Find the best small colleges for a history degree at a competitive price point.
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By BVS Staff
Welcome to our ranking of the 25 best small colleges for history majors on a budget.
Each of these top schools offers at least two majors (or at least two concentrations within one major) for students seeking a bachelor's degree in history (which also includes programs in public history, American and European studies, and ancient history). In addition, they each maintain an overall undergraduate graduation rate of at least 55%. Of course, to be a best value, these top-ranked schools also have to demonstrate a genuine commitment to affordable education - which means meeting our net price requirements. All of the programs on this ranking have estimated annual costs (as reported on College Navigator) of less than $24,000 a year. But which of these is the most affordable college for a history degree? Scroll down to #1 to find out!
For more information on the methodology, click here.
Given its location in Kentucky, you might not be surprised that Berea College offers a degree in Appalachian Studies. Not only does this program consider cultural issues specific to the area, but it considers Appalachia within a global context by studying other highland regions. With a library, gallery, and cultural events housed in the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center, you'll have a dedicated space for pursuing your work. And you can't beat the cost of this top small college history degree: thanks to a generous endowment and skillful financial management, your tuition will be almost entirely covered. In fact, Berea's net price is by far the lowest on this list.
Nestled in the foothills of Tennessee's beautiful Smoky Mountains, Johnson University is one of the best small colleges for history majors who want to incorporate their Christian faith into their studies. Case in point: you can choose a Church History concentration within the major. This option focuses on Christian church history from the first century to the modern day and includes a foreign and/or biblical language requirement (Greek is a popular choice). If you want to study church history but prefer to place it within a broader context, you might opt for the general history concentration, which includes classes in American, church, and world history.
While most of the best undergraduate history programs require a writing-intensive senior thesis, Amherst has an alternative option that will appeal to students who'd rather think out loud than put pen to paper. Those who opt for the capstone project will write a shorter research paper and then give a 10-minute presentation to explain their work. Attended by faculty and upper-level students alike, presentations must explain the research question, detail a specific research methodology, and of course share important conclusions from the work. You'll also submit a short reflection on the project in which you can offer alternative approaches or imagine how - given the appropriate time and resources - you might expand your research to cover more ground.
Liberal arts majors often face skeptical relatives who don't believe they'll find a job after graduation. But the University of St. Francis can help allay those fears with a reassuring statistic: around 90% of the school's history majors are employed or enrolled in post-grad studies within six months of graduation. As you attend this affordable college for a history degree, you'll learn both historical research methodology and the broader skills that make you a solid communicator, a skilled problem-solver, and a valued employee. Plus, a foreign language requirement will provide another skill that looks great on a resume.
Like many other schools on this top history degrees ranking, Pomona seniors must complete a seminar and research-driven thesis. But what helps Pomona stand out is its commitment to funding innovative — and very specific — student research programs. For example, the Iberian Research Grant funds one lucky student's summer research project in Spain or Portugal, while the Latin American History Research Grants fund short trips for multiple students who want to conduct research in the Caribbean or Latin America. Thanks to the specificity of these programs, undergrads who have highly-focused and/or niche interests enjoy a real chance to earn grant money in support of their ideas.
Reed approaches academics differently from many of the other schools on this list. First, rather than offering pre-set interdisciplinary majors, Reed encourages students to develop their own programs of study by combining the topics they love most. The school also forgoes the thesis-driven senior project common to many other top small college history degrees. Instead, you'll complete the Junior Qualifying Exam, or the Qual. To complete the Qual, you have a week to read an assigned article (typically 30 pages or more in length), then write a 1,200-word essay analyzing it as a work of scholarship and assessing its arguments. It's a unique way to demonstrate your skills in both evaluating primary sources and placing them in a larger historical context.
If your goal is to attend a top college for a history degree that gives you real-world experience, Middlebury could be a solid choice. The school encourages its History and American Studies majors to pursue internships, including its own prestigious winter internship at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. This for-credit course lets you work alongside museum curators to develop and exhibits and other projects, and you can even apply for funding through the department. If you're a history major, you might look into the Mount Vernon Leadership Fellows program. This six-week paid summer internship at Virginia's Mount Vernon helps participants to develop their leadership skills - using George Washington as a model, no less!
Situated in Schenectady, New York, Union College offers some of the most expansive options on this list. At this affordable small college for history majors, you can choose from five geographically based concentrations within the program. There's also a Public History major/minor and an American Studies major/minor with six thematic concentrations. The latter program really helps Union stand out: the thematic concentrations offer undergrads a great way to finely focus their studies. With options like Progressive America: Civil Rights and Social Justice and American Media and Popular Culture, you're sure to find something that piques your interest.
