to explore their undergraduate history major in different ways–offering the curriculum in two tracks:

  1. The generalist track allows students to take a range of courses from different periods in history.
  2. The specialist track allows students to specialize within a unique pathway of history. 

For those that wish to further their historical studies, Yale offers two graduate programs - one in History and the other in History of Science and Medicine. Whatever program you choose, you can be sure to receive a stellar education taught by a Pulitzer prize-winning faculty. 

Stanford University

Acceptance Rate: 4%

Tuition: $57,692 

Location: Stanford, California

While Stanford is recognized for its contributions to science and mathematics, its faculty of history is also one to boast about. 

Founded in 1885 by California Senator Leland Stanford and his wife, the goal of Stanford was to “promote the public welfare by exercising an influence on behalf of humanity and civilization,” while providing an exceptional education for students. These principles still ring true today.

To become a Stanford student, you must aim for an SAT score of 1470 to 1570 or an ACT score of between 34 and 35. The acceptance rate is 4% making it yet another challenging program to get into.

The curriculum follows an innovative, research-based approach history majors can choose a major in subjects such as: 

  • General History
  • Global Affairs and World History
  • History, Philosophy and the Arts
  • History of Science and Medicine
  • History and Law
  • Public History/ Public Service

For students looking for the next step in their history studies, there is an option to enroll in a Coterminal Master’s while completing an undergraduate history major. Students are able to apply in their junior year, but most end up applying in their senior year and finish off the graduate portion of their degree in their fifth year.

University of Chicago 

Acceptance Rate: 6%

Tuition: $61,179

Location: Chicago, Illinois

The University of Chicago is a fantastic choice for a history major. Established in 1890, it has a dedicated history department that prides itself in offering and developing research in over 30 fields of the subject. 

Even though UChicago is one of the only non-Ivy league schools to make this list, it is still a challenge to be accepted. To become a U of Chicago student, you will need to score 1510 to 1580 on the SAT or a 33 to 35 on the ACT.

The undergraduate major program at UChicago consists of three different unique pathways to learning:

  • BA Thesis Track, where students must complete a research project, averaging about 40-50 pages. This is a popular option for those that wish to pursue a postgraduate education in history, law or journalism. 
  • Colloquium Track, where students must participate in writing an original research paper. This track is usually a great option for students with a broad range of interests due to its flexibility. You can complete this track at any time throughout the student’s undergraduate career.
  • Capstone Track, where research is encouraged to be formatted any way the student prefers, as long as it does not take the form of a thesis. Possibilities for this include a podcast, a short, or an online exhibit. It showcases a more creative approach to presenting historical research.

UChicago also offers a graduate program in history. The curriculum consists of a mix of interdisciplinary workshops pioneered by the school in 1982 and conferences, which are sure to promote intellectual dialogue in small, intimate groups. 

With a well-recognized faculty that consistently makes appearances and references in media, op-eds, and more, history students at UChicago will surely have a unique and specialized learning experience. 

University of Pennsylvania

Acceptance Rate: 6% 

Tuition: $58,620

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Did you know that the driving force behind UPenn was none other than Benjamin Franklin? First established in 1740, it comes as no shock that the Ivy League school with an iconic, elaborate history boasts one of the best history major programs in the country. 

Admission to the University of Pennsylvania requires an SAT score between 1480 and 1570 or an ACT score of between 33 and 35. UPenn, true to its Ivy League reputation, has a low acceptance rate of 6%.

The History major at UPenn continues to be among the most popular choices for undergraduate students. Students majoring in history at UPenn will be required to take courses pertaining to geographic distribution, chronological distribution, and at least two upper-level seminars, with the option of choosing a specialization. 

Undergraduate majors also have a mandatory research requirement, where students draft a paper that analyzes and interprets their research.

Undergraduate students are also highly encouraged to take their history studies to the next level with programs that allow them to study abroad. With an amazing opportunity like that, it’s no wonder that history is one of the largest majors on campus.  

UPenn also offers a graduate program that comes with a specific pedigree. It was the first program to offer a PhD in History, which was granted in 1891. The program prides itself in being small and selective, prioritizing close mentorship and strong working relationships between professors and students.

If UPenn is your dream school, make sure you know what it takes to receive an acceptance and make your dreams a reality.

FAQs: Best Colleges for History

1. What College has the Best History Program?

While each college has a unique history curriculum that sets it apart from others, the best colleges for history majors are Princeton University, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Yale University, Stanford University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Pennsylvania. 

Many of these schools are ranked highly due to their Ivy League status.

2. Is a History Degree Worth It?

Many history graduates agree that a history degree is worth it. A history major will help you acquire a variety of transferable skills within and beyond the field.

While pursuing a history major doesn’t come without hard work, it can truly be one of the most rewarding college majors to choose.

3. What are the Majors in History? 

Every school offers a unique curriculum with different course options, but if you decide to major in history, you can expect to take classes with subjects pertaining to:

  • American History
  • Geographic History (i.e. countries and geographic areas)
  • Global or Periodic History
  • Thematic History (i.e. History of Science, History of Medicine)

Final Thoughts

In order to understand how we can create a solid and promising future, we must first look to the past to understand change critically. This is why history remains to be such an essential field of study that colleges hold in such high regard.

When selecting a college, it’s important to remember that just because a school is ranked high due to its “prestige,” doesn’t always mean it’s the right fit for everyone. The best fit for you depends on where your passions and unique interests lie! 

Choosing the right college for a history major can be challenging, but with the information laid out above, you should be able to make a decision on the one that is the best fit for you!

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