Although it might not be a household name, Morningside offers some of the most focused teaching-related programs on this top history degrees ranking. Alongside traditional degrees in History and American History, you'll also find combined majors in American History/Government Teaching and American/World History Teaching. These latter two programs include a 400-level preceptorship course, during which students work as a teachers' aides and reflect on their experiences through writing assignments. The school also provides a degree in Public History, which focuses on the preservation of history and the promotion of tourism. As you graduate, know that the school has your back and that your teachers' support counts: graduates with a departmental recommendation have a 100% acceptance rate to law school.
Alongside one of the best undergraduate history programs, Colorado College also offers three related interdisciplinary majors: History-Political Science, History-Philosophy, and Classics-History-Politics. With the two former programs, you can integrate intense study in two related disciplines, applying the lens of political science or philosophy to the examination of historical events. Regardless of which program you choose, expect to complete original research before you graduate, likely during your senior year. If you want to get a head start on that work, Colorado supports summer research projects by sponsoring student assistantships, offering funding, and helping you apply for grants.
The affordable small college history degree at Haverford emphasizes primary source analysis and stresses using historical evidence to support a thesis. The program culminates in a year-long senior seminar and thesis-driven research project (faculty guidance included). Students looking for an atypical approach to this traditional topic may prefer the Classical Culture and Society major, which addresses all aspects of classical antiquity, from literature to archaeology - and also wraps up with a senior thesis. Because Haverford and nearby Bryn Mawr cosponsor this program, you can expect to take classes alongside Bryn Mawr students. Thanks to this partnership, you can also take part in Bryn Mawr's weekly Classics Tea and Colloquium to hear lectures and talk shop with fellow majors.
A firm grounding in the liberal arts underpins every major at Hillsdale. All students work through a comprehensive core curriculum during their first two years, reading the same books and wrestling with the same big-picture problems. And once you declare a major - be it in History, American Studies, or European Studies - this top small college for history majors will continue to develop your foundational knowledge through ensure that you continue to develop a solid foundation based on timeless themes and "great conversations." But your learning won't be entirely theoretical; you'll also gain valuable experience. One particularly popular option is the Washington-Hillsdale Internship Program, which sends eager students to live and work in Washington, D.C for a semester.
At Vassar, you'll find some of the most unique courses of study on this top history degrees ranking. For example, you might enroll in the Interdepartmental Program in Victorian Studies, which combines traditional classwork with a dose of independent research, all focused on 19th century Great Britain. Another Interdepartmental Program in is available in Medieval and Renaissance Studies, allowing you to select coursework from three different disciplines (such as art history, music, and language and literature) to provide a comprehensive view of the time period. And if you pursue American Studies, you can opt for a correlate sequence in Native American Studies that gives you more depth into indigenous North American cultures.
The history major at Lexington, Virginia-based Washington and Lee University includes three concentrations, two of which focus heavily on international history. As such, the school strongly encourages all undergrads to study abroad to gain valuable international experience. If you're particularly dedicated to global studies, this affordable college for a history degree offers a Certificate of International Immersion for students who spend significant time both abroad and in studies of their area of interest. You'll also be expected to volunteer, complete an internship, or fulfill community service related to your chosen language and area. After passing a presentation and writing an essay on your experience, you'll be recognized during graduation (and on your transcript!) for your commitment.
While many of the best undergraduate history programs encourage students to pursue coursework that fits their interests, Williams lets history majors go even further: they're encouraged to design their own concentrations. During the beginning of your junior year, you'll work with a faculty advisor to develop a highly focused area of study, explaining why it appeals to you and listing at least six courses that support your work. Topics tend to be very granular; recent examples include Race and Poverty in American Politics and Constructing the European: Histories of Orientalism and Colonialism. If you prefer to choose from set concentrations, check out the American Studies department. There, you'll select one of four specializations, like Arts in Context or Critical and Cultural Theory.
A great graduation rate and fantastic 6:1 student to faculty ratio have helped Swarthmore become one of the best colleges for a history degree. At this Quaker-affiliated school, you'll also find a tradition of service and social responsibility. As a history major, you'll particularly appreciate the Swarthmore College Peace Collection, which documents and preserves non-governmental efforts for "nonviolent social change, disarmament, and conflict resolution." Both the Collection and the Friends Historical Library — which archives Quaker records and materials from the 1600s through today — provide ample primary source materials you can use as you earn your BA in History at Swarthmore.
At William Jewell, you'll find one of the most unique opportunities on this top history degrees ranking: the Oxbridge honors program. Modeled on the British approach to higher education, the program requires students to take one-on-one or small group tutorials, close readings of primary sources that offer greater depth than a typical survey course. You'll also sit for comprehensive exams, which demonstrate cumulative learning and in-depth knowledge. And you'll spend your entire junior year at Oxford, well prepared for the rigorous coursework thanks to your previous two years of tutorials. Within Oxbridge, you can earn a BA in History or History of Ideas. If you're not keen on this alternative approach, William Jewell also offers a non-Oxbridge BA in History.
While Flagler College — St. Augustine does offer a traditional and affordable undergraduate history program, it really shines for its public history degree. This major encourages students to both preserve history and share it with the public, making it a natural choice for anyone interested in museum, tourism, archiving, or national park work. Similar to a museum studies program, you can expect some hands-on work, like a course in Methods and Materials of Historic Preservation. You'll also complete a required internship, helping you make valuable connections in your field of interest.
Looking for a college that encourages — and even funds — extensive research? Check out Hamilton. As you pursue an affordable small college history degree, you'll have the chance to work with a faculty mentor pursuing research over the summer. The school's prestigious Emerson Foundation Grant Program awards money to about 25 research fellows each year; previous recipients have studied everything from food justice organizations in Philadelphia to the gendered policies of Spain's former dictator, Francisco Franco. Beyond encouraging research, Hamilton also promotes studying abroad and learning a foreign language. In fact, if you want to earn honors, you'll need to complete at least a year of foreign language study.
At Wellesley, you'll be encouraged to shape your own course of study — within certain parameters. The goal here? To ensure breadth and depth in your work. To achieve the former, you'll take classes in various geographical areas. To achieve depth, you'll focus your studies on a specific time period, historical approach (like cultural or economic history), geographical area, or theme (like colonialism or women's history). Thanks to this guidance in shaping your coursework, Wellesley shines as one of the best small colleges for history majors who want the freedom to design their own program while still gaining a broad context for their studies.
For an affordable undergraduate history program that provides excellent preparation for graduate school, give Wesleyan a look. Not only does the university boast one of the highest graduation rates on this list, but it also requires history majors to complete a research project. With guidance from an advisor, you'll carefully outline a topic, then interpret primary and secondary sources to support your stance. After completing all the footwork, you'll compile your results in the form of an honors thesis, a comprehensive essay, or a project-based seminar. Finally, you'll submit your work to a detailed evaluation by faculty members - a challenge that will help prepare you for graduate school and, ultimately, your thesis or dissertation defense.
With about 900 undergrads, Millsaps has one of the lowest enrollments on this best history degrees ranking. But its small size is far from a limitation; rather, its intimate environment enables Millsaps to provide truly stellar opportunities for active learning. In fact, the school requires students to complete a four-credit "engaged learning" requirement. Options for history majors include conducting research, participating in an internship, submitting an honors project, and other similar activities. If you have a specific regional interest or want to acquire a strong international perspective you may prefer the European Studies major, which makes studying abroad a required course component. Note that you can easily pair either of these majors with a five-course minor in American Studies.
Don't let Hiram's unassuming location in Western Ohio fool you — the school provides ample opportunities for its history majors to gain hands-on experience nearby and around the globe. This top college for a history degree has partnerships with American University in Washington, D.C. and with Drew University's New York City-based United Nations semester. The department also hosts field trips to international destinations like Japan and England. Back on campus, you can opt to concentrate in a particular theme (like Gender History) or region (like Asian History) to help focus your studies. And if you'd like to teach, a major in Integrated Social Studies (available through the Education Department) could fit the bill.
Undergrads have multiple options for studying history at North Central. In addition to a traditional History major, NCC also supports a combined major in Social Science/History and a minor in History of Ideas. History of Ideas might appeal if you want a macro perspective and enjoy discussing broad themes, while Social Science/History explores topics through the lens of interdisciplinary fields like sociology and economics - making it a great option if you want a career teaching social studies. If you prefer a more traditional affordable small college history degree, the research-focused History major could be for you. No matter which you choose, expect rich opportunities for conducting research, participating in study abroad programs, and gaining on-the-ground experience through valuable internships.
At Barnard, you don't have to choose between the benefits of a small, all-women liberal arts school and the opportunities of a larger university. Thanks to its partnership with Columbia, this top small college for history majors gives students easy access to myriad additional classes and resources. As a history major, you'll choose from one of more than 10 thematic concentrations to narrow your studies. With themes as diverse as Urban History and Gender, Sexuality, and the Family, Barnard relies on Columbia to offer courses it simply can't support due to its smaller size. And if none of the thematic concentrations fits your interests, you can work with an advisor to develop your own personal course of study.
Net Price: $23,741/yr
Want to find out exactly how much it will cost for you to attend one of these affordable undergraduate history programs? Check out the U.S. Department of Education's Net Price Calculator Center.